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

Returnship Q&A: The employer’s perspective

As Thames Tideway Tunnel’s new Returner Programme deadline approaches next Friday, Women Returners interviewed Tideway’s Head of HR, Julie Thornton, to get her perspective on the business rationale for launching this innovative returnship, together with some information and advice for would-be applicants. 
WR: What is your motivation for setting up the Tideway
Returner Programme? What is the appeal of returning professionals to your
JT: As a company, we are looking to increase the diversity
of our workforce and this seemed an ideal way of doing so. Thames Tideway
Tunnel is very active with early careers activities, graduates and
apprenticeships, and the Returner Programme gives
us the opportunity to fill an obvious gap – targeting
and encouraging individuals who want to get back to a career after
taking a break. We see returning professionals as a
strong female talent pool which we are keen to access.
WR: What can participants expect on the programme?
JT: They will experience a fulfilling role within the
project, at an exciting time in our history as we move towards actually
starting construction after more than 10 years of planning. They will also be
fully supported by the management team to get them up to speed, have a
dedicated mentor and receive expert coaching and support from Women Returners.
WR: Is your organisation expanding? Will there be ongoing job
opportunities after the programme?
JT: In brief, yes. There are lots of vacancies currently
on the project and there will continue to be over the coming months so this is
an ideal time for people to join the project, get a feel for what we are about
and apply for the roles they are interested in.
WR: In what other ways does Thames Tideway Tunnel support the
careers of female employees?
JT: Our CEO, Andy Mitchell, is committed to achieving
gender parity over the life of the project, and it is clear that to achieve this, we
need to be a company that all people want to work for. We
are focusing on getting the basics right, taking
the values we promote, particularly flexible and inclusive working, through to
practice. We also support employee-driven activities through our
inclusivity forum, Encompass, which runs networking
events and actively helps inform potential new policies or programmes.
WR: Do you see this programme as a one-off?
JT: No we are very much committed to making The Tideway Returner Programme a regular part of our
overall resourcing and diversity plan. This is just the start of something we
hope to see long into the future.
WR: How can people find out more and apply?
JT: Please visit for more information and details on how to apply.
What advice would you give to prospective applicants?
A: If you are intrigued or interested, send in your CV
because you have nothing to lose! Even if you aren’t successful on the
programme there may be other opportunities we can consider you for in the
Posted by Julianne

How a MOOC can help you to test your career dream

I heard this week on Twitter about a free new online course just launched by coursera for fledgling social entrepreneurs, guiding people who want to set up a business with social impact to move from idea to action.  This is a fantastic addition to the rapidly increasing number of free online courses run by University-level experts that you can take part in from your own home in your own time. I’m a great fan of these MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and think that they are a wonderful resource for returners: I’ve heard very positive reports from colleagues, friends and coachees, who have followed courses on subjects ranging from creative writing to medical neuroscience.

There are many ways in which you might be able to use a MOOC:

  • Testing whether you have the interest and commitment to invest in a masters programme, either to become more specialised &/or retrain into a new field.
  • Updating/refreshing/upskilling before returning to your previous field.
  • Exploring more creative possibilities, either purely for fulfilment and enjoyment, to investigate whether you want to take your working life in this direction or to finally to write your novel.
  • Keeping your brain working & your CV current while you are prioritising caring responsibilities.

Returning to social entrepreneurship, I know that for many women returning from a long career break, there’s a desire to find work with meaning and purpose; if you’ve been wondering how you can combine setting up your own business with doing something more meaningful, the coursera course could give you the impetus you need to test whether your dreams can become reality (see here for more details).

Let us know if you have studied a great free online course – we’d love to receive any recommendations!

Some MOOC Providers
Posted by Julianne