Fluency Corp CEO Micah Bellieu sat down with Camila Granzotto Dias who has relocated four times in support of her husband’s work in oil and gas. Originally from Brazil, her moves took her to Paris, France, Oman and Houston, Texas. She shares the challenges and upsides of all her relocations. Enjoy the first in this series of getting the unfiltered truth from the people who have lived the “expat life.”
Meet Camila: A Spouse Managing a Career Through Relocation
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am from Caxias do Sul, Brazil and have lived in France (five years), Oman (1.5 years), France again and then Houston (six months).
What did you do professionally in your home country?
I was the CEO of a company for seven years. We distributed wholesale products for dentists and doctors. I established the company, did the market research, hired and supervised staff and kept up with all the numbers and profit margins.
How has that changed?
When I moved to France to marry my husband, I found a job at an exchange currency company, Travel X, just to practice my French. My level was okay, but it wasn’t proficient enough to work at a super high company so I grabbed the opportunity. It was a wise decision, because my French improved very quickly. I spent about a year doing this before going to Oman. In Oman, I couldn’t work because the government had banned work visas for foreign women for a year and a half, which was super boring.
So you went from running a company to being unable to work.
Yes. I tried to work. The company said they would sponsor my Visa, and the work inspectors came to the office. And if I had been there, we would’ve been in trouble but I just happened to not be there that day. I decided it was not worth the worry and stress of working there. During this time of not working, I started thinking about my career path. When I came back to France, I thought I would like to work with HR career development and that’s why I decided to get a Master’s degree in HR. My plan was to start the degree and simultaneously I would do an HR internship, and after that maybe the company would hire me. That all turned out to be true. So I did recruitment for a year and two months.
How was that?
I took it because I wanted to get my foot in the door at this huge American company. I was a Recruitment Coordinator and thought that after that, I would progress into an HR role. But I didn’t have the time to do it, because we moved again. It unnerves me a little bit, this history of stopping, resuming, stopping, resuming.
Expat Life: The Career Impact
How has the moving affected your career?
Being an expat is a super positive thing, but for the expat’s partner, it’s not as positive. You have to stop your progress when you go to a new country, where you have no network, and sometimes you don’t have a work visa. You spend a lot of time dealing with bureaucratic tasks involved with looking for a job and proving yourself. Then after that, if you move again, you start over again at a lower step for your career. Unless you have a remote job, which I think could be the best thing for an expat’s partner.
What were specific challenges for each place?
In Paris, the culture can put you in a box according to your profession. You have to find work where you have the right title and the right education for it. For example, if you have worked as a wine seller, you’ll probably end up doing that your whole life. They can’t imagine people doing other things. I think the U.S. is more open to change and that if you have a lot of skills and competencies, you can do whatever job you like that’s not highly technical. In Oman, my challenge was that I couldn’t work. In the U.S., house-hunting was challenging because it was overwhelming.
I think you are the perfect person for expat life. What do you think if I said, “If a company doesn’t talk to the spouse, it’s as if they didn’t even talk to the employee about the possible move.”
Correct, if they don’t talk to the spouse that may be accompanying, it’s not going to work. We can’t be unfair with the employees, either. I have the feeling the companies judge you when you say, “I need to talk with my spouse first.”
What expectations about a new locale did you have that were correct?
When I move, I try to have low expectations and suspend judgement. But when I first got to France, I thought French people would be really difficult and I was right. They were closed off and suspicious. Perhaps I should just say Parisians, because I lived and worked in Paris. Oman exceeded my expectations. We made great friends there and did social stuff with them every weekend. The religious aspect of the country is also really amazing as the society circles around their faith.
What completely shocked you?
The women in Oman. We can say they are a tolerant country but it’s simply not true. The women believe they’re free, but they aren’t. I was in a mosque and a woman volunteer was explaining to a foreign group that there are assumptions that Muslim women can’t make decisions. But she said women can choose the color of the abais (tunic they wear). For them, choosing a color is freedom. For me that was shocking that she considered that a freedom. Everything revolves around religion and family, and getting a husband. Because your husband can legally choose another three wives, you have to always look beautiful.
There was nothing too shocking in France and the US because they are closer to my culture.
Laughing in Expat Life & Tips for Others
Do you have a funny expat story?
When I was in Oman, I was trying to get my English back (they speak English there). I was in a hotel the first week, and I called the reception and said, “Can you please pick up the clothes to wash?” The man said, “Right away.” So three minutes later the guy knocked on my door and he handed me a dental kit with a toothbrush and toothpaste. I must have said something wrong and I was so embarrassed that I took it from him. Two hours later, I went down to the reception with my laundry basket.
Also you don’t shake hands in Oman, so a few times I was left shaking hands with myself. Another time I was in a pool, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something black. I thought it was a tire or something! But it was an Arabic woman swimming in all her clothes.
What role did language training play in the success of your moves?
Language has a fundamental role in expatriation. When you arrive in a country and you are able to speak and to understand its language, it’s a whole different experience, much more smooth, easy and positive. You can absorb more from the culture and understand why people act in this way or another (which leads to more tolerance towards others, as well). Language has the power to unite people — undeniably.
Parting tips for would-be expats?
Don’t be too attached to material things. Sometimes you’ll have to live in a furnished apartment without anything of your own and sometimes you’ll have your personal belongings damaged due to transportation during the move. It’s part of the experience.
Have a nomad soul. Despite all the good things that you experience living in a current country, you can still feel eager to move and to know a new one. Similarly, despite the not too good things that you deal with during a current expatriation (work visa, logistics, lack of network, lack of references), you can still feel excited to be on the road again in this crazy journey.
Embrace meeting new people. More than new landscapes, trips and culture, expatriation is about people — autochthone people, expat people, immigrant people. Be open to new friends, who may become your local family and you will likely be fond of them for the rest of your life.