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Expat life is fascinating and has many wonderful and interesting things that give you great opportunities to see the world. It will also give you experiences to different cultures and help you grow as a person in different ways. There are many reasons for wanting to embark on the adventure of following your spouse but – make no mistake – it also brings many challenges.
After you have come to terms with the challenge of leaving your family and friends, one of the main challenges, that many will face, is giving up or suspending your career. For instance, you may decide to stay at home or start another career in your new location. So when the possibility of an overseas position for your partner presents itself, one of the first questions you should ask your partner and yourself is “What about my career?”
My situation has not been as traumatic as others that I’ve observed. Some of my friends went through a longer and more complicated adaptation process when their career or profession defined them as a person. They didn’t regret their decision to follow their partner but they had to accept their new situation, either as an economical dependent, or as an expat job hunter.
Even before choosing my career and being faced with this situation, I have always known that if I ever had to choose between loved ones and a career, I would without any doubt choose the former. I have never been very career oriented, at least not to the point of feeling that it defined my identity. On the other hand I liked my profession as a lawyer, and I still do, even though I’ve always known it wasn’t the passion of my life.
And then it all just happened. I’m Peruvian and live in Lima and just after receiving my MBA I met my Italian husband who lived at in Panama at that time. In less than two years we were married and we were living in Panama. Being a lawyer is not a very exportable profession and I knew when I got married that I would have to leave my career. However, this didn’t bother me and I saw it as an opportunity and a chance to finally try to find my true passion. I say “finally” because I had already tried finding my passion while living in Peru but this proved to be quite difficult.
The first step in my “passion searching” process in Panama started without being planned. I found that I was working just for the sake of working because I didn’t want to become an economically dependent wife. Surprisingly, this new job whose initial goal was to make me stay in the labor force, became one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever had. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was an important step in finding my career path as an expatriate woman.
Three years later, with the onset of visa and work permit issues at our new location, I had to temporarily quit work. Again, without realizing it, this situation allowed me to open my mind and to think, for the first time and in a very honest way, about what I wanted to do with my life. The first year of not working went well. I could do all of the things you would not normally do just because you were working. More than once during that year I had a crisis of “work abstinence” and I felt I needed to return to the professional arena by leaving my house every morning with a purpose. I felt that I needed to wear office clothes and feel valued for my intelligence and by someone other than my husband. To be honest, those feelings soon became less and less frequent, but the feeling that something was missing in my life was still there. The idea of not working again and having such an easy and comfortable life at thirty-four was not very appealing to me. I began to wonder about what I wanted and what the possibilities were.
After long conversations with a dear friend and “jobless expat”, I concluded that it was important for me to work and to feel intellectually stimulated. I needed to find a portable career that allowed me to move to any destination and would make me feel useful whether working from home or in working in a flexible manner. It was also essential that this new career allow me to raise any future children that I might have. One of the things I’ve learned in these past few years of expatriate life is that as a trailing spouse, I do not just “follow” my husband. I now have, and I want to keep, a fundamental role in my home. I am responsible for the stability of my family and the adaptation of all of us in our new destination, through the creation of a social life and support network. However, I still had one additional requirement for my new professional path and that is it had to be satisfying and fulfilling and I had to be passionate about it. It was time to find that career I knew existed somewhere that would make me happy.
Without consciously wanting and following comments and suggestions of various people, I became familiar with Life Coaching and started researching and discovered a world of possibilities that were a perfect fit for me, my personality and interests.
Today I am in the process of training to be a Life Coach and I love it! A lot of my previous professional and personal experiences are proving extremely valuable in my training. Now I know what I want to do is to help people like me who are wandering through the world. I am reaching out to those who have to adapt and change frequently, who want to find something that fulfills them or those who simply want to live a better life and one that truly satisfies them and their needs.
In my case, expatriation opened the doors not only to the world but also to me. Going out of my social, family and professional circle, out of my comfort zone, moving away from the expectations that others and myself had set for me, from what one “is supposed to do” gave me the opportunity to rediscover myself, to reinvent myself and to find the passion that I had been searching for so long and the courage to act accordingly.
Yes, the expat life has many challenges and, at times, it is not easy even though for some it may look like it is. But it can also offer many opportunities and possibilities to improve and become a better person. All we need to do is just go and live it — with very open eyes and open hearts.