Tina is in her temporary apartment when we have our Skype conversation. She left Muscat a few months ago and now calls Assen, a town in her native Netherlands, ‘home’. She starts off telling me she is busy: busy with her three young daughters, busy with moving to a new house, but also busy finding a job, which is a challenge without recent work experience. However, Tina stays positive, as I’ve known her since we met in Muscat three years ago. She takes life as it comes and is convinced she will soon start working again either as a speech therapist or as assistant of a general practitioner (GP).
In 2012, Tina’s husband accepted a position in the oil industry in Oman. The couple prepared to move with their daughter and a new baby on the way. Tina knew she’d miss the dynamics of her job as speech therapist in an audiological centre, and she knew that it would be hard to find an other job like that again. However, Tina and her husband also thought the move to Muscat would be a good experience for their children. To Tina, the move also brought ‘ultimate freedom’ to stay home with her young children.
Late 2013, after delivering her second child and a year of ‘maternity leave’, Tina started to feel an ‘itch’. She wanted to work again. Her speech therapy materials were flown into Muscat and she found satisfaction in working with Dutch children. That only lasted for a few months though: she quit to spend time with their third daughter who was born soon after the Summer holidays.
Two years later, the contract of Tina’s husband was about to end and the family was getting ready for their next transition. They realised that when they would repatriate, the whole family would benefit if Tina could take up a job again. Knowing that returning to a speech therapy position might be challenging, she decided to also keep the options open to return to a previous field, as a GP assistant. In order to be employable as such, Tina would need to update some of her knowledge and skills. With her husband’s support, Tina took the brave decision to go back to studying: she registered for a distance study in the Netherlands that would revive her old knowledge and deepen skills and knowledge that she would need on her trail as GP assistant. She emphasises that she took up the study to improve her employability and close her ‘CV gap’, but also to get the feeling of doing something mentally, to think and learn again about an interesting topic.
This is when I really got to know Tina well: she was determined in setting aside time to study, to focus on what was important for herself. We spent many hours together, behind our laptops, in a shared office created to support expat partners who wanted to study or work remotely. Tina had decided to set a weekly schedule to bring focus in her morning activities, including studying at our shared office every Sunday and Tuesday morning. When, on her study morning, her presence was desired somewhere else, she’d consider carefully whether the activity was important enough and she’d reschedule her study morning to an other day of the week. She only let go of the schedule during school holidays. It took Tina about 9 months, the last few weeks studying between preparing a move and keeping a family running, but she managed to finish her study just before their repatriation to the Netherlands in October 2016.
When asked for advice for others in a similar situation, Tina suggests to be open-minded: that is how she approached her move to Oman, her job search now and a possible next move. ‘I allow myself to be surprised by opportunities. When they come, we will see whether they fit our life.’
Tina also emphasizes the support she gets from her husband. He thinks it is good for her to start working again, he motivates her and helps her find her path. But the support also comes in practical ways: he stays at home with the children when she goes for a job interview. ‘It is important to stand behind each others choices. I keep myself motivated, but he sees it when something makes me happy.’
A few days after our conversation, Tina contacts me to tell that the interviews have paid off: she was just offered a job as a speech therapist, starting in a few weeks. Some of the family roles will change again, but they are looking forward to that.