One of the best things I did during my first few years as an accompanying partner on expat assignment was going back to school. Not only did it provide me an opportunity to acquire new skills and make myself employable, it was also a way to meet people and make friends. In addition, I made professional connections that later landed me my first job in my new country. But more than that, going back to school served a subtle purpose as it became a way for me to feel “normal”, it gave me something to identify myself by at a time when most of what I knew about myself I had left behind.
It sounds dramatic perhaps, but being the accompanying partner on expat assignment can be disorienting and it’s easy to lose your footing when you have given up your career, moved away from friends, family and familiar surroundings all the while trying to figure out life in a new country. I remember feeling very unsettled. Going back to school provided structure to my week with classes and homework. Slowly and surely I also developed a social life surrounding school and eventually life began to resemble something I recognized as mine.
In hindsight I also wouldn’t underestimate the general cultural and societal adaptation that going to school provided for me. I learned a whole lot about how to go about life in my new country by signing up for and attending classes. I had to interact with teachers, fill out paperwork, apply for parking passes, and learn to work with the other students. I was intimidated at first and there was a definite learning curve to all aspects of attending school, but with every step came a sense of achievement and I started feeling like I was in control of my life again.
It took me about a year and a half to complete my certificate program and during that time I made a couple of good friends and gained professional connections. When it came time to look for a job, one of my classmates got me hired as a contractor at her company and eventually I was offered a full time position.
I have continued to take classes ever since I finished that first program. When I was home with young children it became a welcome distraction to head out for an evening class once a week. It made me feel like an adult, and even though I was sometimes too tired to really make much of the class I was taking, it was always something that added perspective and inspiration to my everyday.
Once I had less of a need to make social connections, I started looking into online classes. They offer a great opportunity to take classes for fun or to learn new skills while offering a flexible schedule. I have taken everything from photography to intercultural communication through online programs and for the most part, the instruction is very good. The beauty of online programs is that you can attend classes from all over the world.
Online programs may require a little more discipline than in-class courses and sometimes if you get stuck on an assignment it can be discouraging to not have a teacher or classmate available to ask for help. However, my personal experience is that the online forums and the technology driven interactions work really well and rarely have I been left hanging for any length of time.
A few years back I signed up for an evening class that was attended almost exclusively by young professionals. By then it had been several years since I had taken an in-class course and I was a bit rusty and not sure what to expect. What I did know however was that I needed pen and paper for notetaking, that has always been my method for staying focused and taking in material. I quickly felt like a real old-timer as I looked around and everyone was multitasking on their phones and computers, taking notes, looking up stuff (Facebook, Twitter, chats…) and finishing assignments effortlessly. I was blown away by their ability to do so many things at once. I have a lot to learn!
By: Felicia Shermis