In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity ~ Albert Einstein
Imagine that you have just finished making dinner for the family in the evening and your spouse/partner comes home and informs you that the discussion you had a few years about the possibility of relocating to a foreign country may become a reality.
You search the corners of your mind, trying to recall such a discussion but it’s vague. Your spouse/partner provides more details. You now start to feel the excitement rising within your chest. Living in some far away exotic country may be a reality after all. You quit your job and make an international move only to realise that you cannot get a meaningful job locally. Is it possible to create some worthwhile work for yourself?
You are a recipient of a promotion in one the Forbes 100 companies and ready to take on responsibilities that will be a trajectory to some serious career development. It is the first time that a woman in the department has risen this far. Your manager is counting on you and you are ready to shine and prove that management made the right decision. As you launch into a celebratory muse of how you will approach and succeed in your newly acquired role, your phone rings, momentarily breaking the spell of your reverie. It is your spouse who excitedly informs you that he has just received the great news; you are moving to Africa. His long awaited international assignment has been confirmed! You have a successful incipient career with excellent prospects but move with your family abroad anyway..…to a place that seems that to crush the core of your career landscape. What can you do to get out of this bottomless pit of limited opportunities?
Your wife’s career is going in the perfect direction. She has risen in rank at least twice since your first international move. You have been an accompanying spouse for almost two decades now. It was agreed the first time she was sent on international assignment that you would take turns on who would be the principal spouse, an agreement that never materialised for several reasons. Something is not right. You feel that you career is becoming frustrated as you never obtain any meaningful employment at the duty stations where she gets posted. The past ten years work experience you had gained suddenly seem to be amounting to nothing but for the small short term projects you have been involved with. How can you make a grand re-entry into the labour market?
My own story
My life as a part of the STARS (Spouses Travelling and Relocating Successfully) has indeed been a successful one. I do feel like a STAR. I have obtained two university degrees while living in diaspora, and been involved in a variety of professional projects, some of epic proportions. I have had the opportunity to work for Passport Career, The World Bank and now serving U.S. Government diplomat spouses living in Africa. It has not been an easy journey but having had the ability to craft a sustainable mobile career has made it bearable. Living in different locations including Ghana, Denmark, USA, Kosovo and now Kenya over a span of twelve years has brought about challenges of not being able to engage fully in meaningful employment consistently. In some of these locations I have been the legatee of bad news; being informed that I could not work because I did not qualify for a work permit. This is the worst news any job seeker living in the diaspora can face. Kenya on the other hand has been different, a wakeup call which has brought various degrees of professional blessings.
A number of us have had one or more of the three scenarios mentioned above. The job search activity in foreign environments is fraught with challenges. Where do I start, who do I connect with, what is the local employment economy like, will I ever bounce back and ride the reigns of my past professional glory?
The most important thing to acknowledge when you feel this way is that you have chosen to be a STAR. I know some of us feel like we have been forced into expat spouse life but if we are honest with ourselves; we should admit that we chose this life, by virtue of being with our spouses/partners. Instead of focusing on the course our lives could have taken, where our careers would be by now had we not moved and so forth, let us focus on making it work under the current circumstances. If we do not go past phase I, we will not be able to move to phase II. Phase I being the recognition that we are accompanying spouses/partners (mind you this does not have to be a permanent situation) and phase II would be a strategic job search campaign………. a campaign to craft a sustainable portable career.
Come back to my Vade Mecum next week to receive tips on how to become a successful mobile professional, a STAR!