I know I am a much more fun mum when I have my own project
Role Model Story of Marloes
I always find it funny how this google algorithm works. There is a whole world disclosed from you unless you enter this one specific keyword. In my case, I never defined myself as an expat partner (even though I was fulfilling the technical definition). Back then I thought my case was very unique until I finally entered the keyword expat spouse and a whole world opened its doors to me. A world full of academic research, statistical numbers, surveys, and psychological concepts that explained the phases of culture shock. Finding Marloes was very similar to that. It started with researching the topic of Third-Culture-Kids (you can find the post here) and ended with looking a bit deeper into the adjustment process of kids moving abroad. This was the moment I found Marloes and I am very happy that I did as it enables me to introduce you to her in this role model portrait and spread the news about the amazing idea and workbook project she started with her friend and cousin and her journey to this moment.
Together with her two kids (now 6 & 8 years old) Marloes and her husband moved from the Netherlands to Taiwan. Back in the Netherlands Marloes worked as a consultant and it was their first international move. In this role model portrait, Marloes is reflecting on her path from a corporate working mum in the Netherlands to distributing fun & supportive workbooks for children moving abroad as an entrepreneur.
How to connect
While talking to Marloes one thing stood out to me throughout the whole interview: Her growth mindset. She was convinced that she is in charge of shaping her future and that is not something you are hearing all the time when talking to women who quit their job, moved abroad triggered by their partner’s next career step, and being forced to reinvent themselves to a certain extent. But somehow Marloes and her story were different and I will tell you how. There is so much you can take away from this role model story and I hope it will inspire you as much as it would have inspired me back then. But let’s start from the beginning!
The decision of moving abroad
Moving abroad, and especially to Taiwan, was not something that was on her bucket list. Marloes and her family loved to live in the Netherlands. She has worked as a designer and consultant for twelve years now and was not thinking about moving anywhere else. However, her husband was working in an industry that was not really placed in the Netherlands so he became a frequent traveler jumping in and out of their daily family life and it forced him to be away every other week. As a working mum of two young kids that was truly intense for Marloes and not the way, she imagined her life should look like. So, when her partner came home with this proposal of moving to Taiwan for work she felt no motivation to leave the Netherlands but she was very much intrigued by this idea of having the whole family together at one place.
If you are familiar with life abroad you know about the complexity of the decision process to take this step. There are lots of emotions that tend to change every day, some stereotypes in our minds, and many questions that come up. Marloes is a strategic planner. After saying no to this assignment for the first time, this idea of them being together as a family was just so thrilling that she decided to become proactive and do some research. She read all about Taiwan, contacted families she knew that were living there already, and did not hesitate to jump on phone calls and also a field trip to broaden her perspective. They went on this field trip without telling anyone for three days. Marloes said to me “You need to make these decisions based on your gut feelings and I needed to feed those feelings to see if this was right.” So, Dutch as they are, they cycled through Taipei, experienced how friendly the locals are approaching strangers, and realized that this exciting world is just a plane ride away (at least before the pandemic). They decided to accept the open-end contract, packed their bags, and started this ongoing adventure of living in Taiwan.
The Career Question: The scenario planning model
Do you remember the introduction of this text where I said that Marloes’s story was a bit more positive and different from other expat stories? Well, much of it has to do with timing and the approach she took. Marloes started to think about her professional endeavors even before leaving the country. She came up with a list of 5 things she could do that give her energy. FIVE! Not one specific Plan A she wanted to pursue but a list of several different things she could imagine being fulfilling to her. Marloes defined five things they would bring her energy as she brilliantly put it. Not specifying these options only on a paycheck but with the broader definition of what would serve her. She started to think in scenarios and added Plan B and C to the mix. Knowing that there are potentially different types of scenarios helped her to quit her job and actually jump into the unknown.
She wanted to commit herself to the family and the settling-in process for the first 6 months but she also already knew that she was a “much more fun mum” when she had her own project as well. The moment of needing something for herself came earlier than expected.
Even while she tried to figure out the nearest grocery store, she started to think about what to do when the kids are in school and the husband is working long hours. She got impatient and did not want to wait until everyone was settled. Thankfully already before moving to Taiwan, she got in contact with my fellow colleague and coach Emily Rogers and got introduced to her local group of expat mums. While Marloes was not really considering herself an expat mum she was interested in connecting with others so she joined the group and from now on got the ongoing support and push that many of us experience when we find our own tribe abroad.
