Katharina sets out to empower expat partners

Published on 2019-06-04 at 10:06 by Anne-Lise Mty
She had to reinvent herself professionally after deciding to follow her husband abroad. Katharina von Knobloch, once an online marketing and business consultant, now has a new mission: helping other expat partners navigate through the challenging journey of finding oneself and building a career abroad. And this is why she created Share the love, a coaching business to help other expat partners out there.

You have, yourself, followed your spouse abroad. What were you doing before that?

I have been working in the online marketing and business consulting world, supporting e-commerce businesses to adapt to the fast pace of digitalization. Moving abroad for my husband's international job assignment forced me outside the security of the corporate world and catapulted me into the rich learning curve of starting my own business. I based my business on my very own experience of re-inventing myself abroad and the realization that well-educated women are struggling to find a job abroad.

Why is it so important for you to change the narrative around 'expat partners'?

Perfectly trained expat spouses struggle to find a job abroad facing the stereotypes that many HR consultants and companies have. Expat partners are often assumed to be spoilt, ambitionless women who have chosen family over professional fulfillment and is not longer career oriented. We need to change this in order to include expat spouses into the workforce again.

There is a lot of misconception around the life of expat partners. We tend to make up our minds quickly about other people's lifestyles, but only when we are in the shoes of an expat partner do we start to realize the real burden, privilege, and complexity of this lifestyle.

Why do you think it is hard for individuals who have followed their partners abroad to rebuild their careers?

The barriers of the international job market are manifold and range from inadequate work permits, to language problems, no recognition of certification or simply lacking the proper network. Most jobs are no longer found via job portals but by internal references. In a pile of applications, the expat partner not only does not stand out but can even be evaluated negatively, not really fitting the norm. If you compete with locals, it is hard to convince without selling your international journey as a plus to the company- including disclosing your decision to follow your partner abroad. Not to forget new expat partners are still in the process of making themselves home abroad, finding new friends, becoming familiar with the new surroundings and are often unsure how to relaunch their careers. In times of turmoil, it can be hard to get your story straight. Therefore, the first step is always to find out what you really want before getting in contact with your future employer.

What are the challenges faced by individuals who follow their partners abroad?

Most expat partners underestimate the profound impact of moving abroad on every level of your life. While it is obvious that one has to find new friends and become fluent in a foreign language, there are other areas of your life you will find changing. Some are realizing that relationship patterns change when your partner becomes the sole breadwinner. Others realize that they can't take their known profession abroad and have to re-invent themselves by changing career paths and taking on completely new skills. Some expat partners use the time abroad as a sabbatical only to learn that they really miss their stressful career after a couple of months. Social isolation and potential rejections of the local job market can lead to insecurity, and many partners lose confidence in their skills and accomplishments. From my experience as a coach, I can tell that this a phase almost every partner goes through. However, with the right mindset and support, expat partners are able to create a very fulfilling life for themselves!

How do you think that the 'trailing partner' perception is impacting partners who decide to follow their spouse abroad? Do you think there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy?

Expat spouses are not dragged along! In modern relationships, taking on the assignment is a mutual decision. In order to create a fulfilling life abroad, it is essential not to see yourself as the victim! Only if you are sitting in the driver's seat, can you take your fate into your own hands. The moment you take the word "trailing" in trailing spouse seriously, you will start to feel an aversion for your partner and will blame either him or the assignment for your misery.

In the coaching world, we are talking about having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset to take on the challenge. The word "trailing spouse" clearly fosters a fixed mindset. I prefer to refer to the term expat partner to stress the mutual decision and potential it has when you encounter this exciting situation with a growth mindset.

Why do you focus your work especially around women?

For once, I am a woman myself, so I can easily identify with the struggle of women in a dual-career relationship. However, the main reason for my female focus is that 80% of expat partners are female. This is a vast majority, and the numbers do not seem to change at all.

How do you think it is especially hard for women to be able to rebuild their careers abroad?

Moving abroad as the expat partner is very similar to mothers re-entering the workforce after spending time at home raising children. In both cases, women have been out of the job market for some time and are forced to think creatively on how to proceed with their career. A particular challenge in both cases is often the disparity of income within the relationship. While the husband was able to foster his career and climb the ladder, women often re-enter the job market in a part-time position and with a much lower income. Hence it is even more important to empower women and give them the confidence to advocate for making their professional development a priority.

What do partners of people who have job opportunities abroad need to be able to rekindle their spirits and careers?

The short answer: Patience, resilience, and creativity. I always tell my clients to acknowledge the journey of moving abroad in all its complexity and cut themselves some slack for being so brave to do so in the first place. Re-inventing yourself abroad is not something that will happen overnight, but you need the patience to go through the different phases of culture shock and finding your place. This will definitely put your resilience to the next level, and if you manage to stay open to new paths and approach each challenge with a creative mindset, you will be growing like you never anticipated.