Finding your own project
Role Model Story Luise
In today’s Role Model Portrait, I would like to introduce you to Luise. I became aware of her some time ago in the German-language Facebook group “Die Weltfrauen” in which well-travelled women exchange ideas and support each other. She posted a few impressions from her new home in China and I immediately liked her good eye for beautiful shots. She captured the atmosphere around her wonderfully. A little later I started reading her blog and learned that the pandemic has thrown off the planned adventure abroad and she is temporarily back in Germany.
Again a few months later I became aware of a great project of hers. She produces beautiful envelopes from old calendar pages to remind people to keep in touch with each other in the midst of a global pandemic and to donate the proceeds to a charitable organization (SOS Kinderdorf). I wanted to get to know Luise better and share her perspective on expat life with the SharetheLove community.
So, without further ado, we arranged an exchange and you can read the result here. If you are thinking about going abroad and want to take the first steps, you will surely find some impulses in Luise’s portrait that will accompany you on this journey.
Luise is a mother of 4 and has lived a very international lifestyle. Based in Germany right now she and her family have lived in Italy, Mexico and China before the pandemic put everything on hold. She is the founder of Upcycle Cards, a social enterprise to support children.
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Oh bella Italia
Luise is not only a mother of four but also a very experienced globetrotter.
More than 20 years ago, she went abroad for the first time – to Italy. She had finished her studies in economics and was working in her first job when her partner came home with the offer to go to Italy. Luise was immediately hooked. Her job back then was ok but quitting was not difficult as her heart was not in it. The thought of going abroad was much too exciting. In their immediate environment, moving abroad put them in the position of the exotic couple and it seemed tempting to break out of the social construct at home. Once they arrived in Italy, they both plunged into the Bella Italia life. They made the most of every day, learned the language, and adopted fully to the Italian way of life.
If you are waiting for the big BUT I may disappoint you. Luise did not experience the culture shock, the feeling of being lost without a job, or the loneliness of being a stranger abroad like so many before and after her. Luise really looks back on this time in a very positive and favorable way, and this is due to two things in particular, in addition to the close partnership with her husband: Professional projects and social integration.
The importance of professional projects and social integration
At that time, Luise did not have any children. Especially many childless expat women without a job often feel a big void. Taking away the job or a career can be a big trigger. However, Luise is lucky to have found a friend in her relocation agent. The two harmonized immediately and so the offer was obvious to use Luise’s empathetic demeanor, her language skills, and her own experience in a professional context. She started to work as a freelancer in the relocation market and helped other families to integrate into Italy.
Back to Luise: It was the time before the World Wide Web and so personal contact was even more essential than today to get information. This work gave Luise great pleasure and a sense of fulfillment. She also threw herself into the expat community with open arms. Even today, Luise speaks very positively of this community and also of all the other expat communities that were to follow at other assignments abroad. The gynecologist in the expat community became a close friend and also gave birth to her first child. All these women abroad combined with this experience of living a life away from home became a close community.
About arriving and departing
They returned back home to Germany with their firstborn and life continued.
Arriving home after some time abroad looks easy from the outside, but unfortunately, it is not. For many, it comes as a surprise how proactively one has to approach friends and family and how much self-commitment it takes to arrive again while the environment underestimates this adjustment.
For those who need more support, I recommend the great program of my colleagues Wiebke and Christina called ARRIVING or one of my free Global Coffee Dates to exchange experiences with others in a similar situation.
For Luise, the family planning continued in Germany. Her second child was born and so she was fully in her element as a mother and professional considerations had no priority for the time being.
Shortly thereafter, they unexpectedly went abroad again – this time to Mexico. Thanks to the global network, Luise and her family received a warm welcome with a large bouquet of flowers and soup. A little later, after she had settled in, Luise was also to stand at the airport and welcome another family with flowers and later soup. Because that’s what expat community is all about: you’re happy to pass on the open arms you’ve experienced yourself.
In Mexico, Luise also gave birth to twins, and experiencing the advantages of a global Healthcare made her once again very grateful for that expat lifestyle. The twins were premature babies and Luise felt very safe and cared for. “It was an all-round carefree package and I appreciated it even then. I don’t know how I would have felt here in Germany.” (In case you are having troubles with the topic of becoming pregnant abroad this blog post might help you.)
The magic of a loving marriage
In our conversation, I experienced Luise as very balanced and at peace with herself. You can tell that she has had a variety of experiences, but she also looks back with gratitude on challenging and difficult times, because they were also instructive. She has a lot of years of marriage ahead of me, so I wanted to know more about it: What makes a marriage abroad successful?
