Leaving a job in your home country to accompany and support your spouse in his or her career abroad can be a tough decision. Or if you don’t like your job situation back home, it might be an easy decision!
Maybe you do look forward to not having to work any more – or at least to have a break from work. Maybe you look forward to spending more time with your children. Maybe you look forward to having more time to yourself and to explore doing new or different things you have always dreamt of. Or maybe you would like to work too, but you don’t know where or how to start looking for a job in a completely new place – maybe in a part of the world where you haven’t even been before, and maybe in a country where you don’t speak the language, and you aren’t familiar with the local work culture, traditions and codex.
No matter which situation you are in, moving abroad can be challenging both as a family and for you professionally. You will most likely be pushed out of your comfort zone on more than a few occasions, and find yourself vulnerable and with no direction in life.
Information makes you feel safer
If my husband’s employer had reached out to me even before we left Denmark 13 years ago, I would definitely have felt more secure and less nervous about moving to Qatar. It was a BIG decision for me to follow my husband and leave my nice and safe life in our home country and move to the Middle East. We didn’t have a trip to go visit Doha, see houses or schools before we decided to move. We just did it. At that time I didn’t consider getting a job abroad. We were planning on having our second child, and I wanted to be there for our daughter, who wasn’t particularly happy about our move, because she had to leave her family, friends and school behind. She didn’t speak English and she didn’t know anybody. That is a scary situation for a small child! I think I only agreed to go, because I was convinced that we would move back home after no more than five years … obviously we didn’t. We are still expats, and we don’t plan on moving back home any time soon. However, I have settled with my expat life, and found my own way through the different professional challenges I have faced over the years.
To be fair, I did get the email address to the wife of my husband’s manager, and I wrote to her asking questions, that she kindly answered, reassuring me that everything was going to be all right. That helped me feel a little safer about what was going to happen in our life. I have subsequently offered the same help for other wives of my husband’s colleagues, who were about to move with their family to Doha.
Settling in and getting ready for something else
Personally, I think it takes about a year to settle in to a new place. It usually takes time getting the children to feel safe in a new house in different surrounding, to fit in at school, find friends, establish routines, get the home furnished and functioning, and simply to find out where to go grocery shopping. I wouldn’t be able to work during this period of time, since most of this has to be done by me. My husband is obviously very busy getting to know his new job and what is expected of him, so everybody faces a lot of new challenges. It is really hard work and can be exhausting from time to time. After one year I start feeling comfortable and ready to do something else, in addition to running the family business.
Some international companies do offer different ways of helping spouses via mobility services other than the usual help from a relocation agent with housing, schooling, bank account, driver’s licence, health insurance and residence permit.
- I have followed a company-paid introduction course to Arabic language and culture. It was an inspirational teacher, and I worked hard to learn the numbers, letters and a few phrases, but I don’t remember much. Almost everybody speaks English in the Middle East, so you don’t use Arabic in your everyday life.
- Some of my friends studied online to finish their Master’s degree or earn an MBA or a nursing degree paid for by the company. That was great, and it helped them get a job, when they moved back home.
- I took a Danish online writing course. I think it was free though. But it was interesting and a whole new world for me. It was a nice challenge, and it inspired me to continue writing.
- We moved to Milan, and here the company that hired my husband paid for a one-on-one tutor teaching Italian. Again, I worked hard trying to learn a new language, but I didn’t really become any good at Italian.
Leaving a job in your home country to accompany and support your spouse in his or her career abroad can be a tough decision. Or if you don’t like your job situation back home, it might be an easy decision.
It is clearly a good idea for international companies to consider focusing on dual career and to approach the spouses to let us know what possibilities they can offer us – apart from the job they have for our husband or wife. I think informing expatriate families beforehand about different kinds of support for spouses would make it easier for people, who might hesitate to move, because they do have a good job and a comfortable meaningful life back home, that they don’t want to trade in for an uncertain future.
The company could make it clear that they both practically and financially support spouses in their search for language courses and further education to upgrade their professional qualifications. They could inquire what we potentially can bring to the table from our previous jobs and career background. Or they could help us find a job in another company, a school, hospital or nursery. If a couple work within the same business, it might be easier to continue the dual career pathway abroad by getting two jobs in the same company. For instance international teachers often travel in pairs, and work at the same school. Or you may even have a little entrepreneur hidden in your tummy and now is the time to find the courage to start your own business abroad.
The Internet and various job portals have made it possible and much easier to do some job research prior to transferring to a new destination. Often, you need to reside in the new country before you can apply for a local job. Or it will at least be easier. You also might have established a local network consisting of parents from school, the working spouse’s colleagues, or neighbours in the compound where you live, and have acquired a sense of what to expect from a job in the new location. Work habits and norms are not always the same in different countries. Maybe you can’t get a job that your education and experience justifies. You are over-qualified. Maybe the salary isn’t as critical as back home where your family rely on dual income to run the household. Abroad, a job for the spouse might be more about social interaction. Therefore, you often have to compromise with regards to your academic or professional ambitions, just to get a job.
I have a PhD in molecular and cellular biology, and I work as a Health Office Assistant at my son’s school. To me being part of a team with nice colleagues and making a difference for the students at school every day, is more important than working at a prestigious university. Working part time also gives me time to see my family, time to do some reading and writing, and I enjoy all the school holidays with my son. What’s not to like? You can read about my professional challenges in my previous blog: https://www.linkfacility.com/expat-dual-career/career-in-transistion
I am sure some companies do have a policy on how to promote dual career and support spouse’s professional development. Being more proactive and approaching in this field would for sure help many families getting a smoother transition and posting, and decrease the frustration of many spouses and thereby the stress within many families. I think it would help more families decide to try out the adventure of expat life.
Companies look for skilled people to hire. Skilled people usually marry skilled spouses, so I think there is a lot of un-used professional potential walking around out there. If the companies reached out to the spouses before or early on in the posting to a new job at a new location, it would be a win-win situation. Even if it didn’t result in a job or signing up for a course right away, I am sure that knowing about the support and potential job opportunities, would give some peace in mind.