A Research Paper created by Claudia Landini
(Cross-Cultural Coaching, PALESTINIAN TERRITORY)
Following a partner abroad has never been an easy task. Until some years ago, trailing spouses accepted their roles without too much questioning. More recently, and especially with the huge changes Internet has brought to our lives, they started taking a proactive approach to their lives abroad; building a happy and solid professional life has become a substantial part of it. This should not surprise us: according to the Global Relocation Trends Survey 2012 of Brookfield Global Relocation Services, 61% of trailing spouses was working in their home country, and only 16% found a job after relocating. Despite an encouraging increase in statistics (according to the same survey of 2006, 58% was working at home, and only 8% found a job in the new country), the rate of professional employed trailing spouses is still very low. Again, this is hardly surprising. Moving constantly from one country to another makes it very difficult to maintain a regular career. Changes in languages, cultural settings, laws and work regulations must be taken into account when moving one’s professional profile to a new country. It takes time to understand the local market and to be able to move within it with the necessary intercultural sensitivity. Building a portable career, i.e. a career that can be easily transferred from one country to another, requires a lot of determination, good will, self–esteem and energy.
Definition of portable career
According to Jo Parfitt in her book A career in your suitcase, a portable career is “a career that you can put in your suitcase and take with you anywhere in the world”. This is obviously easier said than done. You might have the best portable career, but still find yourself at loss when you move to a country where you do not speak the language or where your product or service is culturally unacceptable. You might have set up the perfect professional environment and be working successfully, when your partner’s working contract comes to an end and makes you move again, thus losing all your local contacts and having to rebuild everything from scratch in a new place.
This case study will focus on my coaching experience with seven clients, three of them participating in a coaching program I set up within the frame of my online course to build a portable career, three as ICA external peer clients and one as paying client. All of them shared the fact of living outside their passport country. More common points emerged during the coaching program:
Silvia, an Italian living in Switzerland, had left her job in Italy to follow her husband in Basel.
Alessandra, an Italian living in Jerusalem, had been following her partner for quite a number of years, after quitting a steady job in Italy.
Sabrina, an Italian living in Australia, also quit her job in congresses organization in Italy to follow her husband in Brazil first, and then in Australia.
Cristina, an Italian living in Nigeria, had left her job in Italy as a human resources expert to follow her husband, and had a long story of relocating in rather tough countries.
Costanza, an Italian living in the Netherlands, had always worked, in all countries she lived in, adapting to the local market, and doing very varied jobs. Following her husband around the world, she was looking for a portable working project that would match her passions.
Paola, a British living in Bangladesh, is a long-time expatriate with an intense story of relocation all over the world to be with her husband.
John, a British living in Italy, had followed his partner in Palestine, and had found a job that satisfied him, as an English language expert within an ngo. When his contract came to an end, he joined his partner in Italy, and wanted to build a portable career that would allow him to be with her in her mobile professional life.
It is clear that all of these clients relocated abroad to follow their partners. None of them has left their passport country because of a working assignment abroad. The second common element to almost all of them is that they used to work in their passport country.
Despite being at different points in their lives and coming from varied professional backgrounds, they all manifested very precise needs:
- To be recognized and gain self-esteem through work
- To build something solid, transferable and lucrative
- They dreaded the idea of having to find “second class jobs” and having to work in a plethora of different areas just for the sake of working
- They were searching for stability in the working area
- They all expressed the need to work also to be independent from their partners
What coaching can do (and did) for these clients
Finding and maintaining a career that becomes the leitmotif of your life when moving constantly through continents is a very hard task and requires precise ingredients.
You will need a lot of courage to propose yourself again and again in new and unknown markets, and this courage can only come from motivation. The stronger your motivation is about your work, the easier it will be to transfer your career in a new environment. In order to find motivation, you need to have a job that is based on your values and passions – only if you are truly passionate about what you do, will you find strength, motivation and courage to overcome all the obstacles linked to transport your professionalism from one country to another. Self-esteem will naturally result from clear and solid choices, and will also help transitioning from one working environment to another. Mobile life means resilient life, especially in the professional realm. Increasing your resilience, and learn to apply it in specific situations is another challenge for those who want to build and maintain a portable career.
Values, passions, courage, motivation, self-esteem and resilience are all elements that are difficult to work on even when you live in a steady cultural environment. Being emotionally exposed to the roller-coaster of mobile life makes the whole exploration into these aspects of personal and professional life even more complex.
