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Conscious expatriation

Michaela's role model story

I am happy to present to you another Role Model Story today. This time a story without countless obstacles, several career changes, or identity crises. This story is less about the side of tears and more about how it can be and what you can do to get more ease in your life.

Meet Michaela

Say hello to Michaela, a German consultant, and mum of 2 who moved to the Netherlands and continued her consultancy career within a foreign setting. After her partner triggered the expat adventure, she took the time to settle, adjust and focus on the family before accepting the challenge of continuing her profession in a different cultural setting.

How to connect

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Michaela’s and my way crossed several times via LinkedIn. I happened to see her posts again and again and vice versa. Over several months we stayed in touch and when she volunteered to be part of my female expat study, I was thinking that she could be a great match for our role model series. What I find fascinating about her story is the absence of the big crisis. As a coach and storyteller, I have to pleasure to learn from women who went through huge times of turmoil only to come out on the other side either broken or wise and resourceful. It is not often that you can find someone with a smooth transition but at the same time with the empathy and understanding of how it feels for others who have not been so lucky. Hence, Michaela’s story is definitely different from the other stories in that sense but nevertheless with great takeaways for you!

Being deeply-rooted

Moving abroad was never on the top of her bucket list. Michaela grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, and felt very rooted there. Education, studies, and first job, everything was within a very tight, carefully chosen radius. For her studies, she went to Vienna for 6 months to write her thesis but when starting her first job she came back to Düsseldorf.

Even today, she still has a close circle of friends there.

In fact, the aspects of a more global life were brought home by her husband. He has always traveled a lot for work and while he came from the same country he was raised in a completely different region, which has broadened her perspective on where home could be. He also worked abroad even back then. So, for three years, they had a weekend relationship between Paris and Düsseldorf, Germany. This allowed her to get a first taste of cross-border life.

Otherwise, however, Michaela’s life ran along very regular lines. She happened to find her dream job right away with her first professional position. And it was with a company that has very local roots but a global business reach and a large network that spans the entire globe. She quickly realized what she enjoys most about her job as a software development consultant: interacting with customers, finding solutions to tricky problems, and, above all, paying attention to nuances in communication. Language has played a major role for her from the very beginning. It is important to her to develop a feeling for languages in order to be able to evaluate exactly what the customer really needs and which solution would be the best fit. Reading between the lines became her core competence.

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When life follows its regular rhythm

It was also during this time that Michaela became a mum. Within two years they welcomed two girls into their lives and due to the already good experiences and relations with the employer the decision when and how to change to part-time was not a big question. In Germany, the part-time model is very established compared to other countries. Many women reduce their hours after they become mothers. The issue of part-time in Germany is highly political and leads to suddenly stagnant careers for many career-ambitious women. In this case, the company already knew from years of experience how valuable Michaela was as an employee and so, in retrospect, it was not the moment for a life-changing decision. The transitions between work and family time went smooth, at least looking back at those crucial moments in life years later. The moment of big change happened later when the two children were already 6 and 8 years old, and it is to this exciting period in Michaela’s life that we want to focus on now. 

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Let's move to the Netherlands - The trial run

The global part of this story starts out wonderfully classic. Just as it is still the main reason for many European families to move abroad: Michaela’s husband came home with an exciting job offer for the Netherlands, leaving her with the question: yes or no?

There were not immediately cries of joy and the urge to pack all the bags. The children were still small and so they thought about testing the whole thing first. Her husband went ahead for three-quarters of a year and after this time they reflected on the key questions: Does the new life suit us? Could we imagine the Netherlands as our new home? But above all, the urge to be reunited as a family prevailed and so Michaela quit her dream job with a heavy heart. It was a day full of goodbyes and tears. After all, she had been employed there for over 16 years. A very long time, especially from today’s perspective. There was some thought about how far this job could be taken with her to the Netherlands, but Michaela felt the need to be there for her children and to consciously shape their arrival in their new home, to take time for it and to take the conscious integration for the family as a vision.

