It is both an exciting and an anxiety-inducing proposition: your wife or husband receives a foreign assignment and you have to move to another country.
It’s exciting for many reasons; the prospect of getting to know a new culture, your spouse’s professional recognition, the start of a new chapter in your lives. But there is also the gut-wrenching feeling brought on by the necessity of pulling the plug on your life as you know it and starting anew.
Gone are the days when the partners of overseas employees would let their own career grind to a halt. Times have changed. Most of the spouses of those on foreign assignment now have their own jobs. Of course, not all spouses accompanying expatriates want to work. Some prefer to turn their attention to children, charity, volunteer work or other activities. Yet, if the assignment lasts for long, most spouses start considering their career options. So, what can travelling spouses do to sustain their careers and make the most of their time while abroad?
Let’s get this out of the way first. Expatriate spouses need patience. At the beginning you may feel overwhelmed, which is completely normal. The adjustment to a new life and a new culture may be stressful and emotionally challenging. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to get in touch with other expatriate couples who will help ease you into the new environment.
Patience is also required when it comes to career opportunities. Gaining a foothold in the local job market can be hard, especially without appropriate guidance. Yet with a realistic plan, adequate assistance, and an enhanced capacity of enduring frustration, success is not impossible.
Look around for possibilities
Expatriate couples are well advised to research available career options and opportunities for assistance even before the transfer. The company which gave the expat assignment is a good place to start. Many firms realise that they need to offer some kind of spousal career support if they want to convince couples to move abroad. One of the major reasons for assignment failure is the inability of a spouse to adjust and settle in the new environment. “Around 30% of assignees who return early from an international assignment attribute the inability of their family to settle to the decision to come home,” Matthew MacLachlan, head of intercultural and communication skills training at London-based consulting firm Communicaid, told the BBC. This is why some companies offer immersion courses to expatriate couples (and their children). Some are more generous, offering career support services, various workshops, or career counselling.
Accompanying spouses can also turn to specialised international career agencies. One such agency is NetExpat, which provides assessment, training, and coaching for mobile employees and their relocating partners.
Another option for expatriate spouses is freelance platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr, which enable freelancers to earn a living by working from home. This option is appropriate against the background of the current Covid-19 outbreak, which has limited the mobility of millions of people around the world.
Learn the language
The benefits of learning the local language cannot be overstated. Yes, English is widely spoken all around the world and not speaking the local language is not typically an unsurmountable obstacle for expatriates. However, being well versed in the local tongue offers too many advantages, including career-wise, to be ignored. This holds true especially for spouses accompanying expatriates, because they have yet to secure employment.
Besides, think about the myriad other benefits associated with learning a new language. You will know what's going on around you without relying on someone telling you or reading translated news. Besides, people are really helpful when they see that you are making an effort. But above all, speaking the local language will help you build stronger, deeper relationships with people. From the point of view of career advancement, it will significantly improve the quality of your networking abilities. Yes, it may be difficult (go back to the paragraph about patience) and time-consuming, but it is worth it.
Gaining a new qualification
The decision to invest in yourself and gain new knowledge and skills could be among the wisest moves available to expatriate spouses. Think about it. Instead of trying to break into a new job market, why not use the time to gain a new qualification that will inject a fresh impetus into your career?
The MBA has long been considered as the go-to degree for people who want to move higher in the corporate hierarchy, achieve a career change, or even start their own venture. MBA programmes come in different formats – full-time, part-time, executive, online, and blended – and business professionals can choose the one that corresponds to their needs and preferences. The degree is also prized for the premium it places on networking.
The decision to relocate is not always an easy one. Some accompanying spouses may see the transfer to another country as a rough patch, while other may see it as an opportunity to grow and rise to exciting new challenges. Which group do you belong to?
Meanwhile don’t put your career growth on hold, and stay safe!