Career Choices and the Expat Partner: What I could have done differently

Date Created: 17.03.2014

"If only I’d known then what I know now" is not something I say often, partly because I don’t believe in crying over spilt milk and partly because the world changes so rapidly that often today’s solutions just weren’t available back then. But an upcoming webinar on portable careers for expat spouses has got me thinking about what I would do the same and what I would do differently with my career, if I were to do it all again today.

Same: I would be a stay-at-home mom until my son finished school. I am forever thankful that I had an opportunity to be both a working mum (before expatriation) and a SAHM (during expatriation) and to experience the joys and frustrations of both.

Different: I would have studied more while I wasn’t working. Distance learning when we first went overseas would have been difficult but not impossible, these days it’s just a mouse click away and the choices are almost limitless.

Same: I would study the local language. Even though I know now that hell will freeze over before I could work in another language, it is such an insight into the local culture and even just a few words and phrases make everyday life so much easier.

Different: I would find a mentor or coach to brainstorm with from time-to-time. Like many expats I had no idea how long we would live overseas. Even those who have fixed term contracts often find they are extended or cancelled. I had never heard the term "portable career" and I didn’t realize that once my spouse had an international resume, more international assignments would follow. Years slip away before you realize what’s happening. If I were doing it again I would conduct an annual review of my situation and goals, ideally with someone who has expat experience, an unbiased opinion and enough guts to tell me what I need to hear (in other words, probably not a close friend)!

Same: I would do a lot of volunteer work. Looking back I can see I learned a hell of a lot doing things I didn’t get paid for and with a bit of creativity they can be made to look quite impressive on a resume. Nobody ever asks how much you got paid.

Different: When I did finally return to the paid workforce overseas I would have looked harder for something related to my original profession. My personal experience, and what I’ve heard anecdotally from other expats, is that starting a new career when overseas often doesn’t translate well when you return home. I found prospective employers here far more interested in what I did in Canada 15 years ago than what I did in Dubai 1 year ago. But maybe that’s just me and Canada, and for those who never return to their country of origin it wouldn’t apply anyway.

Contributed by Judy Rickatson, a repatriate to Canada who has also lived in the UK, Azerbaijan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Judy manages the FIGT social media accounts when she's not working in real estate and blogs at Expatriate Life.