Expat Spouses, Career and Entrepreneurship. From challenges to opportunities!
Conference on November 29th 2016 in New York City.
At the occasion of its first anniversary, Tandem Nomads organized a conference entitled: "Expat Spouses Career and Entrepreneurship". It was designed to identify the challenges and opportunities of building a career or a business while moving from one country to another as an expat spouse.
Thanks to the input of some inspiring guests on these panel discussions, expat spouses found some great inspiration to encourage them in their efforts to build a portable career and thrive in their global nomadic life.
1st Panel: A glimpse from the perspective of the employees sent abroad with their families.
Christine Moser is an Austrian senior diplomat and director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. She lived in Austria, France and the US.
Michael Friedl is the Austrian Trade Commissioner, he has lived in Austria, South Africa, the UAE, Iran and the US.
Here is an overview on some of the key takeaways shared on this panel:
- Because of historical and sociological reasons, it’s harder for a woman to continue her career abroad while the male partner follows her. When they do, these women are sometimes under extra pressure, as they usually still have a lot of responsibilities at home on top of their job.
“It’s a pity that women don’t have wives”.
- With the younger generations, things are thankfully changing, and more men are willing to support their partners giving up their steady career to join them abroad.
“Don’t take it for granted that your partner follows you”.
- Expat employees and their employers should not take for granted the impact and value of their spouses’ role for the organization. If expat partners didn’t give up their careers and dreams back home, globalization as we know it now would have probably not have happened. Experienced and senior executive employees wouldn’t have been able to move abroad so often. Also, on top of taking care of the household, expat partners often contribute to their spouses’ career, for example by expanding their professional network through the schools or volunteering connections. In the diplomatic spheres, spouses have an official representative role and responsibilities that doesn’t allow them to take on a traditional job. This could be better recognized and appreciated.
“Expat partners don’t give up work, they give up a salary”.
- Expat couples should be interested in each others career and wishes. They should communicate, share about their goals and dreams, be curious about what the other one is interested in and support it when possible. Also neither guilt from the working partner, nor resentment from the one giving up a career should take place, this is a major factor that could ruin the relationship on the long term.
“Going into this journey, as Tandem Nomads, should be a partnership”.
- Plan and prepare, discuss and agree as a Tandem on all the reasons and factors to go somewhere or not. Be attentive to the financial and administrative details (for example the local costs, the possibility for the partner to work under their type of visa they are granted...etc.).
“Do your research before you leave and know your non-negotiables”.
2nd Panel: Testimonial and insights from inspiring expat partners who managed to build a portable career or business.
Carol Rattray is a Japanese-American expat partner, ex-banker, and currently an investor and founder of the Rattray Kimura Foundation and co-founder of the startup Zoomdojo. Carol lived in Japan, Hong Kong and the US.
Cathleen De Kershove is a Belgian expat partner, nurse and psychotherapist. Today she is a trained traditional therapist, yoga instructor, and co-founder of the NGO, Les Enfants de Panzi. Cathleen lived in Belgium, Argentina, Austria, Pakistan, China, Rwanda and the US.
Ritu Banga is an Indian expat partner, ex-marketing manager and consultant. Now she is an education counselor and co-founder of the startup Zoomdojo. Ritu lived in India, the UK, Belgium, Hong Kong and the US.
Sonia Meza-Cuadra is a Peruvian expat partner, economist and consultant in the mining and international development sector. Sonia lived in Peru, France, Guatemala, the UK and the US.
Here is an overview on some of the key takeaways shared on this panel.
Dealing with transition and stress:
- Be patient and accept to be out of your comfort zone for a while.
- Take a step back and evaluate before getting angry or judging when things don’t go the way you are used to.
- Be curious, attentive, learn the language, meet people and ask questions.
- Build a healthy routine that has nothing to do with the new country (exercising, reading, writing, etc).
“If you can’t change your environment, you can change the way you decide to deal with it”.
Dealing with figuring out your career path:
- Don’t rush into finding a job, focus on understanding how you want to design your journey on the long term while moving from a country to another.
- Use that time when you can’t work to perfect your skills, train, invest in your personal development and volunteer.
- If you volunteer, volunteer cleverly according to your career goals to be able to enhance your resume.
- If you are unclear about your goals, use the help of professionals, such as a career or life coach. Invest in your personal development!
- Get your partner on board, make sure he or she understands your challenges and supports you with the help you might need.
“When I decided to quit my career to go abroad with my partner, it was my choice, nobody forced me. I had to embrace it and was pro active in making the changes I wanted in my life.”
Dealing with financial and administrative challenges:
- Make sure that you have a back up plan and that your rights are not forgotten (insurance, access to bank accounts, retirement plan, insurance, etc).
- Have the “money” conversation with your partner and find an agreement that works for both of you. Make sure that your partner helps you build your own capital even if you do not have an income.
- If regulations play against your rights (ex: retirement, visa or work permit issues), be proactive about it, raise the issue to the institutions that can do something about it, organize yourself with those who have to same issues.
“When you face a situation that doesn’t work for you, don’t wait, do something about it.”
Great opportunities that come with being an expat spouse:
- Think of each new country as an opportunity to grow your experience and learn new skills that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
- A successful career or business as an expat spouse often turns out to be a much more interesting career than a traditional career back home!
- Starting a portable business and becoming an entrepreneur is often a great way for expat partners to pursue their career while having the lifestyle flexibility that a traditional job does not allow.
- Embrace technology! Invest time and resources to learn how to use the online tools you might need! Thanks to technology, expat spouses’ opportunities to build a portable business are now so much wider.
“Don’t wait to be given a job, create your own job!”
The last but not the least part, exchanging with other expat spouses in the audience!
After these panel discussions, we all got together and enjoyed some nice treats while getting to know each other, exchanging on the challenges and opportunities for expat spouses' career abroad, and celebrating Tandem Nomads first anniversary! 🙂
Feedback from the audience after the conference:
“The conference was a great opportunity to listen to experienced expat spouses explain how they turned a seemingly uncomfortable situation into a great opportunity for personal and professional growth. I met many interesting people and am looking forward to future similar events!” Flavia
“A very empowering event and a chance to share experience with participants facing the same challenges. Great input from the panelists and intensive discussion with experts on the subjects. Very good moderator who knew how to ask the right questions and get the most of the panelists for our benefit. Great job!” Brigitte
“Inspiring and reassuring, every speaker had a different story to tell showing how difficult it can be to build your own career in some tough context and they all had invented their own way and overcome difficult times. It was also interesting to hear about the economic positive impact that expat spouses have on their spouses’ organizations. It is always very encouraging for women to be valued also regarding their role in the family and the couple (home, children, move, network, etc.)” Marie Laurence
“Very interesting meeting, where women were able to share their expat experience and find common struggles, while looking at solutions that help to improve the life of expat spouses.” Erica
“I think Amel offers real support for expats spouses looking for building a career abroad. Her work is very serious and she is an amazing person!” Renata
“Very interesting event with wonderful participants, who by sharing successful experiences give hope to those who are still somehow lost.” Hella
Looking forward to 2017!
Many attendees requested for more of these events. This is the beginning of an exciting journey!
We will be launching in 2017 a series of workshops (online and offline) with hands on advice and guidance on different specific challenges that expat spouses experience with their career and life abroad.
To be notified as soon as these workshops are ready, sign up to receive the newsletter.