Moving Overseas For Your Spouse’s Job? The Most Important Thing You Will Pack is Patience

For over thirty years, I enjoyed a career in the world of non-profit organizations: fundraising for organizations I admired (such as PBS); helping corporations and foundations make strategic philanthropic decisions; serving on the boards of many civic organizations in the Boston area, where I live. My identity had been shaped largely by my work for much of my life.

Then, in 2008, my husband Alan and I were given the opportunity of a lifetime. Alan was asked by President Obama to serve as US Ambassador to Spain and Andorra. I was thrilled at the idea of moving overseas–at first.

The confirmation process took time, but once it was complete, the reality of moving overseas set in. My fear and anxiety began to rise. There was so much unknown. What would that look like? What kind of work would I find to fill the gap of leaving behind my own career? How would I navigate the culture and language?

I offer this advice to anyone who is moving overseas for her or her partner’s job.  Be kind and patient with yourself for these reasons:

You will likely need to adapt your career to your new culture and not the other way around.

In my case, I knew I would not be able to export my career. State Department ethics rules dictated that I would not be able to bring my work with me. Until this time, so much of my identity had been wrapped up in my work in the world of non-profit organization and serving on the boards of many civic organizations in the Boston area, where I live. In moving to Spain, I knew I would need to design or find a meaningful new role for myself.

The Spanish culture was also new to me. So I listened to people around me as much I was able (sometimes with the help of a translator). By being patient, I learned to make the best of a series of opportunities outside of what I had considered my career to that point.

You may have to navigate a new language.

My Spanish wasn’t fluent enough for the kind of networking and collaboration I wanted to do with existing organizations in Spain. However, I trusted myself to figure it out–and you can, too. I joined a committee focusing on women’s leadership in the business world. I didn’t know what it would entail, nor had I met the women involved. But my work in what became the Women’s Leadership Network, a series of events featuring top level women and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries and fields, became some of my most treasured experiences while in Spain.

It’s important to be patient as you learn a new language or gain fluency just as it is to learn the major and finer points of a culture. Sometimes things can move more slowly than you would like, but don’t give up–especially on yourself. It will be worth it to understand where you can make a meaningful contribution and where exactly your skills can be useful.

  You will probably make some mistakes, and that’s okay.

You will bring your instincts wherever you go overseas. Remember that your instincts don’t make you foolproof. It’s okay to make mistakes. It is often the only way to learn. Being patient with yourself as someone who is learning something for the first time will allow you to seize opportunities — even if they don’t appear at first blush to be exactly what you’re seeking. Remember that you have already done the hardest thing which is to move your whole life to a new country. Everything after that is part of the rich, wonderful adventure of living abroad.

This guest post was authored by Susan Lewis Solomont

From 2008 to 2012, Susan Lewis Solomont she served alongside her husband, Alan Solomont, in Madrid, Spain, where he was appointed as US Ambassador to Spain and Andorra under President Barack Obama. She was named International Woman of the Year by FEDEPE, the leading organization for Spanish women executives and directors. She holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree in education from Tufts University. “Lost and Found In Spain: Tales of An Ambassador’s Wife” is her first book.


Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.