Next Expat Stop- Tanzania
“My Gutsy Story®” by Yelena Parker
Have you ever shared your story with new and somewhat eager listeners and got the reaction: “Wow, that was such a brave thing to do!”? Last year I started feeling as if anything I had done that was remotely brave was in the too far distant past. I wouldn’t quite call it a mid-life crisis but more of a realization that something has changed. Then, in a serendipity moment, there was a tweet in my timeline “When was the last time you did something that was the first time?” Indeed.
My “gutsy” story began almost exactly 15 years ago when I left Ukraine with $600 dollars in my wallet and a one- way plane ticket to study for a Master’s in Business Administration in California. On my first international flight to Amsterdam, before connecting to San Francisco, I sat next to one of those American men who came to Ukraine in search for his fiancée. We talked about his desire to find love in an obscure small town where women have no prospects and my dream to see the world on my own. This was before I knew that the flight etiquette strongly advises against engaging into annoyingly long conversations with people who you are stranded with. I was chatty, naïve and ready to take on the world. What I didn’t consider at that time that it was a gutsy move. When you have nothing to lose, an opportunity to come to the US on a scholarship, work and study, with a chance to see if you can make your American dream come true, is really a “no brainer” – at least that was how I saw it.
Fast forward and my dream has become more global than I could have ever imagined. Getting an MBA in Silicon Valley during the dotcom crash was far from perfect timing. While we were learning about innovation and planning for rapidly and ambitiously building our big international careers, the economic climate changed dramatically. One day my fellow students and I had visions of choosing any cool company we wanted, and the next thing I knew I was working as the lowest possible status of sales rep generating leads by walking door to door to sell copiers in the spookily empty tech parks along highway 101.
Having got over the disappointment that many over-educated and underemployed MBAs experience, I fell into a sales operations career in high tech, pretty much starting at the very bottom. In retrospective, it was the best move I could have made which took me to see the world and led to opportunities to work and live as an expat in Switzerland and United Kingdom. None of these moves I thought of as brave at the time. Once you are on a serial expat path, new relocations get easier. You already had to adjust once or twice to a new environment, pick up the pieces of friendships left behind, introduce yourself to new people and learn or improve a foreign language. You are a chameleon, an international wanderer and a global citizen. Surely you can do it again!
Last year I looked at a career map that my accidental mentor put together with me 6 years earlier over coffee. Senior manager responsibilities- check; director level- check; expat assignment- check; executive education program at Oxford University-check; vice-president role at a smaller tech company- check. All done. 3 years ahead of schedule. What’s next? I have finally uncovered that it takes more guts to change direction and do something completely out of character when you have something to lose.
I quit my job and focused on writing a book about expat and life abroad success. Over the last year I kept comparing experiences of my friends, women expats, who made their own moves without fear. And there it was, “Moving Without Shaking”. At the same time, I started reevaluating what the meaning of work was for me. Should I join the movement of solopreneurs? Should I go volunteer while I am thinking about what to do next? What do I really know a lot about, besides running sales operations in tech and going to school abroad? I looked for what I truly had become passionate about in my 15 years of corporate adventures and living abroad.
I wanted to do something for the first time again but it had to be not for my career. March 1 I am starting on a volunteering journey in Tanzania. I have signed up with African Impact, a wonderful organization placing many volunteers in programs all over Africa. The first community project is based in Moshi, on the foothills of Kilimanjaro, and focuses on women and children empowerment. The second project is for a community in Zanzibar, teaching English, and helping the local school. The local communities are in need of educational resources that we often take for granted. My first career was in teaching English at a university level in Ukraine. This is an opportunity to take everything that I was good at before I started my journey abroad, add in the business experience and give back in the form of time and knowledge. I was able to move abroad because I met an American professor volunteering in Ukraine, willing to help me with a scholarship abroad. It is my turn to see if I can help someone in one of the countries that my academic mentor is passionate about. I am excited about the learning opportunity, the chance to make a real impact in people’s lives, the challenge and the longest break from paid work I have ever had.
YELENA PARKER is a founder of expat and executive coaching consultancy, Moving Without Shaking Ltd. She is a serial expat, living in the UK, her fourth home country, as of this writing. She blogs about expat and life abroad success at www.movingwithoutshaking.com
Her first book, Moving Without Shaking, is coming out in spring 2014.
Check out Yelena’s Website
SONIA MARSH SAYS: You are living life to the fullest and stepping out of your comfort zone. I am sure you will have so much to share after your experience in Tanzania, and I cannot wait to do a Gutsy Google+ Hangout with you for an update when you return.
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VOTING for your favorite February 2014 “My Gutsy Story®,” starts on February 27th, and ends on March 12th. The WINNER will be announced on March 13th.
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