Kate has an office with a view. The sun glitters and reflects in the skyscrapers of Chicago. From her desk, she has a view over the city. The cars and people have toy format from up there. For the young woman in her early thirties, with dark blond hair, a friendly smile and a firm voice, it will soon be two years in the big city. She remembers exactly the day when Christoph came home and asked her if she would go to Chicago together with him. She came home from work, wearing a denim jacket over her blouse and bringing spring rolls from the Asia shop around the corner. When they dipped the rolls in the sauce, Christoph told about the offer of his employer. She didn’t have to think twice - they had talked about it before and it was clear that they were ready. Back then , she didn’t knew that Katharina would become Kate and what would lay ahead of her.
Katharina grows up in a small town close to the Black Forest, in the south of Germany. Everyone knows each other, life is quiet and comfortable. Every morning, Katharina's best friend is waiting for her at the front door and they go to school together. Katharina turns completely after her parents. Both are ambitious and independent. Katharina is a structured girl, good at school and good grades do matter for her. Even as Katharina gets older, school is easy for her, but she doesn’t know what she really wants to do with her life. After graduation - the world is lying in front of her - she just has to decide. Her best friend Christoph will stay another year in the hometown because of the civilian service, but she wants to get out and applies for college in Heidelberg. Shortly before graduating from high school, she gets the confirmation- she will start to study a Bachelor in International Business Administration and Tourism Management.
It is the last event in the school, the end of a life period, when Katharina and Christoph look back on all their common experiences and the special moments of recent years. It suddenly becomes clear to both of them, that there is more between them than just friendship.
From autumn on Katharina and Christoph have a long-distance relationship. Heidelberg is only an hour away and so they can often see each other, but when she leaves for a three months internship to the Canary Islands, it becomes slightly more difficult. It’s the times before Skype and Katharina has to walk half an hour to the closest Internet coffeeshop to write an e-mail to her boyfriend. The calls are expensive and short in time.
One year later, Christoph also starts studying and follows Katharina to Heidelberg. But the time spent together in the city is short, because Katharina's studies are almost finished and she has already made new plans. She quickly realized that her bachelor's degree program did not meet her demands. She wants more. More of the "soft skills" she has acquired over the last few years. Like new languages, getting to know other cultures and realizing great projects. For her Masters, Katharina moves to Brighton, a small town in England south of London. She will spend the next year and a half there, studying International Management and Entrepreneurship. She knows that the distance will be bigger than before and she can’t see Christoph so often. She knows, that there will be difficult moments. But she is enthusiastic about the academical classes and the international environment. Everyone lives together on a campus, their fellow students come from all over the world. Now that Skype exists, it's easier to participate in the life one and another. Katharina shows Christoph her room through the camera, sometimes the two of them eat together or Katharina's friends wave into the camera. Brighton is located on the sea and when Christoph is visiting, the two take long walks along the beach. He also likes the British Islands and decides to do his Masters in Scotland. After a one and a half years of long-distance relationship, Katharina and Christoph move to Edinburgh together. While she is writing her master's thesis, he starts his studies. At the beginning everything is great. Both are happy to finally be together. The city is beautiful and they have established a common and cozy home. While Christoph is in university, Katharina is writing her master thesis. She is making plans for her future career. But after the paper is completed and the first applications don’t work out, she realizes she will not have an easy time as a career starter in Scotland.
Most of her fellow students go to London and start as a trainee in big companies. But Katharina does not know if that's her way of doing it.
She wonders what she really wants to do. When Christoph comes from university, she is now often dissatisfied and frustrated. When a friend from Taiwan invites Katharina to her wedding, it's a welcome change. But how should she pay for the flight as a graduate student? Katharina researches for internships in Taiwan and applies to the German Chamber of Commerce. She gets the job and a few weeks later she is sitting in an airplane to Taiwan. At the wedding, she is the guest of honor. The 1.76-meter-tall German, with the blond hair and white skin is the attraction of the celebration. Everyone wants to touch her and take pictures with her. Even on the way to work, people secretly take pictures of her. Everything is different here. The colors, the language, the food, the clothes. When Katharina leaves the house, she always carries small pieces of papers with Chinese characters. They say where she lives, what her name is and that she is vegetarian. Katharina feels good - she was prepared for the life in Taiwan and in her work she learns a lot about the country. In Taiwan, she feels like herself again, suddenly she knows what she wants to do. Somehow, traveling always puts everything into the right place for her. "The corset we Germans have, that we think we always have to have a plan and everything has to make sense - that only makes sense in a small radius and it doesn’t take much to blow it up. Many people say you can’t have everything in life, but I think you can have everything - just not at the same time. But I didn’t have that serenity back then, "says Katharina as she looks over the rooftops of Chicago.
