Piece of cake or tough luck? The expat spouse work dilemma

How hard can it really be? Or is it actually the hard part of it all?

I’m talking about finding expat spouse employment, often the tricky part of going anywhere. Cause is it just something you do? Or does the job hunt as an expat spouse too easily turn into a prolonged nightmare? How demanding can you afford to be? How high your expectations? Well, that all depends of course … on formal factors such as background and earlier experience within the expat spouse job market, plus on your skills and educational training. However, when it comes to finding suitable expat spouse work, the informal factors outnumber and outweigh the formal ones by far.

US expat spouse job: ELL teacher in Hawai'i

  • Personal attitude, aim and awareness

  1. What are your goals by finding expat spouse work?
  2. What do you have in mind as suitable employment?
  3. What are your real skills and strengths – meaning all of them?

Successful expat spouse job hunt also comes down to:

  • Drive, flexibility and perseverance

  1. How actively and wholeheartedly are you searching?
  2. How flexible are you willing to be, compromising your former status and level?
  3. How persistently are you prepared to explore likely expat spouse work opportunities, your network, and your local environment?

Yes, we can! I, too, found expat spouse jobs.

During our first, shorter stays abroad, I was basically on maternity/child care leave with kids on the baby/toddler stage and with work ambitions that went no further than getting a few academic, graduate papers done. In short, no dilemma there.

When I studied in Japan for a semester, my husband was the one facing the expat spouse employment dilemma. Formally, he was taking his earlier neglected paternity leave from 2 1/2 years back, but still nourished a naive hope of working “on the side”. Yes, right? More about that later … .

During our longer stays – so far in Chile, US, and Germany – I did find expat spouse jobs, however.

And were they “suitable”?

Let’s hold my own history up against the standards above: What was the aim of searching for a job? One, it had to be fun. Two, it had to make sense. Three, it shouldn’t take too big a toll on the family.

What kind of work did I have in mind? Based on several years of language teaching, I turned to this as the easy choice. But what about my personal skills and strengths? Well, it was clear to me, that the human element had to be present – I had to deal with people. How active a job hunt did I set up? The truth is a quite lazy one. Thanks to my love for people, not least new people, I usually found suitable employment via connections and networks. Once again, networking is key!

Flexibility? Hmm, in terms of sticking to my formal education (MA in Japanese and Linguistics), I went beyond my comfort zone in any expat spouse employment so far. But as for teaching your way through life, I just continued in the same track till recently, where I returned to language focus per se according to my training.

Last, but not least: motivation

Lastly, did I show perseverance? I followed my personal belief, which reads: If you want something, go for it! Likewise, if a work opportunity is offered you, and it meets your own desires, you go all in. Albeit, no matter what kind of expat spouse employment, below or above my formal level, within or outside my linguistic comfort zone, I had to feel enthusiastic in order to take it.

Ok, that was my personal story. From teaching elementary school children in the US and tutoring adults in Chile to dealing with customers – and now texting and translating – here in Germany, it all made sense as far as leading into one another naturally.

How about you? Did you experience the “piece of cake” rather than the “tough luck” version of finding suitable expat spouse employment? Are you happy with the result?

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4 Responses to Piece of cake or tough luck? The expat spouse work dilemma

  1. Emanuela says:

    Ciao Nana,

    congraulations! So far we more or less managed to chase each other successfully around the globe, but now the nightmare phase is for us in full bloom. I fully agree on your “shopping list” for job hunting! And yes, internet helps a lot.

    • Nana says:

      Yes, you’ve managed extremely well in getting successful employment for both spouses in the marriage till now 😉 I wish you luck this new time around! Thanks for commenting, Ela!

  2. Mela says:

    G’middag Nana & Thomas,

    Thanks for your blog. In general, I’m cool with changing my life, trailing my spouse and moving around a bit. I think the positive experiences far outweigh the inconveniences and gaps in my resume/CV. ;-0

    It hasn’t been as easy to find a job on this relo though – but that’s partly my fault because of traveling here and there, fear, not knowing the language and waiting for a work permit. While I search for my next role, I will continue to try and meet people, explore Amsterdam and exercise.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences. I just found it today. This is our 3rd city – Shanghai, London and now Amsterdam… (we almost moved to Germany but company decided Amsterdam was more “centraal.”)


    • Nana says:

      Hi Mela,

      Wow, what different cities you’ve lived in! They all sound so cool. And you seem to be taking actively part in – and enjoying – your life abroad. I hope you’ll find a satisfying next role. That makes it all even more worth it.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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