Many women and some men are occasionally confronted with a hard choice: stay in their home country while their partner works abroad, or follow the partner and leave their career behind.
I belong to the second category, though much time has passed since I closed the door on my work as interpreter in my hometown to follow my husband to Africa. Today, after raising my two sons, I am back in the professional world with a new activity. I have learnt a couple of things in the process that I would like to share.
I want you to think of three possible scenarios the accompanying spouses face:
Leave their work behind, and use their time abroad in other ways
Carry their career abroad
Invent a totally new career
The first scenario used to be the most common amongst accompanying partners. After all, the one in the couple who does not have a working contract has a lot of time to take care of raising children or other aspects of the household. Moreover, when the Internet did not exist, finding things out before leaving and getting organized to maintain a sound career abroad was far more complex than it is today.
Many still decide to use their time abroad to stop working and discover other things, to cultivate a new interest, to discover new passions, or to retrain. And this is perfectly right when it’s chosen with awareness.
There are accompanying spouses, however, who give up working because they don’t know that exporting their career is possible, and they feel frustrated by the lack of professional identity that marks their stays abroad. I would like to encourage them to reflect on some points before giving up the idea of exporting their career. There are, of course, cases that make it impossible to do so: if you are a park ranger and go to live in the Sahara, you will lack the main source which makes it possible to apply your know-how. These, however, are isolated cases, in a world that becomes more and more intermingled at all levels. The Internet makes it possible to get in touch with a vast number of professionals who can be of inspiration, or simply a good source of contacts.
My advice is to find out as much as possible before you go. You have endless sources to do so: Linkedin and other professional networks like Women International Network (http://www.winconference.net/WINConference) or Business Network International (http://www.bni.com/), websites of daily papers and magazines of the country you are going to, which can give you a good insight on the local market, website of expats who share information, welcoming clubs and associations, and contacts in your personal network.
You need to find out whether your certifications can be used in your host country, whether your partner’s contract has clauses that prevent you from working and the interest the local market has in your professional sphere. Once you arrive, put in practice what you have learnt beforehand: go to see the people you corresponded with, pay a visit to associations and enterprises you have spotted, and of course learn or reinforce the language of the country.
Proficiently networking takes time when you arrive in a new place, but it pays back. Be attentive and alert about what people have to offer and the most common topics and hints in expats’ communities. You might find opportunities in activities that are only transversally related to your profession, but that can be highly rewarding. Flexibility is the key to succeed in exporting your career. Depending on the cultural context and local market, you might have to adapt your profession to different circumstances, or to add an ingredient to your offer and services, which can make them more desirable to the local customers. Research, think hard, talk to people, take time to really feel the environment, and be ready to add, take out or modify something in your professional approach – it might pay back with a lot of satisfaction.
A few words on the third scenario, the one in which you invent a totally new career. This is the case of a growing number of expats, who take advantage of their experience abroad and the close contact with new cultures and ways of living, to completely recycle themselves in new professional areas. Relocating to a new country, or even better, to more than one, can stir creativity and boost self-confidence, which are the basis for new projects. Having much more time on one’s hands, which is usually the case for most accompanying partners, gives the chance to listen more closely to one’s passions and needs. There are many ways one can proceed when one decides to start a new career.
Part of the past professional experience can be used to boost new ideas; the contact with the new culture can act as a powerful source of inspiration; starting new studies or trainings is made easy by the amount of time at disposal, and by the growing offer of online opportunities. Relocating brings in itself a sense of renovation, which can easily become the engine of new ideas. Once again, the Internet is an invaluable source of information – seek out those who are already working in the field you’d like to explore and make contact with them. Take time to evaluate and list your skills, experiences, and talents, and structure them in a realistic project. And if you are starting from scratch, it might be worthwhile not to forget that a profession based on your true passions and values has many more chances to take off.
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