Before I took my first post overseas, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in a health library in rural PNG. In some ways, i.e. with technological limitations, I was on the right path, but I was mostly wrong. Sure, the position description was accurate, but the way I perceived the duties, as written on paper, differed substantially before than afterwards.
Similarly, after one assignment, when I signed up for my next one, I thought I was much better equipped, having already spent time in PNG. Nope. Despite having had some experience, if anything, these skewed my expectations in the wrong direction.
Vietnam was the same - firstly working for a government agency, and then working with an NGO.
And, again, with my current work in Kosovo, my expectations were completely off, despite having read my Terms of Reference and asked clarifying questions about my duties. I would have been best off leaving any preconceived notions and expectations at the door.
But now I look back at my resume. I've laid out my duties, highlighted my achievements, but I wonder - is anybody working in the "developed" Western world who reads it going to really understand the nature of my work? We can tally everything up, and quantify our achievements, but the reality is that the challenges existing in one workplace / sector / society are going to be vastly different to the next.
And, in many ways, it's not the extent to which we achieve quantifiable results that demonstrates our professional value, but the extent to which we can overcome barriers that impede achievement.
If only there were a succinct way to demonstrate this on a 2-3 page resume...