Today’s post is written by Evelyn Simpson (The Smart Expat).
My colleague Louise Wiles and I have been researching the career choices that accompanying partners make when they move overseas. We’re trying to understand what drives the decisions that accompanying partners make, whether they are fulfilled in their choices and whether their happiness in those choices correlates with overall life satisfaction.
We all look at circumstances through the lens of our own experience, and as I’ve written articles in connection with the survey, I’ve known that many of them reflect that autobiographical bias. However, I’m keenly aware that people experience the transition to life as accompanying partners in diverse ways, so I sought out a different perspective. Maria graciously agreed not only to recount her experiences but also invited me to post my account of our discussion on I Was an Expat Wife.
Maria and I had already “met” when she attended a webinar series which I co-led, so although we have never met in person and were on Skype with a 6-hour time difference, our conversation was not so different from friends catching up over a coffee.
I asked Maria to tell me about her career choices before she became an accompanying partner. I also asked her describe the decisions she made as an accompanying partner and the factors that influenced them.
Maria left her career in corporate communications to be with her two young daughters a number of years prior to her husband being offered a posting in Singapore. In fact, she had just signed up for a corporate communications refresher course as she was contemplating a return to work once the youngest was scheduled to go to school full time. The offer of an initial one-year posting in Singapore accepted, Maria put her plans on ice.
The family loved Singapore and the one-year contact was extended. During her time in Singapore, Maria developed some close friendships, learned about the local culture, travelled around the region with her family, took language classes and (like all of us who have had the good fortune and privilege) enjoyed the liberation from routine tasks that affordable household help permits. In her last year the sense of newness and adventure had begun to wear off and a number of her close friends had already left. Maria is a self confessed introvert, and not wanting to begin again building new friendships, she decided to revive her plans to return to work. A communications job at an international school opened up. Maria’s experience fitted the bill and the job was hers for her last year in Singapore.
Maria then moved to Bordeaux in France, where she didn’t have the option to work as she didn’t have the language skills. Once again she focused on the transition for her family. She also spent time taking language classes so that she could function in her primarily French community, and had already signed up to do a Masters degree via distance learning with a university in British Columbia.
I asked Maria to describe how her work choices affected her sense of wellbeing and her relationships.
Maria described herself as very fulfilled during her first two years in Singapore. She loved the personal relationships she developed, the novelty of exploring the city and the sense of adventure in living in her new country and culture. She enjoyed learning the language and she appreciated the opportunity to be there for her children and support them in their school life in Singapore. She describes her return to work as “a decision made for all the wrong reasons.” Though seemingly perfect, the job was anything but, and Maria realised within a month that taking the job was a mistake. The job was not what it was billed to be and was providing her with no development or satisfaction. However, she carried on with it, reluctant to be perceived as quitting so quickly. The effect on her wellbeing was negative, taking away “some of the sparkle of expat life and replacing it with drudgery,” and her lack of fulfilment and happiness in her work life spilled over into her family life.
Maria and I talked about the level of support her husband’s employers provided in their moves, and whether or not she was happy about it.
Other than some shortcomings in the level of practical ongoing support her family received in France, Maria considers the level of support that was provided by both her husband’s employers as excellent. She noted that in Singapore she even received an education allowance which enabled her to take some writing courses.
Lastly, I asked Maria the “million dollar question”: if she could go back to the beginning and do it all again, what would she do differently?
Although she had read Jo Parfitt’s “Career in a Suitcase” she felt that it didn’t apply as she didn’t consider her skills suitable for a portable career. Though some fellow students in her grad course encouraged her to start a blog, she felt that was something for computer people, not for her. When she repatriated, Maria finally did begin to write and started her own blog. As a result of her highly engaging blog, a number of other writing opportunities have opened up for her, and Maria has a growing career in a field that is ideally suited to her life and her personal values. The three things she’d do differently?
- Use the tools that are available to her, particularly the internet, much more effectively.
- Be more open to the idea that she could achieve something in a new field.
- Pay more attention to the type of work that would suit her personality and her values.
Maria’s story illustrates that the choices accompanying partners make when they move overseas are individual and often highly complex. It also demonstrates that making knowledge and resources available can help accompanying partners make more successful choices about how they spend their time overseas.
If you’d like to contribute your story to the Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner survey, it will be available until the end of this month.
Evelyn Simpson, founder of The Smart Expat, is a personal development coach who works with the accompanying partners of expats to help them create fulfilling lives, which reflect their values and passions. Evelyn blogs intermittently at www.thesmartexpat.com
Louise Wiles is an expatriate coach and founder of Success Abroad Coaching. She works with potential accompanying partners as they work through their relocation decisions and then provides on-going support as they relocate. Her business focuses on helping accompanying partners create fulfilled and successful lives in their new locations.