Much to my surprise my career has been rebooted in Brazil after a three-year vacation since my last official paycheck in the United States. This isn't to say I haven't been working, anyone who thinks stay-at-home-parents don’t work are delusional. There’s also some additional irony that I quit my job one month after I graduated with my MBA. I'm sure my business school was pleased that a newly minted MBA traded in her Master of Business Administration for a Master of Baby Administration.
Before I traded in the boardroom for the playground I was a career woman in government affairs and politics, specifically as Director of Boards and Commissions for the Utah Governor's Office. You might recognize my former boss Governor Jon Huntsman, he recently ran for President of the United States.
I didn't pause my career entirely because I had a baby but because my husband and I moved from Salt Lake City to Boston in July 2009. I delivered a baby and moved across the country in the same month—talk about an exhausting summer! I had to start a new career in Boston and after one glance at my newborn son; I knew that something was him. I was wary of the title "stay-at-home-mom" before becoming a parent but my perception of this role changed 180 degrees when I had a child. I no longer cared about naysayers who mocked me for "giving up on myself." Kids are so cool, especially your own.
Fast forward to summer 2011 when we moved to São Paulo, Brazil for my husband's job. I've always been open to eventually working part-time but wasn't sure how to make it happen in Brazil for one simple reason: I don't [really] speak Portuguese. Truthfully it's doubtful I could get a job flipping burgers because my language comprehension is so minimal. However thanks to networking and an open perspective I discovered a huge demand for native English speakers in Brazil and better yet found professional niches where speaking Portuguese wasn't a requirement.
A New Professional Chapter
My new career is two-fold because I shifted from politics to consulting and language coaching. I'm a language consultant at Albert Einstein Hospital, the #1 hospital in South America, and coach São Paulo business and medical leaders in the art of professional English. I never viewed myself as either a consultant or teacher so these new roles have come as a big but welcomed surprise. Better yet I work less than part-time, a perfect schedule for me because my son will always be my #1 client.
With my professional background I found it difficult to find a rewarding and well-paying part-time job in the United States unless I pursued an entrepreneurial path and went into business for myself. I assumed my options would be even less appealing in Brazil and what's remarkable is the opposite happened—my American business degree and experience coupled with being a native English speaker is actually a hot commodity.
Expat Partners Can Work Too!
I'm certainly not a foreign job placement expert simply because I found a career in Brazil but my experience opened my eyes that career possibilities are available for expat partners too. Do you speak English? Since you're reading this I'll take that as a YES! Speaking English is a huge advantage in developing countries like Brazil where there's a big demand for highly educated and capable people who also fluently speak English. Having a higher education is also a plus but not necessary depending on the field you want to pursue.
Evaluate your experience, strengths, professional desires and time available and start networking within your social circles and professional network via your working spouse. This is exactly how I landed my jobs—talking to people, one person specifically and the result of our conversation quickly snowballed.
Hobbies Can Translate Into Non-Traditional Careers
Maybe you're not the [boring] MBA type. No problem! I know expats who've turned hobbies and passions into careers in Brazil, such as my expat friend Erin H., a gifted crafter and owner of Bailey’s Blossoms. Erin operates a successful online retail business and Etsy store in the U.S. that sells custom bows, tutus and costumes and expanded her operations to include Brazilian customers after moving to Brazil last year. Her products are popular in São Paulo because there's a huge demand for custom children's clothing and few boutiques to supply the market.
Erin continued thinking outside the box and learned Brazilian women, unaccustomed to American style crafting, want to know how to make whimsical creations for their own kiddos so Erin also hosts group crafting tutorials and private lessons. Similar to Americans, Brazilians love custom kids' stuff but unlike the U.S., these products are just now emerging in Brazil. This spells opportunity for expat spouses who can market these unique products and skills. Did I mention Erin also runs a busy household with four kids in tow? I’m convinced that if Erin can find the time to operate a business, anyone can!
Last year the NY Times featured an article I really enjoyed called Plight of the Expat Spouse by Tanya Mohn that discussed the challenges of international relocation for dual-career families. In it an expat named Annette Lang shared the story of a dinner party she hosted in Singapore and how impressed her guests were with the Western-style food prepared by her maid Afterwards guests asked Wang if her maid could teach other domestic help how to cook similar Western-style food. This sparked an idea, the result of which was Wang's successful Singapore-based start-up called Expat Kitchen, a company that teaches domestic staff how to prepare healthy and sanitary Western-style meals.
Don't Stop Believing in Yourself!
According to the Dutch based Permits Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for the improvement of work regulations for partners of expat employees, "Expat spousal dissatisfaction is the biggest reason foreign assignments fail. More importantly, expat spouses who work are found to be more likely to report a positive impact on adjustment, family relationships, and general heath and well-being than those who don't."
Everyone's circumstances are different but if you're an expat spouse who wants to work, please don't fall victim to the notion you can't just because you live in a foreign country. Of course this can complicate things such as work eligibility depending on your visa status, but there are ways around it. Companies are becoming more proactive in helping expat partners find work so investigate how your spouse's organization can help. Another idea is to work for yourself. Consulting, teaching, tutoring either privately or for an organization, freelance writing (such as for expat forums), selling custom goods and products, and teaching American-style tutorials in crafting, sewing, cooking and baking are a few ideas.
There's also an abundance of articles and forums to help weigh your options if you're an expat stay-at-home-parent looking to take on a new challenge. One article I like in particular is “Career-planning tips for expat stay-at-home moms” from the blog iwasanexpatwife.com.
Good luck on your professional journey and remember, expat spouses are just as invaluable as the working expat partner. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
By Maike Jones, an American political junkie turned stay-at-home-mom living in the bustling city of São Paulo, Brazil. She blogs about her family's Brazilian adventures at Keeping up with the Joneses.