Time Out or Start Up?
Moving abroad with your spouse can be a fantastic opportunity. Time to take one or more years away from work, get involved in volunteering, work towards your dream career or finally start your own business. But which one to pick – and where to start?
Without question, accompanying spouses face the most challenges when moving abroad. International assignees work at their company office, children attend international school – securing them each in communities. But where do spouses belong? To the group of stay-at-home moms and dads? To the group of expats who had to interrupt or even sacrifice their career for their family’s well-being? Meanwhile, friends and family back home look at you with pity, and former colleagues may nervously allude to the dangers of career disruptions.
It’s clear enough that following your spouse abroad can be a scary decision. For the sake of those brave women and men who do it every year, let’s focus on the advantages for an accompanying spouse.
Peter*, mid 30s, moved to a country where he did not speak the language, bringing along his interior-design consulting agency. He faced two challenges: learning the local language and building a new client circle. He wisely started intensive language studies, while joining local business network circles for architects. It did not help that he was a shy person, but he understood that he had to get out of his comfort zone to achieve. This he eventually did when he met an architect looking for freelance designers. Peter was in heaven: working with the local architect, he both improved his language skills and learned the local business culture, while picking up some side projects as a welcome break from his own. In two years’ time, Peter and his new start-up were ready for business.
Kate*, in her early 30s, came from a brilliant TV career to a non-English speaking country. It was obvious she could not continue her career in her new country of residence; even if she had been fluent in the local language, she would have had to face a completely different media culture. Kate wanted to continue working abroad, and she was open to a change in direction. After a year off to give birth to her first child, she decided to offer media training in organizations with English as their corporate language. Kate became a freelance media consultant, allowing her to enjoy a lovely compromise between work, life abroad, and seeing her daughter grow up - in her own words, a “luxurious” situation.
After relocating with her family, Saskia*, a stay-at-home mom of two in her 30s, was ready to go back to work. Her role was not easy to define, having been away from the job market and now unable to speak the local language. So, she started volunteering at her daughter’s international school. With a fellow mother, she built a brand-new informational talk series for parents, to which she invited top business people. Not only was it a huge success, the project connected Saskia to lots of business people from multinational organizations. And in just her second year of expatriation, she was hired by one of them.
What can you learn from these real-life examples? Starting a career abroad demands specific skills that you may not necessarily need back home.
Hone your local language skills – it's well-known/well-established that language opens doors.
Step out of your comfort zone and try things you may not be comfortable doing in the first place.
Consider taking one or more years away from work – get inspired by this Huffington Post’s article on the benefits of gap years ‘The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year’.
Be flexible, creative and open-minded about reinventing yourself. This might be a fantastic opportunity to finally start the career you‘ve been dreaming about. Embrace the idea of new career plans, temporary solutions and in some cases, compromise – watch INSEAD’s video clip ‘Does living abroad make you more creative?’.
Keep your expectations in check. Due to differences in local markets, most expatriates cannot do the same job they have been doing back home.
Be ready to get some support. A career coach can fill you in on local markets, opendoors to business groups and contacts, and most importantly, walk you through what is typically a challenging, sometimes even frustrating, process. Join Regina’s online Career Talk ‘Time out or Start Up’ in March, meet like-minded souls and exchange best practice.
Be prepared. What worked back home or in your previous country of residence may not work in the new one. At the same time, opportunities you may had forgotten about can open up. Embrace your adventure!
*Names have been changed by the author.
Edited by Robyn Penny