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Returning to work after international relocation: culture, language and identity

to work after a career break is challenging enough in itself. I know from my own
experience of living in 4 countries in 30 years that when you are from a different
country, you face a range of additional complexities, some being connected to culture,
language and identity. The more you can gain
clarity on these issues, the easier it becomes to turn these cultural and
language differences to your benefit when returning to work.
spent most of my adult life in various countries outside my home nation, I
feel that clichés and stereotypes, although unfortunate, cannot be ignored from
either side. For instance, one of my English colleagues shared with me as I
arrived in the UK, that French people are perceived here as arrogant. Although
it was a shock to me, as I would have never perceived us French as arrogant, it
helped me understand what image we can give in the UK. So it will be useful to
you to understand how locals perceive your culture, as much as what you truly
think of those living in your host country.
Practical tips: if you are new to the
country, take every opportunity to attend workshops on cultural differences. If
you have been around for a while do investigate sensitively how your culture is
seen locally, reflect on how you experience your own culture for yourself; and be
open to conversations about cultural differences.
English is not your first language and you are reading this, your language
skills are already strong.  If you are
relocating to a country and you do not speak the local language, there is only
one single piece of advice: it’s worth putting in the effort needed to learn
that language. It could take time for you to feel confident so if need be, make
this learning quite formal and put in the resources (group or private lessons,
intense homework etc).
to return to work when you do not speak the local language is a challenge.
However I understand that in some cases, language structures and sounds are so
different from what you are used to (e.g. for a European moving to China or
Japan), that the effort might just be too much to take on. In such cases, my
advice is to improve your English (if it is not your first language) and to look
for opportunities in multinational companies or ways to offer your services to
the expat community.
is a wider topic than just culture and language. But there is a connection. If
as a ‘trailing spouse’, you had to reluctantly give up a professional career,
you are likely to have had your identity shaken in various ways at the same
time: cultural, personal and professional. You will have experienced some loss
and will need to recreate a balance and to invent a fulfilled new you.  Take action to create a satisfying life for
yourself or you risk building resentment against your partner.
Practical tips: spending time
acknowledging what is going on for you and what you need to create a balanced
life is not wasted time: it is building precious self-awareness.  Sharing how you feel helps others understand you
while asking for advice from those who have been there before you helps you
realise that “it’s not you, it is the situation”. Getting support could be your
best next step, whether through a buddy, a social network or a professional
such as a coach.
you pay attention to all three areas, culture, language and identity, as you
investigate your return to work options, it will make your choices clearer and
your decisions easier.
by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and
multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching