Working Abroad

Want to shake up your career? Think about exporting yourself overseas. The rewards of working abroad can be especially rich for midlife women.

By Michele Marchetti

That’s just the way to do it, says author Yeatman, who is also a senior vice president for global issues at Kraft. "Raise your hand often enough that people really believe you want it."

Or, as her coauthor, Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, 41, says, "Stand up on your desk and shout your desire to go overseas. You can’t tell enough people often enough." It worked for Berdan. She was a vice president at public relations giant Burson-Marsteller when she left for Hong Kong; she returned as a global managing director and has now gone out on her own.

Once you get the transfer, an international assignment can give you a spotlight you couldn’t capture at home, or it can jump you ahead in the line for promotion. Kathy Repa, a colleague of Yeatman’s at Kraft, took an assignment in Singapore at age 49 and says it gave her a chance to showcase her talents. As director of development for Kraft’s Asia Pacific region, she had to get a lot done with limited resources and work in a team that comprised 14 nationalities. "When you work in a very complex business environment, people take notice," she says.

This past August, Repa returned to Kraft headquarters as a senior director in the human resources department with a significant promotion and pay raise. She now works with all the company’s operations, domestic and international. "This is the role I had been working toward the past 20 years," she says.

The timing worked on a personal level too. Repa’s husband, a white-water rafting instructor, was traveling elsewhere while she was in Asia. They were in different parts of the world seven months a year — which might have thrown them at an earlier age, Repa says.

Find Your Own Work Abroad

Getting yourself FedExed overseas by a corporate employer may be the simplest way to go. But other women find their own trade routes. ExpatWomen.com, a networking site that can help you do that, attracts close to 17,000 monthly visitors. The founders estimate that half of their audience is in midlife.

Elizabeth Coss is something of an accidental expat. Less than a year ago, she was running a creative arts therapy department at a major New York hospital, teaching at New York University, and feeling stuck at work and in her personal life. First she decided that she was willing to leave New York, her longtime home. She wasn’t aiming overseas, says Coss, who is in her 40s. But researching new opportunities was like adding a part-time job to her workload. So along with monitoring her professional association’s Web site and other sites in the mental health realm, she let all her friends and colleagues know she was looking. It was her supervisor and mentor at NYU who turned up the best lead.

Coss is now running the art therapy program at LaSalle University in Singapore and finding opportunities she couldn’t have imagined before. Just weeks after her move, she traveled to Sumatra to do art therapy in an orphanage.

Coss has had her bad moments — getting lost, feeling flummoxed by the local banking system or challenges at work. "I did sit in my office and cry one day, about a month in, but I still didn’t question my decision,’‘ she says.

Not only does she have renewed energy for work, she says her off-hours are also richer. In New York she was frustrated by how her social circle had changed: "Most of my friends were settled and married with kids." Now she finds that they’re envious of her vacations in Bali or her apartment in Singapore, where she does yoga on the terrace, surrounded by birds and butterflies. She rapidly found a new circle of friends, including other expatriates.

Not that an empty nest is a requirement for relocation. Sally Carr, 47, was determined to move her whole family — husband and two girls — abroad. For years, she had wanted to leave the fast-paced culture of the U.S. and live somewhere very different. And after exiting a big corporate job some years before, she was still trying to create a work life that wouldn’t be based on decisions made in her 20s, Carr says. As an executive coach, she thought she should follow her own advice to pause and figure out what she wanted.

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