The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Foreign Assignments: Yours or Your Family’s?

August 7, 2012

By Lisa Nash, Future Leader Liaison

Early in my career, working in manufacturing in Montreal, my supervisor called me into his office out of the blue to say that I was being offered a job in Germany. I was incredibly excited. My first foreign assignment with this company – for a really important, high profile project for our business! I couldn’t quell my enthusiasm and immediately called my husband, a production manager at another company and told him about this exciting opportunity for us to live in Europe. Due to the fact that the initial candidate had pulled out at the last minute, I was being given a long weekend – three days – to come back with an answer.

When we got home, I was bubbling with excitement, but the reality of the situation was that the offer was only for me. My husband would not be provided a work permit through my assignment. He had a promising career of his own and this would require him to re-think the future. He is a wonderful person and incredibly supportive of me and said he would love the chance to do his MBA. We found an American university nearby and our plan was made! On that Monday, I accepted the position.

Everything moved quickly. Soon we were on our house – hunting trip and my husband was put up in a hotel while he started his studies and I worked on the home sale and move back in Canada.

When I got to Germany, real life started to sink in. I went to work – same computer, familiar work environment, same company culture, many of the same business contacts. I lived largely in the bubble of my company… meanwhile, my husband lived in Germany. While I already spoke basic German, my husband is a native French speaker. He was already studying in a foreign language, and German came more slowly to him. But it was he who immediately had to deal with the train system and schedules to get to school, in the shops at lunch, announcements in the station, starting over with building friendships, and a thousand little things that you have to deal with when you move.

While I was traveling in Eastern Germany, he was dealing with the leak in the kitchen. On another business trip, he was dealing with the furnace problems – all in broken German and in an unfamiliar environment. Things got easier with time, but some of the early days were tough.

We realized that I was more comfortable on this assignment because fewer things had changed for me, whereas my husband’s entire life was impacted.

We treasure the years we spent abroad. We both feel enriched by experience. We made some great friends while we were there, and yes, we’d do it again. That said, we gained a new perspective on who really experiences the most ‘foreign’ aspect of a foreign assignment… the family. We’ll be better prepared next time.