Of course she misses Christoph during the time in Taiwan, she also longs for stability to be closer to him again. But the time apart is important for both. They've been together for a long time and find it fair enough that everyone has the opportunity to focus on their personal development again. But then, after all the stations and years of long-distance relationship, both wish to be closer together again. They return together to their hometown and start to apply. Katharina finds a job in a major German publishing house, Christoph gets a job in the automotive industry two hours away. Again, they have a long-distance relationship, driving on Fridays with anticipation and on Sundays with a depressed feeling in the belly over the highway. Both are successful in their job, but now more and more questions about the future of the relationship are popping up. Where should this eternal commute lead to? Will they be together in one place at some point? They have been a couple for eight years now.
On the move
Two years later, they are visiting some friends in Munich. Katharina and Christoph have always had prejudices about this city - too expensive and posh - but when they finally visit Munich, everything seems different.
The city is green, a river and numerous parks invite to hang out and people are sitting in numerous beer gardens under chestnut trees. Suddenly, a new idea conquers their minds: both employers have offices in Munich, the city is wonderful, their friends are already living there - everything seems perfect. Three months later, Katharina and Christoph move to Munich. For Katharina nothing changes professionally. Half of her team is in Munich anyway and she feels comfortable in the office. Christoph's position changes indeed. He changes position and a lot of people don’t seem to understand, because salary and status seems more attractive in Stuttgart. But Christoph doesn’t mind the comments. For him it is important to have a future together with Katharina as well as to continue his career - and this opportunity is here in Munich. The decision will pay off later - the adventure Chicago would not have been possible without the change. Time flies in the following two years. Both work during the week, at the weekend they regularly go to the mountains and meet friends. Once a year they make a big trip, because Katharina's wanderlust and her desire to see more and more of the world is unbroken. One evening they have a conversation about traveling and the future. "Could you imagine living abroad again?”, Katharina asks Christoph. It’s pretty obvious - both can.
A week later, Christoph receives the offer. As Katharina dips the spring rolls into the sauce and Christoph asks her, if she would like to go to Chicago with him, she is glad about the conversation from last week.
They have the same opinion about living abroad and they are ready for a new adventure. It's autumn 2016. In a few month, a new life episode is about to start.
The time until departure is full of emotional ups and downs. Katharina knows nothing about Chicago, but she is glad that they will be living in a big city. Both are confident that Katharina, with her international education and professional experience in digital marketing and e-commerce, will quickly find a job there. Nevertheless, she doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. Instead she wants to be prepared. The next day she begins to research in the internet and discovers a start-up promoted by the company she works for. Soon, Skype interviews with Chicago are arranged, together with the CEO of the start-up she plans her future in the company - Katharina is excited and happy. One afternoon, Christoph and Katharina are on their way back from a weekend trip. When the landscape flies past her through the car window, it suddenly comes to her mind: Everything seems organized and prepared, except her work visa. "Do I actually get my visa through your company or do we have to get married?", she asks her boyfriend. Christoph is silent. They have been together for ten years, a wedding has not been a big topic so far.
Katharina feels uncomfortable, she can hardly imagine a more unromantic conversation. But things have to be clarified. Now it is out. Christoph tries to distract from the topic. The rest of the journey is silent. A month later, Christoph proposes to Katharina. "The wedding was a tool for him to create the best conditions for me there. The legal situation in the US is (as in most countries) conservative and allows only married couples to receive a residence permit for the accompanying partner. Depending on the visa, the partners may then also receive a work permit or not. I was lucky and was to apply for a work permit with my visa.” Five weeks later, the time to get married has come. Katharina had seen everything bureaucratic, but her mother persuaded her to buy a white, simple dress and a bouquet of flowers. The night before, Katharina and Christoph can’t sleep at all due to their excitement. They marry in February 2017. It is an emotional and beautiful day and Katharina and Christoph realize that it is much more than just a signature. From now on, they will go their way in life together - that's how they decided.
