Jerome Droesch moved from France to the UAE in 2011, and then back after a brief stint in Europe, moved back to the UAE in 2018.
This is his expat story.
Tell us about your expat story.
I’d never lived outside of France before, so moving to the UAE in 2011 was my first expat move. I think the UAE is a very easy country to land in for an expat. You can have easy access to pretty much anything you want so I don’t think it’s too difficult from that perspective.
I think the UAE is a great country with a great lifestyle. Living here, it is very easy to connect with every other place in the world via travel as well.
What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat?
It’s very interesting for me to compare it to other relocations that I have done in France. I did 10 relocations in France so I know very well what it means to move around in your home country. I do think that it’s probably easier to make new friends if you are to move abroad.
If you move from your home country to another city, there usually isn’t much different. To put it this way, if you were to move from one place to another in France, you would probably still just be surrounded by French people. So you have nothing that is dramatically different. Whereas if you move country, it gives you a better opportunity to make new connections.
When I arrived here in the UAE, I was already connected with many other French CEO’s in the region. This helped by being connected with people from my home country.
Second of all, obviously being part of such a large company like Cigna gives you a good opportunity to connect with other CEO’s from all around the world. So it really is a very rich experience.
What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?
I think the most impactful one for me is change. I remember when I first moved to the UAE, the chairman of the group I was working for at the time told me that I would never be the same after my expat move. A couple of years ago, I went back and told him that he was right.
You are never the same after living abroad and I believe this is not only true for you but also for your family. At the end of the day, you cannot be successful if you do not enjoy what you are doing so you need to enjoy the environment as well.
For example, your children are also becoming citizens of the world and not just citizens of one country. Your entire family will probably have a different perspective, along with a different vision of the world.
That’s something that should always be considered with a move abroad and I take that with me even today. Whenever I am hiring someone new in my team, I always make them aware that it is a family choice and not just a professional choice of moving from one position to another.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
I remember when I first moved here, I went through a very interesting training program all about understanding cultural barriers abroad and dealing with moving from one country to another. There are a lot of challenges of course. First of all, in most instances you have to switch from one language to another. Sometimes getting to grips with a foreign language isn’t so easy.
Secondly, people always say that there is a learning curve that comes with moving abroad. Initially, there is a phase of excitement as you are discovering a new country and new place to work.
Then at some point in time, you might stop and ask yourself why you are there, what is the big picture and what are you learning by being there. When that happens, some people decide to go back home.
Either that or else you really understand why you are there and decide to stay. For myself here in Dubai, there is such a great excitement of living here. There is also a large melting pot of different nationalities here so it really is fantastic!
What do you miss about your home country?
I think you always miss a part of your home country. First and foremost, you miss your family. You leave behind family and friends when you move abroad obviously.
In my view, when you work in one country, what you never realise is that you are always taught that there is only that country’s way of doing things. When you discover a completely different environment like the one here in Dubai, you discover that there might be many different ways of doing things. These ways may be as efficient as the ones that you’ve been taught your entire life. So it is a very rich experience. Yes you will always miss something, but at the same time, you get so much out of it. For me, the balance is very positive.
What do you enjoy most about your role as CEO for Cigna MENA?
There are lots of things for me. The first is obviously the great relationships that I have with the people here. The culture is fantastic! That’s very important for me to have a good culture and good values makes since it makes it very easy to enjoy what I do every day.
The second one is being part of a large company like Cigna where you are facing a lot of exciting opportunities and different challenges all over the world. What’s exciting for me is to be exposed to all those challenges and at the same time, trying to find a way to build something stronger for the future. I really enjoy that.
What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?
My advice is to make sure that whatever choice you make, you make in a positive way. If you have a family, you should include them in the decision making process. You simply cannot succeed if the entire family is not settled down well in the new environment. Every country has its own specifics and lifestyle, so you need to make sure that you can get comfortable with that.
My next bit of advice is to be open-minded. When you move to a new country, you can see things in two ways. You can look at it by comparing it to your home country, or you look at it in a positive way and embrace the differences in your new place.
What would be the one piece of advice you wish you’d known before moving?
Maybe the only thing for me is I should have done it earlier in my career! I think moving abroad is so rich and so interesting. When you work a lot in your home country, you don’t realise what kind of experience you could have in the future.
You look towards your own future in your home environment, but you don’t realise that maybe going abroad will be a very different accelerator for growth. This is both from a personal perspective and a professional perspective as well.
Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?
Exciting, mix of cultures, great values and lots of learnings.