When talking about success settling abroad as a family, there is no underestimating the importance of the accompanying partner having real opportunities to pursue career, education and other goals. It’s important not just from a long term career perspective but also in order to settle fully and finding an existence that is more than as a support to the working partner and family.
The typical assignment starts out in a flurry with packing and moving and then setting up in the new location. It’s a busy time and the bulk of the work often lands on the accompanying partner; if you move with children the process of getting everyone acclimated can be lengthy. Once the moving dust settles however, it can be hard to figure out what the next step is — what do you do now?
Without a meaningful personal outlet, getting to the point of feeling anchored in your new location may be elusive. We all have different needs, so for some the path includes having a job and pursuing a career, while for others it means going back to school, learning the language, or volunteering. Whatever it is, it’s important to know that it’s a real possibility, and that you have the resources necessary to make it happen, in all ways — support, time and opportunity.
The ability to work will first and foremost be determined by visa status. But even with the ability to work, finding a job isn’t a given. There are many reasons for this: work skills may not translate in the new country, there are language barriers and the process of looking and applying for a job can feel insurmountable.
My first couple of years of job searching were a bit of a nightmare. There were so many aspects that felt like a mystery to me. One of the biggest hurdles was actually my own lack of belief that this was something I could pull off. The whole process felt foreign enough that I doubted I could make it through and land on the other side with a job to my name.
Nevertheless, I did apply for jobs and sometimes I got called to interviews. I tried to read up on best practices for interviewing, but still I failed miserably the first many times. Looking back, I can see that it would have been great to have a professional coach, or a mentor — someone to provide guidance and give input, not just with regards to networking and the job search, but who could provide cultural and lifestyle pointers as well.
When new in a foreign country your are starting from zero. You don’t have a professional or personal network of individuals to contact for input, support, help, or just to vent. At home, we know whom to turn to in different situations. It takes time to build personal and professional networks you can rely on. For me, the key was going back to school — that’s where I built some confidence, that’s where I made a few connections and that’s where I got introduced to professional organizations in my field. As a matter of fact, the connections I made at school is how I eventually got my first job.
Ultimately, each of us has to figure out what we want from an assignment abroad and what it is that makes a successful assignment. What is universal is the need for opportunity and support to make the most of our time abroad.