Sylvia Nicolas career coach

A career with no boundaries: Why I moved to three different countries for work

Maybe you’ve considered moving abroad for work but ruled it out on the grounds that it’s too daunting. And who would blame you for that?

Other than the logistics, moving to another country for work is full of challenges like adapting to a new culture, making new friends and learning a new language. It’s not easy, but for me the experience has been very rewarding.

It hasn’t been plain sailing though. Of course I had negative experiences as well as positive. However, overcoming the challenges of moving abroad for work has skyrocketed my personal growth. It has given me a sense of resilience, that I can adapt to any situation. Not to mention the richness that comes from experiencing different cultures and making new connections with people of different backgrounds.

I never saw my career as being confined to one country. I hope that by writing about my experiences I can inspire others to expand their horizons and find rewarding career opportunities and a sense of fulfilment – wherever that may be in the world.

In 17 years I moved to 3 new countries where I didn’t know anybody. Was I mad?

Certainly through the years, people thought I was crazy for going overseas for work. Two of those three times I only had the basics of the language.

This is my story…

I grew up in France, specifically in Paris. After finishing my A Level, French baccalaureate, I started working and saved money for 2 years so I could move to the UK.

My dream was to learn English as I loved the capital London, and also I was interested in working in the airline industry. After working for 2 years as a receptionist and enough money in my bank account, I packed my bags and set off for a new adventure in London. I was 21.

When I got there, I managed to get some bartender jobs with my limited level of English while taking classes. When my level of English improved, I applied for Check-in Agent roles with different airlines, which is something I was always interested in doing. I joined the prestigious Air France and worked as a Check-in agent for a year and a half.

Disappointment 

Guess what, I hated that job. The working hours were awful, passengers were really rude and this was a very repetitive job. Doing the same things day in and day out, I was bored. The job that I dreamt of was not that glamorous. I needed to find a way out.

One day, while on the night bus to work, I told myself I couldn’t continue. I was dragging myself to work every day, feeling down and knowing that I was not growing professionally. I liked working with people, but I didn’t want a routine job, where everything was the same. I wanted to contribute more than just making sure people were checked into their flights.

I told myself that I should be doing something meaningful that I would enjoy day in and day out.

At the time, I had a colleague who was working in HR/Payroll, and I really liked the relationship she had with the staff. I thought I would speak to her to understand more about her role and the type of studies she did. After a long chat, I decided that HR was for me. Why? Because I felt I had the right qualities and skills and that I’d be making a difference in people’s lives.

I then started looking at some entry level HR courses. I was 26 years old at the time.

Negative response

When I shared with others that I wanted to change my field of work, I received comments like, “HR is not for you, you don’t have the personality to work in that field”, whatever that meant. I did not care, that’s what I wanted and that’s what I did. 

I applied for a part-time Administrator position at Air France and got the job. Although I knew that financially working part time would be hard, I was happy with my choice because this was my chance to start a new career.

During my time at Air France, I learnt a lot and was involved with staff onboarding. I have always been shy but presenting in front of a crowd did not scare me because above all else, I wanted to learn. 

After a year I gained my certificate in HR and moved to a new organisation, and a new country. 

New ventures abroad, again

As you know The Red Cross is an international humanitarian network that provides disaster relief.

In 2010, while working at the London headquarters as an HR Assistant/Officer, there was an earthquake in Haiti. I had always wanted to go out into the field and experience first hand how The Red Cross operates… well this was it. I was deployed to Haiti for a whole year. I was 29 years old.

Once again I had negative comments from family and friends, about the country being dangerous and me being crazy to go there. 

In my mind it was an opportunity to see something new, to grow as an HR professional and work on the ground. 

It was a standalone role, so I was able to lead the entire recruitment area, manage staff members and expats, learn Haitian employment law, create HR processes and procedures, and meet fascinating people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Although I was offered an additional year in Haiti, I decided to go back to London to get my HR degree. 

Itchy feet

However, in my mind I was not going to stay in London, I would move again. 

Why? Because I felt in my heart that my journey to grow personally and professionally was not done. 

I felt in my heart that I had other things to see and experience. 

You see I am someone who makes decisions based on my gut feelings, something I was not doing in the past but I’ve learnt to trust myself and my gut, and not what people say. And It has always worked for me!

Reflection time

After returning to London, I got my HR degree, moved up the ladder in my career and became an HR Manager for well-known international brands.

