While 2020 has now become a historic year of change for everyone, it was a unique one for me — a year of change, new experiences, and expanding horizons.
In January 2020, my husband and I took on an opportunity to work overseas and moved to Dublin, Ireland. And while I previously had traveled to more than 20 countries, moving was different, and came with significant changes for me:
- New country, with its own unique culture.
- New company.
- New industry (semiconductors).
- New organizational role — after nine years in internal audit, transitioning to a global risk and controls role in a finance group that supports large capital construction projects.
Although I can now look back and say this experience has been incredibly positive and resulted in a strong year of personal and professional growth, it came with some major challenges and adjustments.
I started my new job one week after moving to Ireland. In addition to finding my desk, meeting colleagues, and learning my new role, I was suddenly immersed in a new culture and what seemed like a different language. When people around me spoke with their fast Irish accents, I would miss entire sentences and conversations. It felt as if I was an 8-year-old immigrant again, which was the last time I moved to a new country.
Very quickly I began learning new terms — for example, the word "canteen" is the cafeteria, saying "half 10" for time means 10:30, and someone telling you to "mind yourself" only means they want you to "take care" (and not "mind your business" as it may seem). Even more difficult to remember than the new terms were the beautiful traditional Irish names — Niamh, Aoife, Caoimhe, Aisling, Sinead, Siobhan, Eamonn, Darragh, and Tadgh, just to name a few. It took me quite some time to learn how to pronounce and spell these names!
In addition to the changes at work, I had to figure out the basics at home (grocery shopping, selecting a bank, doctor, etc.). This included learning that many grocery items have different names (salad greens are "rocket," eggplant is "aubergine," zucchini is "courgette"), and learning how to use the fancy touch-screen stovetop that looks like it was made by NASA and cooks in Celsius. And there is the not so subtle change of getting comfortable with driving on the
left side of the road!
There were definitely a few rough weeks of trying to adapt to all of these changes at once. And then, just six weeks into the new job, a global pandemic arrived and required adjusting to working remotely.
While I have always believed in the mantras of "try new things," "challenge yourself," and "get out of your comfort zone," I didn't fully appreciate what these phrases meant until 2020! However, I soon realized that I have plenty in my experience toolbox to get me through this period of change, and beyond that, to enjoy and embrace it!
- Having spent nine years in internal audit at two publicly traded companies auditing multiple segments of the energy industry (hydro, wind, solar, gas, coal, electric), I acquired and developed some skills including:
- Continuously learning new areas of the company, new processes, new information, and working with colleagues across multiple functions to achieve common goals.
- Always viewing and approaching the challenges at hand from a process, risk, and controls perspective.
- Working in technical industries that require a different learning approach.
From this standpoint, I think the internal audit field is uniquely positioned to prepare practitioners for both continuous change and challenging roles. In my current role, I rely on my internal audit experience and skills significantly and have found them to be invaluable.
- Volunteering through The IIA alongside a tremendous group of audit professionals for the past eight years has been inspiring, motivational, and a privilege. I've served in various roles, including chapter president, and I currently serve as district representative and as chair of the IIA Emerging Leaders Task Force. Although my IIA meetings are now during my evening hours due to time zone differences, it's something I have chosen to continue because of the value and rewarding experience that it brings. It also provides a continuity to my professional life back in the U.S. for when we return.
The IIA experience has been incredibly beneficial for personal development, helping develop soft skills such as:
- Leadership by influence, common goals, passion, and focus.
- Relationship building.
- The experience of working virtually with individuals who I've never met in person.
- As I am sure we have all learned in the incredibly challenging year of 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, maintaining a positive attitude and outlook is vital. This same outlook applies when encountering new challenges and experiences — it requires believing in yourself, your skills and knowledge, and your ability to learn and adapt.
As we enter 2021, I encourage everyone to try new things, challenge yourself, and get out of your comfort zone! The personal and professional growth can be incredible.
Valentina Kostenyuk Sabet, CIA, CPA, CFE, is a risk and controls lead at Intel Corp. in Dublin, Ireland.
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