The early days in Chicago pass by quickly and seem to be endless at the same time. Everything is new: the country, the people, the everyday life. Katharina spends the days exploring the city, doing all sorts of bureaucratic things, building Ikea furniture. The arrival of her work visa can take up to three months. She knows, everything is possible after that, but now she has to be patient. Nevertheless, she feels in a limbo during this first few weeks. For Christoph it is easier. His job is relatively similar to the one in Germany, his colleagues are nice, even his boss has accompanied him to Chicago. In the morning he goes to work, he spends the day with what he likes doing, in the evening he comes home exhausted. Life doesn’t change too much. Katharina visits him in the office and meets his colleagues. It helps her to see where he spends so much time while she is often alone in the empty apartment. The container with her things from Germany will be expected in a few weeks. Katharina is in contact with the CEO of the start-up, the new job seems to be waiting for her, but the arrival of the work visa may take weeks. She decides to pack her suitcases. Traveling always helps her and why is she supposed to sit around all day alone if she can see the world? She packs her backpack and travels to Mexico, then on to the next destination Cuba. From there she flies to Ecuador and then she visits the Galapagos Islands. Katharina is fascinated and enthusiastic about all the impressions she gets. After a short stopover in Chicago - the container arrived- she travels for a few weeks to Thailand. She is still waiting for her work permit, the handover of government affairs from Obama to Trump let the authorities work even slower.
In the meantime, the success story of the start-up, for which Katharina is supposed to work, has experienced a down fall and the company has to shrink. Many employees are let off. As Katharina waits in Bangkok at the airport on her return flight to the US, she receives the call - recruiting new employees is currently not possible. That was it with Katharina's job in Chicago. The CEO promises her to associate her with other contacts. But that will never happen.
Katharina feels as if the ground under her feet has been pulled away. Her whole plan doesn’t work. She had been traveling knowing that the job was almost certain. She knew already internals, they were always in contact.
Everything is different now. She starts applying to American companies. There is one refusal after another. She tries to not take it personal. She knows she has to be patient, but it's frustrating if she doesn’t even get an answer. Katharina has international work experience, she works in marketing, her English is perfect - but it doesn’t help. She has no experience within the American work market and she feels left alone. Sometimes she is invited to a conversation, often there are jobs for which she would have long been overqualified in Germany and with poor pay. It is a challenge for Katharina to stay ambitious and to also refuse bad offers. But she wants to use her time in the US consciously and not do any job. During this time, she founds her blog sharethelove.
Sharing the love
She reports as Kate about her experiences, about the difficulties associated with expat life and job hunting. The financial dependence makes it difficult. What career steps will she miss that she would have done in Germany by now? How is she supposed to organize her pension payments when she doesn’t currently earn any money herself? All these are topics that concern her and many others - they may be unsexy, but important. Christoph sees his wife suffering with the situation. He tries to be there for her when she is in doubt. He realizes how she rarely treats herself with nice things or activities even though she could. Their relationship has changed, they are firmer, they talk openly about fears and doubts, Christoph is ready to give up his job in Chicago if Kate wants to go home. But she is not one who gives up so easily. She doesn’t want to let the time pass by and is looking for creative activities to do. She attends a Photoshop and InDesign class and wants to apply what she has learned. Her blog is now taking shape, she writes about life as an expat. She still doubts whether she should really be totally honest, reveal all the vulnerable aspects of her situation and share it with the world out there. What will your former colleagues and bosses think, what their friends back home in Germany?
But the desire to communicate and to share her story with other women is stronger. “Expat wife or trailing spouse, these are bad terms to which the women on the side of expat men are often reduced. I wanted to support others. I wanted to show them - you are not alone!"
Suddenly, Kate gets the first reactions by women from all over the world. They thank her for sharing, they want to exchange ideas and thoughts. Kate attends career fairs, networking events relating to careers abroad and shares on her blog what she has learned. One day, at an event, she hears a female coach speaking. She asks a simple question that Kate can’t get out of her mind: Why is your corporate career the only right and possible thing to do?