"It was a day full of goodbyes and tears."

Taking conscious time to adjust

It felt right for them to be there for the children especially at this stage of their lives and ages and Michaela wanted to be able to take a more active part in their growing up. They made themselves at home and learned to appreciate Den Hague as a new home. Only 5 minutes from the beach and with a great expat community, their new home made it easy to become a home away from home. But she also felt that there is still energy left for her own projects. She renovated a house, became president of the parents‘ association, and focused on learning Dutch.

Going back to work? Maybe?!

After four years, thoughts about her professional future started to get louder in her mind. Should I go back to work? If yes, do I stay in consulting? Should I start my own business? Should I perhaps venture into something completely different? The thoughts didn’t just disappear, and so Michaela set about brushing up her LinkedIn profile and taking a more active look around again.

Exactly at this time she was contacted by a headhunter who practically made the decision for her. The new job offer fit exactly with her professional past and she would continue to work in consulting only in a different language and in a different cultural context. It was not an easy and quick YES. She worried whether she would be up for the job. It took courage to jump into the water. Reflecting on this period in her life, it was crucial to discuss this option openly with friends, to express worries and fears. It was also the feedback from her friends that carried her through this time and gave her the necessary self-confidence. Michaela also experienced that in a coffee round with other expat women there is a wealth of knowledge and a huge variety of qualifications and experience sitting around the table. It gave her the strength to open up and to know that she is in the same boat as others. 

Even though the headhunter offer never put her in the long and painful spiral of rejection and low self-esteem, it took some courage for her to take this offer. It has always been important to her to demonstrate a good work performance. Language, as mentioned earlier, has always been very important to her and it is important to her to pay attention to nuances. The fact that she now has to take on this demanding job abroad, in a culturally foreign context, and in a language, she has only recently learned, gives her a queasy feeling in her stomach. In the end, however, she knows what she gets out of her job. It is the financial freedom, the role model function towards the children but also the joy of the creative interpretation of her tasks and her solution-oriented acting. Michaela dared it and is very happy about it today. The positive feedback from her colleagues means a lot to her and she is happy to be able to fully contribute again.

"It is incredible to see what great experiences, qualifications, and expertise are sitting around a coffee date table amongst expat mums. "

What we can learn from this story

Now this story reads pretty smooth compared to many a Role Model stories. For example, our Role Model Lea was faced with the fact that her qualification was not recognized or did not have the same rank, Farsana was faced with the challenges of not being able to simply start over somewhere else as a lawyer, and Flor had to go through a long valley of tears, self-doubt, and personal development to find her dream job. Every story is unique and so you can learn something unique from every story. I, for one, have seen what a difference it makes when you don’t have a time-limited contract or are just starting out in your career. I could see from the attitude and the way Michaela told her story what a difference it makes if you had to go through this emotionally difficult learning curve and got numerous rejections that you finally took personally or if someone reaches out to you at the right time. But it’s also nice to see what Michaela has done with her opportunities and how proactively she has approached them. The integration process at the beginning was not trimmed for efficiency. Michaela consciously gave herself and her family a lot of time for this. Learning the language was elementary for her and later proved to be a fundamental investment for her career. She appreciated the freedom of this new situation, being fully aware of how unique that opportunity is.

Michaela has also proactively brought herself back into the game by updating her LinkedIn presence and giving her network the signal: I am available! We often shy away from sharing those thoughts out of fear of making ourselves vulnerable. Michaela on the other side learned that sharing about it made her more confident about her decision. She also has experiences with being coached and reaches out to coaches in times of missing focus and clarity. She is very resourceful with her life and energy. That is definitely something you don’t see often amongst women, especially mums.

I want to thank you, Michaela, for sharing your story with us and for once again making yourself available for new opportunities that might arise from moments like these. I wish you and your family all the best for your time in the Netherlands and hope that our ways will keep crossing again and again.

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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