The Expat Spouse, Reinvented

April 23, 2015

By Lisa Gibson
It’s a little known fact that Julia Child, as featured in the 2009 film Julia and Julie, is the original trailing spouse reinvention success story. The wife of an American diplomat, she followed her husbands’ career to Paris in the late 1940’s. With time on her hands and the world of French cuisine at her fingertips, the California native took full advantage of her newfound situation and completely reinvented herself. She went from a rather mundane administrative job to a rewarding and successful career as chef, author and television presenter. This reinvention was even more surprising due to her rather limited cooking ability! However she jumped at the opportunity and threw herself headfirst into the world of French cooking, and the rest as they say is history. Today she is recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public.
The expression ‘trailing spouse’ often conjures up negative connotations however, there’s a growing trend of expat spouses who have put a positive spin on the term, and transformed themselves from trailing to reinvented. In a very serendipitous chain of events, their choice to follow their partners’ career has resulted in a rebirth of their own.
An expatriation is an opportune time to explore new professional avenues, namely the world of entrepreneurship. With this reinvention, comes the creation of a new identity and an entirely new career path, often more fulfilling than the one left behind. For some, it starts out as a hobby whereas for others, it’s about identifying an untapped opportunity or an unfulfilled need.
Someone who understands the highs and lows of the expat spouse better than most, is Caroline Garrod, a British Counsellor and Life Coach based in Switzerland, whose clients are mainly expat spouses who have followed their partners careers abroad. “Loss of identity is often the catalyst for reinvention. Many spouses have left behind careers back home and are often unable to work in their field, either due to the language barrier or rules regulating the recognition of qualifications,” Caroline remarks. “They are faced with how to define themselves and how to find purpose and meaning. It can be extremely daunting however it can also be a unique opportunity to reassess ones professional path and start afresh,” adds Caroline.
Caroline works with clients to help them accept and embrace their new lives abroad and also guides them in identifying and building on other skills and passions, with the aim of giving them the confidence to start something new.

When creativity, passion and a personal need collide

May moved from Denmark to Switzerland in 2010 when her husband accepted a job in Zurich. She initially revelled in the time off and saw it as an opportunity to immerse herself in the local culture as well as to spend quality time with her boys, helping them with the new language. However, the former Communications Partner soon found herself wanting to take on something more. Creative by nature, it was only a matter of a time until May started searching for an outlet for her creativity.
May explains, “I took up painting again and started making jewelry and other crafts. Soon thereafter, I launched my website MayAvril.dk. Friends and family really seemed to like my creations so I opened a shop on Etsy.com. I also found a shop in Zurich that was a good match for my MayAvril leather bracelets.”
And this was just the tip of the iceberg for May – she then went on to her business launch Sensefusion, a personal care line made entirely from natural products. The idea was borne out of a personal need. “After experiencing dramatic weight loss, and buying various expensive face creams to help repair my face but not feeling satisfied with the results, I decided to investigate alternatives. I did a fair bit of research and it was then that I decided to create my own product, a face oil composed of all-natural ingredients,” explains May.
When asked about the positives regarding her reinvention, she replies, “The best thing is that I can prioritize my boys and at the same time, still challenge myself. I get to make things I love which are also loved by others. And it makes me really happy to teach my boys about entrepreneurship.” As for her advice to others thinking of gong the entrepreneurial route: “Being an entrepreneur is extremely time consuming but also very rewarding for ones self esteem.”

