Insights for International Career Couples
What Originally Sparked Your Interest in Going Abroad?
I am originally from Zeltweg, a small Alpine town in Austria. My childhood dream was to be tourist guide. I studied Tourism Business Studies at the Austrian university furthest from home, in Innsbruck and spent a semester abroad in Barcelona. After graduation I started work as an HR consultant and joined the epunkt team in Graz, Austria. I did not plan on going abroad again until my husband’s employer made him a very attractive offer for Ethiopia.
What Were Your Biggest Concerns about Moving Abroad?
I originally only planned to go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for one year. Even so, it was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. The opportunity was exciting, but leaving my home, family and friends, and job at epunkt made it bittersweet. My biggest concern was that I would have to abandon my career.
How did you find your job in Ethiopia?
I found my job in Ethiopia through my and my husband’s network. You must fight the urge to plan everything ahead of time.
Taking time to meet people on the ground is critical in a new country.
I quickly connected with the owner of the leading HR consultancy and job platform in Ethiopia, Ethiojobs, and got the role as Operations Manager.
What Challenges Did You Face Working in a Different Culture?
The two years in Ethiopia were an incredible learning experience. I was the only expat navigating the cultural context and was working with major investors like Heineken and Nestle on large scale projects. Every day was an adventure. The team in Ethiopia welcomed me very warmly and integrated me into their team. My colleagues taught me all about their culture, food, and traditions. They invited us to weddings, and we celebrated both Christian and Muslim holidays.
My biggest challenge was learning how the country ticks. For example, sometimes email is better and sometimes calling is faster. Also, small talk, like asking how the family is doing, is more important than in Europe.
How Did You End Up Working Remotely for Talentor in Jamaica?
Two years ago, the next assignment brought us to Kingston, Jamaica, where we are still living now. Our move to Jamaica was a hard transition. I had to leave my job in Ethiopia and start from scratch. During that time, I also earned a second master’s in Human Resource Management and got certified as professional coach. In the meantime, my former boss at epunkt, Talentor’s parent company, contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in supporting the recruitment team remotely. This initial project turned into an opportunity to join Talentor.
What Is Your Current Role?
I am responsible for locating and contacting new partners and supporting the management team on other strategic projects. It makes me happy and proud to see results, like our new partner in California, and knowing it all started with an initial call at my end. Talentor benefits, too, from my network in East Africa and Jamaica as well as good coverage of time zones in the western hemisphere.
Maternity Leave Is Still Considered a Career Killer. How Did You Escape This Trap?
The maternity leave system in Austria astonishes people from other parts of the world. Talentor and epunkt are very supportive of new parents. Joining Talentor for a few hours per week after Clara was born was a great start, and that has evolved into the partner acquisition role.
How Do You Keep One Foot in the “Real World” while Working Virtually?
Working from home is convenient with a baby, but I do miss having a quick coffee with a co-worker. I consciously get out of my office for breaks, meet people for lunch, and play with my little one. Since my usual day is booked with calls, I usually never feel alone.
What Are Your Tips for Companies Seeking to Support International Career Couples?
Craft a career and education program that specifically supports both the person on assignment and her or his partner.
When both the partner and the expat see the assignment as opportunity, the chances are higher that the time abroad will be successful for both of them and for the organization.
When one of your employees is leaving to accompany a spouse abroad, follow epunkt and Talentor’s example. Stay in touch. Discuss any options that arise, such as remote work. In my case, the role I am in now was created years after I had left Austria.
3 Tips for International Career Couples
- Mutual support as couple is key. Start thinking: How can we both benefit from this assignment? Instead of feeling that one career might always win and one might lose. Never stop dreaming together.
- Put yourself in each other’s shoes. An international role as expat is usually highly stressful, and sometimes tied to a lot of travel. Creating a support system as family is key, especially when your own family lives far away. An African saying is: It takes a village to raise a child. Build your village wherever you live.
- Think of portability. As expat partner, try to create a portable career, like mine with Talentor. That way you can take your job with you to your partner’s next assignment – or back home.