Secondment to the USA

RSM South Africa provides international secondment opportunities to trainees. The qualifying candidates stand to benefit from the opportunity to work abroad for 3 to 4 months, with exposure to a different auditing methodology, while exploring a different country. This was one of the many reasons why RSM South Africa was my employer of choice.

Obviously when the time came, I applied for the secondment and fortunately I was chosen! I figured that having travelled to a few cities within South Africa for audits, the secondment would be just one of those travels. But nothing and none of the other trainee experiences could have prepared me for this. Each of us who has experienced the programme has had a different experience, but we all agree on one thing - it is an amazing once in a life time opportunity. My secondment was based in Chicago, where I also had the opportunity to work in the Schaumburg office.

When I landed in Chicago the temperature was -21 degree Celsius. Coming from sunny South Africa, I could never have been ready for that! At that moment it became clear to me why they call it “The Windy City”. The wind hit so hard it felt like “a slap to the face” - that is how one of the managers in the Chicago office describes it. Nothing a warm jacket, the right kind of boots (definitely waterproof), scarf and gloves can’t fix. Soon enough though, after the cold face slapping, I was playing in the snow, stopping the car on the side of the road to build a snowman and forcing the audit team to play in the snow after work. Each trip to a client, or a walk to the office felt like a tour of some of the best sky scrapers in the world.

The busiest season for America in terms of audit is from January to March, working a minimum of 55 hours a week. I thought this was going to be exhausting but it wasn’t at all. The people here dream big, but work even harder. It’s a go, go, go kind of environment, so it’s no surprise that every street corner has a Starbucks for that caffeine pick-me-up. Though it’s busy, the employees still took time to explain the different manners of auditing even though the concepts are the same in both countries. That is exactly what I found in the Schaumburg and the Chicago offices - hardworking and friendly staff. Professionals with big dreams accompanied by hard work to attain those dreams.

I found the RSM culture that I knew from back home, the open door policy where you can walk into a partner’s office to talk about anything. Partners took an interest in me and my personal life. At some point I would find myself engaged in conversations about my weekends, with the staff constantly finding places I have to go explore after work because they wanted me to enjoy this great city. The working hours and the Saturday work days soon felt like they were nothing because of the great team surrounding me. The pressure was almost eliminated by the unity of the firm. I fell in love with “the power of being understood” slogan all over again because the firm really took time to understand not just the client but the employees as well. Partners and managers appreciate the work done by teams with regular lunches for teams to say thank you for the hard work. The RSM US Chicago office is massive compared to my home office. With that, came the new skill of interacting with bigger groups of people and leaving a mark. I gained some knowledge on the differences between US GAAP and IFRS, and had the opportunity to share my perspective on some audit matters which were appreciated. Views and opinions are respected all round.

Americans have to be the most polite people I have ever met. I have a difficult name to pronounce and each time they said it, an “excuse me”, or “I’m sorry” would follow because none of them wanted to offend me by pronouncing it wrong. We settled for my nickname in the end, “Fifi”. I had to prove my capabilities because at the end of the day, even though they knew that I was there because I know something, it was not easy for them to just give me difficult sections. The moment they started seeing my abilities and giving me more responsibility was when I knew I was doing well. It’s about building relationships. Those that live with you long after secondment, and those that make secondment a great experience.

Then there are the fun things to secondment that I experienced, like driving on the other side of the road or learning the different state laws. I also had an opportunity to drive a Tesla. I was able to get more into new and different sports - Americans love sports, all kinds of sports – or understanding the different accents of the other secondees as well as the Americans. It definitely encourages personal growth, you are here with no family just work friends. Being alone will teach you things about yourself that you did not know, and this is the most valuable lesson I am taking with me.

Life as a secondee is nothing but an amazing, once in a life time opportunity. If I could change anything, it would be absolutely nothing.

Tshepang Mathebula

Audit supervisor, Johannesburg

Related articles 

The true worth of a secondment experience 

Secondment in New Zealand                                               


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