Gerda van Loon, today’s trailblazer here on The Other Trail, works as a personal development and intercultural communication coach in Muscat. Through her Netherlands based company 3C Coaching , she helps expats and Omanis work on their personal development.
Coaching wasn’t Gerda’s first career though. In 2006, she lived in The Netherlands with her husband and two children, and had recently resigned from her position as a lawyer. She had worked as a lawyer for over a decade and had been very successful in her career. At the time, she had just been promoted, and she was used to a professional life and a personal income, as well as a household where both partners worked full time.
She was, however, feeling increasingly unhappy and unsatisfied with her professional role. After discussing her concerns with her husband, she took a plunge and resigned. She found resigning from her job very challenging. Suddenly, she lost status, income, structure and identity in her life. She also found that some of her other social roles – as a daughter and a daughter in law – became more dominating, since she ‘had more time on her hands.’ It took 6 months for Gerda to settle into a new routine after resigning from her job.
She still worked, running courses and workshops on labour law while at the same time teaching European law to college students. However, when her husband was offered a position in Dubai, it was an easy decision for the couple. Their kids were young, 2 and 5 years old, and they decided to go for it and accept the move.
Gerda’s plan was to take 6 months to get everyone settled in Dubai and then plan for herself. She wanted to work.
Gerda recognizes that there are challenges to expat partners wanting to work, both in Oman and Dubai. You will likely arrive with a ‘non-employment’ stamp on your visa, there is red tape to deal with, language barriers and market know-how. Gerda tried to rise above the challenges and formal restrictions and see the bigger picture.
‘If you want to work, you will,’ she tells me. ‘If you want to make a difference in the world, you can. It doesn’t have to be paid. Formal work is certainly a challenge, but it is not impossible,’ says Gerda. ‘You need to look for creative solutions.’
Gerda started off in Dubai, getting herself busy with the school Parent Teacher Association. At the same time, she applied for a position as Focal Point (manager) with Outpost Dubai. Outpost is Royal Dutch Shell’s support organization for employees and partners on the move.
‘I loved my position with Outpost Dubai,’ Gerda recalls. ‘I worked with and for people, I loved the international setting and the recognition that we, as expats, all need the same things.’
Wanting to continue working with human behaviour, Gerda started studying psychology, but the shoe didn’t quite fit. One day, she met a friend, who was positively glowing.
‘I want to have what she is having!’ Gerda recalls telling her friend. My obvious confusion prompts her to remind me that the line is taken from When Harry Met Sally, a film I dimly recall watching back when email was a novelty.
‘What are you doing?’ Gerda asked her friend, ‘you look so happy!’ The woman told her about coaching, and Gerda was hooked. The following month she enrolled in a six month training course, followed by an eight month certification course.
Gerda never looked back. She arrived in Muscat in 2013 with the explicit aim to bring coaching to Oman. In 2015, she was part of opening the Oman chapter of the International Coaching Federation, ICF.
ICF is a non-profit, professional coaching organisation with over 30.000 members worldwide. It focuses on advancing the art, science and practice of professional coaching. Gerda was recently elected president of the Oman chapter, creating a co leading team rather than a more formal board.
Reflecting on her path, Gerda recognizes that arriving in Dubai with two small children, her trail was far from clear. Making the choices she made hasn’t always been easy; for example, she tells me she certainly didn’t feel like the best parent in class when her child’s teacher approached her, accusing her of being ‘too busy.’
‘In order to be a good mum, I needed to do things,’ says Gerda. ‘I needed to grow and develop. I love my coaching path, and my skills are also very relevant in my family. Indeed, I’d say the reason I coach are my children; they inspire me to become the better person I each day strive to become,’ she concludes.
Thanking Gerda for sharing her insights, I wonder if she has any advice for fellow expat partners, trailblazers, wanderers in the making? ‘Hire a coach!’, she says, smiling.
Gerda hosts a course on Intercultural Intelligence here in Muscat, starting April 30th. If you are interested, please contact Gerda directly on firstname.lastname@example.org