Kate is perplexed. The question is so simple and yet she has no answer. For so long, she has tried to gain a foothold in the business world of Chicago. Now, she wants to think everything completely new. So far, she had no strategy behind her blog, but what if she could make a career out of it? What if she could not only help others with her contributions, but also work as a coach? Coaching is still new to her, Kate, who is analytical, has been dealing little with spiritual issues, but now she wants to get to know more. Finally, her decision stands. She starts a training as a coach. The classes can be visited online, the school is in Australia, the students come from all over the world. For Kate it is important to be properly trained, because she knows that she has a great responsibility as a coach. "Fake it 'till you make it" is not a choice for her. A year after arriving in Chicago and half a year after launching her blog, Kate has taken a new path.
Half a year later, in November 2018, she has the first paying customer as an expat coach. Before the session she is so nervous that she cant’t eat any breakfast. The question of what she is worth, and she is allowed to earn money with her new knowledge, is still new and unfamiliar to Kate. However, the session with her customer from South Korea via Skype is going great. Kate frames her first check proudly and hangs it over the desk.
Kate is now investing all her time in her blog and expat coaching. It's a lot of work and she needs to think about how to make the business financially solid without losing sight of the focus. Christoph admires her, he encourages her, he supports her when she needs it. In Chicago, Kate is now part of an international community. Making friends with the Americans is still a bit difficult for her. "Friendships with other expats get incredibly deep very fast, a lot of oscillating between the lines and when you have experienced the same things, you know exactly what the other one is talking about. Even with my friends at home, I realize who has lived abroad and who has not. You get a lot of reflection from this experience and ask yourself many questions that would not arise otherwise.” As an expat coach, Kate feels needed. It is still a bit strange for her to help others with an experience she is living through herself.
But for exactly this reason, she can really understand her customers. It's the particular view of the things that matter at the end of the day. Going abroad with your partner is a test of the relationship, they have a lot to talk about and everyone should be clear about their ideas of the new life. At the same time nothing really can be planned, because often everything is different than one thinks. Kate herself has learned to let go and not plan too far into the future. First, the stay was planned for two years, Kate and Christoph have been extended already for another year. They don’t know what comes next. It is hard to imagine, after such experiences, to return to normal life of before. Kate is looking forward to what's coming. She is now calmer than before and practices daily in her coaching training, to see things with different perspectives. Her wish is to experience as much as possible. However, she doesn’t want to mark a check list, but to learn from life. "I hope when I'm old, I've met many other cultures, I hope I've seen a lot, but most of all, I hope I've understood a lot."
Kate wants to be a role model, wants to encourage other women to go their own way. For her, a strong woman is someone who is honest with herself, but who is also reflective enough to change herself over and over again. Kate admires women who are happy with what they do - no matter what. It’s not about the “what”, it’s about the “how”.
Before Kate went to Chicago, she had barely thought about gender equality. She felt emancipated, independent, on equal terms - when there have been discussions about gender inequality in the past, she often smiled and felt superior to it.
But her experience abroad has changed that. It has made Kate even more aware of the topic. She has personally experienced how large companies deal with employees and, above all, their relatives when they send them abroad. Only those who are married are even taken seriously, but even then one waits in vain for support. Kate is terrified, by how many colleagues and other expats have a one-sided, traditional role model of women living alongside their husbands abroad. "For me, the expat period was also a journey into the past. On my solo trips, I was critically eyed, because I'm not sitting at home waiting for my husband. In interviews, questions about my husband and if I wanted to have children came again and again.” Kate has enough. She wants the move abroad to be a journey into the future for couples - she wants women and men to have the opportunity to develop individually and professionally. She aims that the HR departments of the big companies open up, become more flexible, think further and that they no longer discriminate expatriate women. She hopes, that the society will grow, become more cosmopolitan and think bigger. And she wishes to help women with all that, which strengthens them and makes them self-confident, in order to help to go their own individual way.
A few months ago, Kate still doubted if this time would be a break or even the end of her career. Now she knows - it's just the beginning.
*More about Kates work on sharethelove.blog.