This is a tough subject for a lot of expats, and can make or break your experience as an expat partner. A lot of people choose not to work for a variety of reasons, but due to our location and what I hoped to get out of the experience, taking the two years off wasn’t for me. Looking back on the ups and downs of the last year, when I gave my notice and packed my bags has given me some perspective on how far I’ve come since then.
Last September I was reluctant to quit a good job in an industry that challenged me for the unknown. I had just won an award in the industry and was about to receive a certification that would have given me a big promotion and a larger salary. (I actually stayed behind for an extra month and a half after Lucas in the US to take my Professional Engineering licensing exam). I was on the board of directors for an organization that meant a lot to me, and was planning on running for an elected position the next year. Things were looking really good for my career. I think it surprised everyone a bit when I gave my two weeks notice and announced I was moving to Europe.
The security of my own paycheck and doing intellectually stimulating work every day were not things I was excited to give up. As much as I’d thought of leaving the company I was with, I’d never imagined I’d leave the industry behind so abruptly. I’d done a lot of research into whether I’d be able to work in the UK (yes, with a dependent visa you can) and even then, whether in the Lake District I’d be able to find a job that suited me. Having the option to work, even if I ultimately decided not to was a must, and I was lucky because in a lot of other countries it’s a much bigger hassle for an expat partner to work, if they are allowed to at all. Fortunately for me, civil engineers are needed everywhere, but I worried about my lack of experience with Eurocodes, British Standards, and the metric system. But I traded my kips for kilo newtons, and started searching.
For me, being unemployed was a struggle, it was hard to meet people during the day when most people were at work and I arrived in late October, so there wasn’t much daylight for exploring. We also live in a relatively small town, so there isn’t as much support for expat partners who stay at home as you might find in larger cities. The two months out of work were a good break and gave me time to adjust. Fortunately, the job search went well and I was able to start work 2 months after I’d really started looking. I’ve learned a lot and am continuing to learn skills that are hopefully transferable when the job hunt begins again in the US. When you are temporary-ish and are staying indefinitely, it’s hard for companies to invest too much in you or depend too much on you knowing in a year or two you’ll be gone. This makes it hard for me at times to fully invest myself, but I enjoy the work which makes it worth it. I’m even working toward obtaining my UK Chartership (similar to PE in the US) even though I’m not entirely sure I’ll be here long enough to finish up the process.
Now, though, the fear of having to do it all over again when we move back to the US (possibly next summer/fall) is overwhelming. It was one thing to be employed in a foreign country, but being back at “home” without a job seems significantly less adventurous. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.