The Career of the Expat Spouse

reading time 10 minutes| by Renske Mehra

September 20 ––  2020

How do you get your career off the ground in a new country? For three years now, Women for Women has been connecting expat spouses with succeful local business women. These are the stories of three mentors and their 'talents'.

Katarzyna and Monique

Katarzyna is the mentee, the talent, the, uhmm... Monique and Katarzyna look at each other and laugh: yes, what do we actually call it? It doesn’t really matter, what’s more important is that Katarzyna Hejna got introduced to Monique Mols, Head of Corporate Communications at ASML, about six months ago. Monique describes her participation in WfW as 'putting her money where her mouth is'. "We need tech talent from all over the world in this region, and we hope they will become and stay happy here. The happiness of the spouse plays a crucial part in this.”

Katarzyna came to Eindhoven with her husband. In Poland she was a journalist and TV reporter. "Language has always been my instrument. How can I best use my skills in a new country? We talked a lot about that." Monique brought her into contact with a Dutch journalist and asked Katarzyna to write down five successful moments in her career. "It's a way to get a sharp focus on where your talents lie and to put it into words in an introductory interview. That might feel like bragging. But that's a feeling that’s best to be ignored.”

Tatiana and Emma

Emma Briggs is Tatiana Leon's mentor. She is acquisition manager at the municipality of Eindhoven and knows the city center and local retailers well.

Tatiana: "When I moved from Venezuela to Barcelona for my studies, building a new network was easy. You study, find a job and meet new people naturally. After ten years in Barcelona I left for Eindhoven, where my husband had found a job at ASML. Starting somewhere new as an expat spouse is a lot more difficult, I learned.

In Barcelona I worked as an interior designer at an international design agency. I supervised all kinds of projects, from the concept phase to implementation. But when I tell it like this, in general sentences, I know I make a mistake haha. I've learned that in the Netherlands you have to be very specific about your skills and what you want to do.”

Emma: "We met each other about five times. We talked about how to present yourself here in the Netherlands, how to create a suitable LinkedIn profile and how to conduct job interviews. I myself come from a non-Dutch family and I know: our workplace culture is really different from many other countries.”

Tatiana: "Once I had sent an application letter to a company and after a week I hadn't heard anything, Emma said, 'just give them a call. Don’t be too modest, that doesn't work here'. I have to get used to that approach. To just ring a potential employer to check on my letter, is something I would’ve never done in Venezuela.”

"I've learned that in the Netherlands you have to be very specific about your skills and what you want to do.”

Janeen and Ingrid

The South African Janeen Prinsloo is a 'sielkundige’ (soul expert'), as it is so beautifully called in her mother tongue. She is currently doing her PhD in neuropsychology and met Ingrid van Eijndhoven, director of a secondary school for children with a form of autism or ad(h)d, at a meeting of WfW. The two immediately clicked with each other.

Where many expat spouses are still at the beginning of their working lives, Janeen has already had a career of 25 years. Her last project was with a group of incarcerated people in South Africa, where the Ubuntu philosophy plays an important role: I am because we are / A person is a person through others.

Her meetings with Ingrid are therefore more than just exchanging practical tips. "If you come from outside and you click with someone in the middle of society, it's like finding coordinates. It’s like feeling alive again.”

"Your work often seems to determine who you are", Janeen continues. "When I moved to the Netherlands I was detached from that identity. A good experience, because in the end you're not your profession. I am because we are... I now realize even more what that means.”

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