In London I had a great job, my own apartment, trusted friends and I earned good money… but London was not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

I always wanted to improve my Spanish, I loved the latin culture, the food and the music. So for me moving to a country like Spain would be a dream. 

When I told relatives that I had decided to leave London for good, again I did not receive support but negative comments such as: 

“There are no jobs in Spain”

“You don’t speak Spanish”

“You will come back to London” 

“Why are you leaving a great job and good money?”

At the end of 2014 I was 33, I resigned from my job and left London for a new life in Madrid, Spain.

Another disappointment

With over 8 years of experience in HR, and speaking English and French fluently, I thought I would find a job easily in an international company in Madrid.

Well I was wrong. 

Despite sending my CVs to many companies, even for internships, I was rejected. 

I had a profile which attracted great interest in the UK, but in Madrid it was the opposite.  

I felt invisible, disappointed and alone. I did not want to go back to London although my savings were rapidly decreasing. I could have worked as a waitress or cleaned houses but that was not what I wanted. 

I wanted to stick to what makes me happy, which was working in HR. I had to find a solution. 

After 8 months with no job and no income, I started giving English classes to native Spanish speakers who needed to improve their English. 

This was not my dream job but at least I was helping others fulfill their dreams, as most Spaniards wanted to live and work abroad to improve their economic situation.

So I started teaching at home and in companies. 

Before starting a session, I would always talk about my HR background to my clients just in case someone had an opportunity in their company. Then I got clients who were interested in improving their CVs and interview skills. 

So I started advertising my services as an English teacher focusing on CV writing and interview practice.

I didn’t know how to set up my prices and I was willing to lower my prices just to get clients. It was a tough time. 

For a while I did not get much income from those classes, meaning I could not pay the bills. I was just about surviving. Then I met my lovely partner who was very supportive and believed in me.

Seeing the light again

That was 5 and a half years ago. Little by little I have developed a business as a Certified Career Coach and today I’m really happy with where it is going. I no longer lower my prices, clients come to me and they trust me.

My career has been a long journey (literally, from France to the UK, Haiti and Spain!), but it has been worth it. Looking back I am happy with everything that happened. I have a mentor, Karen Liebenguth, who has helped me a lot. I am 39 years old now, living in Madrid and still learning and adapting. 

My career philosophy is all about embracing new experiences to learn and grow, and to be open and ready for change. This has taken me halfway around the world. 

If you’re looking beyond your own country’s borders for work, I offer CV adaptation for different territories and interview practice to land a job internationally. Book a free chat to see how I can help.

Making bold steps in your career can be daunting, but remember to trust in yourself and don’t let other people’s negativity hold you back. After all, this is your life and no one else’s!

Sylvia Nicolas

Sylvia Nicolas
Verified Coach
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Sylvia is a career transition coach. With one-to-one online coaching she helps people discover a new career path and make the practical steps towards it. Email sylvia@snhumanresourcesconsulting.com to find out more or book a free consultation with Sylvia right now.

3 comments

  • Hi Sylvia, once again thanks for the session today, I’m still dwelling on what I said, but it’s interesting how I verbalized it in a way I haven´t during my therapy. So thanks for your questions and the way you guide me towards it. You are definitely gifted.
    Wish you many blessings and let me know if I can assist you in the future in any form or shape.

  • Hola Sylvia, thank you for such an honest and interesting read. It’s wonderful the journey you’ve been on despite a slight lack of support from friends and family. You’ve been courageous, determined and at times flexible which are all the things we all want to be able to do in order to be on the right career path! Your story is inspirational. #followyourgutmore

  • I take pleasure to say that I’ve known Sylvia for a short while throughout her career (as we met in the London salsa scene). However, she doesn’t know that she inspired me to spread my wings and work abroad .
    Since meeting Sylvia, I have worked in Belgium, Estonia and now France ironically.
    As such, I relate wholeheartedly to this story and the experiences and feelings are spot on. I didn’t know Sylvia’s background until now. It’s amazing. We always remain in touch but have recently been in contact more regularly. Sylvia has given me well needed online French lessons and now at a turning point in my career has given me a free discovery career coaching session (which I have found invaluable). I would 100% recommend Sylvia for her career coaching services and intend to keep my sessions going.
    Well done Sylvia, and now having read your background, it makes so much sense as to why you are so good at what you do.
    Thank you .

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