In her experience, the years abroad are extremely defining for a marriage. She especially likes to think back to the early years in Italy, because they laid the foundation for everything that followed. When you’re abroad, you’re much more dependent on your partner without the social environment you’re used to. This is where shared hobbies often develop and the experience abroad welds people together. I can only confirm this from my experience as a coach. Either the partnership strengthens a lot or it breaks up.
Luise talks about how important it is to be able to read your partner. She recommends paying attention not only to the spoken word but also to gestures and facial expressions in order to get a feeling for when to let the other person process things alone for a short time or when to be a support. This applies in both directions, of course. Both partners are a support to each other, both should meet the other with a natural desire to help and support.
Luise lives the classic division of roles within the relationship. And even today she is aware that not everyone finds this model desirable or contemporary. At the same time, this model has given her a fulfilled life, and she wouldn’t want to change places with anyone. Fortunately, life is colorful enough for different models and happy is the one who could choose his way of life freely.
Of course even the best marriage has dark hours and unanswered questions. I learned from Luise in our conversation that even as a very experienced expat woman, one struggles now and then with being financially dependent. Objectively and analytically, this is not true because a couple always goes together on an assignment but self-realization is of course often based partly on financial independence. That can be a fine line to walk. For Luise, the answer was to set herself up financially in such a way that certain financial areas belonged only to her and, on the other hand, to look for certain projects that challenged her ambition. That was on the one hand the photography and her blog about life in China and since a few months there is a new exciting project in her life: the upcycling cards social enterprise.
This project allows her to be creative and express herself while also challenges her to leave her usual comfort zone and deal with things that are not familiar to her. Besides a website, of course, bookkeeping and managing orders are also part of it. Also, the acquisition wants to be learned. Here are a few photos of her upcycling project and if you want to support Luise and her action have a look here.
The power of having a purpose
I also found it interesting what potential and learning curve this project holds for Luise. First, she started small and used her own expired calendars for her project. Then she expanded the circle and asked friends and acquaintances to get new material. But after the second lockdown in Germany, most of the cellars were cleaned out and people had long since followed the path of Marie Kondo. So Luise contacted companies and presented her project. Manufacturers and retailers of calendars now regularly send her supplies. The newspaper reported on her and the days are now filled with the cutting of envelopes. As an external observer, I imagine this to be almost meditative. Luise is now heavily involved in the topic of social entrepreneurship and is very grateful to have taken on this new project. The last few months have not been all easy. Luise also lives in a kind of split family situation. For months now her family is spread out all over the world, her children are in boarding school in Scotland, her husband in Shanghai and a reunion is planned for July.
There you can also feel quite lonely once in a while. Fortunately, she decided to take a coach on such a gloomy day. The coaching showed her how to analyze herself and her feelings and encouraged her to prioritize herself after 15 years of intensive care work. The children were a big part of her self-fulfillment for a long time. Of course, you don’t stop being a mom, but the intensity with which you show your presence changes. So now she enjoys the newfound time and energy to turn to her own projects like upcycling cards. (Find more about coaching here).
Like all the other Role Models before her, I asked Luise for her tips to you. How do you arrive well in a foreign country? How do you feel at home? How can this adventure succeed? For Luise, the core lies in making connections. Be it by proactively approaching others, joining expat groups, getting involved in schools and kindergartens, ringing the neighbor’s doorbell, proactively asking your partner to establish contact with colleagues so that you can get to know each other at a barbecue, or even looking for colleagues even when you’re not working. Each contact opens up a new world to you.
She also stresses the importance of a good partnership. While daily communication can suffer when you both have long days filled with very different challenges, it is important to be there for each other. Every family has its own family model. To make it work it is essential that this model is agreed on mutually and that both are happy with that model.
If you are living in an international context I recommend the new book by Paul Vanderbroek and Janni Aastes Skov-Hansen. In that, you can find lots of useful tips for active communication within a partnership and how to define your family’s international identity.
Thank you so much Luise for sharing your story and inspiring us with your life decisions. Feel free to check out her new project Upcycling here and as a huge fan of her photos, I hope to see her work continued in the future.
It was a true pleasure talking to you Luise! Thanks for sharing and your contribution to the expat community.
I hope you enjoyed this story! If you want to share your own story or know someone who must be portrait here please get in touch with me. Either by filling out this short form here or sending me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org