Spotting a need in the market and a love for all things pretty

Singaporean native Sue Ann followed her Swiss sweetheart back to his home country in 2007. With a background in marketing and communications and having worked in the hospitality industry, her reinvention came about while she was preparing for her daughters first birthday party. She explains, “It was quite a challenge sourcing pretty yet affordable kiddies party stuff here in Switzerland. I founded Sage Leia with the sole purpose of helping other mothers acquire the perfect party accessories for their childs’ special occasion.” She later opened a second business, specializing in affordable statement jewelry and accessories, a perfect complement to her first offering.
Regarding the initial challenges she faced, Sue Ann is frank. “You have to play multiple roles often in areas with which you may not have any prior experience.“ However she firmly believes that expat spouses should take advantage of their new situation and the unique opportunity it presents. “I think being in a new location and environment allows one to have fresh perspectives. What is a saturated market in your home country could be something completely new here,” she states.
What is her advice to other would-be mumpreneurs? “It’s a learn-as-you-go process, nothing is perfect from the get-go. You will need to spend time researching and doing your homework.” She continues, “While there’s no denying that it is a tough and challenging adventure, the valuable skills you learn along the journey, not to mention the fulfillment derived from it, more than make up for it!”
She concludes, “My creativity level has definitely risen a notch since I started my two online shops; I feel like my inner Martha Stewart has been released! It also gives you more flexibility as you can determine how your day goes. You are in charge of your own destiny, and have the ability to set your own schedule, which is great for moms.”
And who wouldn’t want greater flexibility and more creativity in their lives?

A love affair with cooking meets an untapped market

Born in Israel and raised in the US, Danna and her husband have lived in Switzerland for almost ten years. With a background in graphic design and psychology, Danna has always gravitated towards all things food-related. She says, “My dream has always been to be my own boss and part of that dream was that it included food. My mother had run cooking classes for kids at her own home kitchen, and tried to convince me to start one here. At the time, I couldn’t imagine dealing with even more children – two active boys of my own was a challenge in itself! But as they grew a bit older and it came time for them to go to kindergarten and first grade, I saw the mornings as an opportunity to do something for myself.”
Danna recalls, “I realized I was onto a good idea when I searched Google and saw that no one else was offering such a course in Switzerland, especially not an organic healthy cooking course.” She goes on to add, “My biggest dream has always been to educate children about healthy food, and the benefits of a well-balanced diet. You could say it stemmed from a personal desire to raise my children to become food-conscious.”
She names the obstacles she faced in the beginning as lack of knowledge about running a business and financial issues, however she is quick to add that her business know-how improved daily so it wasn’t a deterrent in making her dream a reality. When it comes to the positives she has experienced as a result of her re-invention, she has the following to say: “Having something to look forward to every morning when you wake up is so rewarding.”
Her final advice: “You have to find that one thing you’re so passionate about that you won’t mind working through the night.”
Seems Danna has the right idea – as the saying goes: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Bringing a taste of India to Switzerland

Born in India and having lived in the UK before relocating to Switzerland, Sunrita moved to Basel in 2013 when her husband secured a position here. With a background in Human Resources, mother of one Sunrita soon realized the language barrier would prove to be a restricting factor in finding a position locally. She explains, “I still deeply wanted to do something to keep me engaged and give me some kind of purpose, not only to give me a professional footing but also for the sense of personal gratification that comes with it. This was essentially the driving force behind my venture, ‘Curry in a Hurry’.”
“The idea of `Curry in a Hurry’ came about after numerous friends requested that I cook some typical Indian dishes for them. They asked me for my recipes and wanted me to show them how to cook the meals,” she adds.
She says, “My way of cooking is the `Lazy Womans Curry’ as I believe that you can bypass the extensive chopping, stirring and standing time in the kitchen. Because Indian cuisine is considered an arduous task, I had the idea of demystifying Indian cooking and making it easy for everyone to cook a curry.” She recalls, “I advertised my first cooking class on an expat Facebook page in 2014 called `Cooking with 5 spices and under’. Once the classes became a regular feature, I extended my service to selling pre-blended organic spices and spice mixes through my online store.”
Sunrita shares the following advice: “Success and failure are two sides of the same coin. In business, there are both good days and bad days. Staying positive and persevering is key.” She concludes, “The pleasure of working for yourself is that you don’t have to fit your kids in, you fit yourself in instead. The flexible hours are a luxury a corporate role may not offer.”

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