Coaching can be very powerful for expatriates that want to enhance the quality of their mobile life. The support of a coach in reflecting on the above mentioned elements is invaluable. A coach can help clients dig into their values, connect them with their innermost passions, and create a clear and solid vision of what is meaningful for them in a mobile career. He/she can boost motivation by showing how coherent and possible the clients’ dreams and projects are, and can enthuse them to the point of finding the necessary courage to deal with the inevitable obstacles they’ll have to face when relocating their portable work. By believing in their projects and becoming honest supporter to them, the coach transmits trust, optimism and contributes to increase the clients’ self-esteem. Once a solid basis is set on these elements, it will be easy to move on to work on clients’ resilience.
Here is what happened to my above-mentioned clients in relation to what stated above:
- Silvia, in Switzerland, knew she badly wanted to work, but had no idea of the kind of work she could perform in her hosting country. During our coaching sessions we started out by talking about her past working experiences, and she came to the conclusion that what she really loved was to work with books, magazines and writing. With patience, questioning, listening and sharing, Silvia discovered that a strong motivator for her would be contributing to spread the Italian culture in Switzerland. I supported her and reinforced her intentions, and she eventually came up with a project based on books and other artistic products presentations, that could work as a pilot project to replicate in future countries. The basis were set for Silvia to find the courage to go out and look for practical ways to implement her project, which she did: she found a Swiss company that would study her project and help her making it a reality.
- Alessandra, in Jerusalem, was very confused and torn: she needed to contribute to the family economy, and therefore was open to any kind of job, even if it did not satisfy her. During our coaching program, we first took stock of her past experiences and made a balance of the skills she had acquired. We then moved on to clarify what she really likes doing, and she came to the conclusion that Biodanza was the activity that she was 100% passionate about, and that was supported by solid training and experience. Through a series of mind maps, matched with the professional experiences she had accumulated since her arrival in Jerusalem, she decided that concentrating on Biodanza only will eventually pay back, and allow her to build a very solid professional image, that she will easily transport to the next country.
- Sabrina badly wanted to find a job that would allow her to be with her daughters at home, but at the same time giving her the professional satisfaction that she had experienced before quitting Italy. She had lots of confused ideas, but none fully convinced her. During our coaching program we explored at length her confusion about her passions. We alternated practical exercises with long conversations, until the clear desire emerged to base her future portable career on her experience as a relocating mother.
- Cristina was badly suffering from lack of self-esteem that mined her motivation and courage to establish herself as a professional. During our coaching program we analysed at length the reasons and the underlying believes that kept her in a place where she could not connect to her true passion: photography. With careful listening, powerful questioning, re-framing and opening up, she was able to identify the reasons that prevented her to really become what she wanted, and she set up a very practical project and time frame to realize it.
- Costanza was happy to work in any possible field, but she wanted to create a project that she could work on from anywhere in the world. Coaching Costanza took up a more practical aspect because she was very clear about what she liked and wanted. What she needed was someone to assist her in polishing her project and make it real
- Paola already had a very nice, full and satisfying portable career, but her lack of self-esteem and an “invisibility syndrome” were preventing her to acknowledge and enjoy it. During our program we examined the elements that made her unhappy, worked on her values and analysed many aspects of her work. For Paola the coaching was very important because she felt considered, admired, and interesting, and this in turn gave her the energy to boost her current job and get more satisfaction from it.
- John had been working in English language training, and felt the need to match his job with the career of his partner, that took him around the world. He was also suffering from a frustrated desire to work on something that matched his true passions, which he had somehow neglected. We thoroughly worked on his values and passions, and he concluded that, while being willing to keep on working on a field that just satisfied him partially, it was equally important to start putting the basis for future more satisfying projects.
In all cases clients walked away from the coaching program with a wider clarity of mind, more awareness about their values, passions and interests, and an enhanced sense of reality about what they would actually be able to achieve.
The practical side of coaching allowed them to think in concrete terms. Very often what prevents mobile people from achieving satisfaction in a portable career is that the practicalities of it are very hard to face and overcome. Different languages, cultural working rules, work laws, visas, and having to build relationships over and over again can be overwhelming – a coach can accompany the client in the practical steps, breaking what can seem like an enormity into smaller goals. Knowing that there is a coach waiting to know what an agreed action brought about, and ready to support and encourage the client that moves the very first steps in an unknown working environment, has proven very effective.