She got inspired to focus on her biggest skill: Drawing. She quickly realized that drawing kept her mind busy and helped her already feeling fulfilled in the early days. At the same time, she realized that also her kids have to adapt to this new life abroad and that it was not always easy to find a good way to communicate with them. So here she was, new to Taipei, new to this whole expat situation and being without a job but at the same time expressing herself by drawing and slowly realizing that her skills can actually help to make the adjustment process of her kids easier.
The book project was born
Already within the first weeks and months, Marloes got aware of the impact on their kids. Everything was new and unfamiliar and the role of the parent became more important than ever. She tried to think about ways to communicate with her kids and realized that integrating her drawings into their daily life made things simpler. She used her own drawing skills to manufacture some cards that helped her kids communicate their emotions and gave back a feeling of control. She read about the growth mindset and the power of using the term NOT YET more often. Instead of saying you don’t have any friends or can’t speak the language, they started to say You don’t have any friends YET or you can’t understand the neighbor YET. Marloes realized how the way they communicate changes our reality and that her illustrations were an important tool for this.
While she liked being creative, Marloes also missed her coworkers very much! Working on something all by herself was not giving her the energy she needed to turn these drawings into a book project. And after a post on social media about her book idea, she got in contact again with her former colleague and cousin Lonneke. Who moved with her family to the USA a few years earlier. She asked Lonneke to join her project. From that moment, this hobby turned into a professional project with the goal to support children around the world to adjust and feel welcomed.
The two started to wear many hats. Talking to experts within the field of child psychology to learn more about the psychological aspect of it, talking to printing companies and testing out different samples, using the expat community and their own families to work and improve this product. They learned about marketing, about selling a book on Amazon, and designed their own website from scratch. Thankfully they had their very own focus group sitting around the kitchen table every day and Marloes enjoyed that this project kept her busy and she felt needed on so many levels. They even started their own kickstarter campaign, successfully raising money for the production of the books. They both showed great initiative and professionalism and enjoyed this journey of learning something new every day. And they can really be very proud of the result. Have a look here or if you want to know more or if you have children aged 5 and older for whom this interactive workbook might be helpful.
For the future, Marloes and her business partner are aiming for releasing several themed books and increasing their reach. For the moment, Marloes is enjoying very much that she has the freedom to fully commit herself to this passion project. It is challenging her on every level in a positive way and she likes the impact and the connection around the globe. As Marloes puts it herself “You can get lost in this freedom. Some days you are really grateful to have this opportunity” and on other days the question of whether it will last even after moving back burdens you. On days where she is feeling down, and cannot see the outlines of her future, she is going back to her former coping mechanism that used to help before moving to Taiwan: Thinking in scenarios. Imagining different potential paths. This gives her enough safety to move forward with a carefree optimism and hunger for life.
Also, coaching has played a supporting part in her life so far and it definitely would be something she would do again if she struggles to see the next potential step. The freedom of being the expat comes with a rollercoaster of emotions, from feeling super grateful about his opportunity to feeling lost and left behind. Having a community, a supportive partner, and most of all a project you are passionate about are definitely very valuable anchors in the storm. If you are having similar feelings right now I invite you to send me a message to email@example.com or read more about coaching here. You don’t need to go through this transition process alone! Coaching is a great way to find the shortcut and get back into the driver’s seat of your decisions. And it is a gift we should all give ourselves at certain moments in our lives” as Marloes puts it.
Marloes also shared another great tip with me: Before she was leaving to Taiwan, she discussed a plan A/B/C with her husband and they put money aside for it. This separate budget for her was a huge help to start her own projects with confidence: “So we created a budget for me. Which makes it far easier to decide on a marketing coach, do a study, or whatever. I bought design software for my computer in the first week without needing to hold my hand up at my hubby. And got Amel Derragui (Tandem Nomads) to help me out with my visual consultancy which is now slowly starting up, and already making some money
The bottom line is: you need to take yourself seriously. In every way. Time, money, effort. Even if your project is not making any money yet.”
I am really thankful that Marloes shared her story and passion project with us! Please reach out to her if you have any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and check out her amazing work. I can’t wait for my 18months old daughter to be old enough to use this workbook to illustrate her feelings!
In this role model story, Marloes has shared amazing tips for other women. Taking yourself and your needs seriously, putting time and money aside, and making it a core discussion topic with your partner are essential contributors for a successful assignment where both partners are thriving. If you want to know more about this I recommend you this blog post about how to communicate as an international career couple. You can also join one of our upcoming mastermind groups where we frequently talk about this. For now, I hope this role model portrait opened a new perspective to you and you are looking forward to this adventure with more excitement. Let’s connect on social media or sign-up for the newsletter to stay in touch. I am always happy to hear from you! Please feel free to share this story with someone who might find it helpful as well. Sharing is caring 🙂