Career in Your Suitcase
A practical guide to creating meaningful work... anywhere

Introduction - setting the scene

This is a preview to the chapter Introduction - setting the scene from the book Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt.
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Until 1987 I (Jo) had enjoyed a successful career as a partner in a computer training business. I made my living from teaching and writing and had already published more than ten computer handbooks. Then I got married and my husband was posted to Dubai. Telling me I would regret it for the rest of my life if I refused to join him, my new husband persuaded me to become what is sometimes rather unflatteringly called a ‘trailing spouse’. In this politically correct world the term has become the more anodyne ‘accompanying partner’. It is perhaps the men in our number who have created the most compelling term - that of STUDS which stands for Spouse Trailing Under Duress Successfully, while Apple Gidley, author of Expat Life – Slice by Slice, created the new acronym STARS at the 2011 Families in Global Transition Conference. This stands for Spouse Travelling and Relocating Successfully. I like that.

In the 25 years that have followed, I have come to agree with my husband. I am glad I made the journey and yes, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life had I stayed behind. During these intervening years, I have developed what I call a career in my suitcase, a portable career that moves when I do. A career that is mobile, sustainable and keeps growing despite moving country every few years.

The first ten years were a struggle, in which I did my fair share of door-slamming and sulking. But it was around 1997 that I read Robin Pascoe’s A Wife’s Guide and realised, at last, a) I was not alone and b) I was not mad. In fact I was part of something often called the Dual Career Issue. It was around this time I published the first edition of A Career in Your Suitcase.

Fifteen years ago I began to study the phenomenon. I attended conferences, interviewed countless experts and talked with many women, and men, who shared my interest in portable careers. As a journalist, I was able to learn about this at the source and then share what I knew in the best way I knew - by writing about it.

Today, few international corporations remain ignorant of the dual career issue. It is on the agenda of almost every multinational corporation. Sadly though, many organisations find it a bit of a hot potato and offer the same kind of support they always have - with work permits, language and training. But it is impossible to create a one size fits all solution to this dilemma. Few mobile spouses will be able to climb their chosen career ladder, stay in the same field, or even the same company. Few will find it easy to hop from permanent employment to permanent employment. For even if there were work available, other hurdles get in the way, such as a lack of work permits or fluency in a new language. Perhaps your qualifications will not be accepted in a new country? Or maybe your usual career just does not exist in your new location? And then, with the demands of conducting an international relocation and all the domestic duties that entails, not to mention the responsibility of looking after a mobile family, it can be hard to find suitable work which fits round everything else.

At the same time, globalisation, increased mobility and self-employment alongside the desire for adventure are encouraging more and more people to consider developing a portable career for themselves. If you plan to make just a single move or move within the same country, then thankfully issues such as language barriers, work permits and unrecognised qualifications are likely to be less of a problem. But you may still find it difficult to obtain work similar to before the move. A fisherman would have to find a creative solution if he moved to an inner city. Someone with a shop selling tartan in Scotland may find it hard to establish the same business in the south of England. While there are many barriers likely to hinder your progress, there are skills to be learned and techniques that will support you to develop your own personally meaningful portable career.

What is a portable career?

A portable career is work that you can take with you wherever you go. It is based on your own unique set of skills, values, passion and vision and is not based in a physical location. Lower costs of travel and technological advances have made the global labour market a more accessible option for more workers and businesses than in the past. Megan Fitzgerald, expat career and entrepreneur coach defines a portable career as location independent, using skills that are in high demand, providing virtual products and services. It is non-jurisdictional, not housed in brick and mortar, and is a good fit for subject matter experts. Examples include working in administrative support, accounting, IT services, coaching, writing, graphic design, teaching and consulting, or anything ‘virtual’. Technology opens many doors for portable careers, but other careers can be portable without using technology. The only real limit is your ability to imagine and create it.

A note for accompanying spouses

If the need for a portable career is driven by the fact that your partner is pursuing a career track involving international assignments, then there are additional factors to consider. A dual career couple is one where both are similarly educated and equally wish to pursue a career.


• The 2012 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey, now in its 17th year, indicated the top reasons for refusal of an international work assignment as: 1. Family concerns, 2. Partner’s career, 3. Quality of life at the location.
• This survey also shows that while 49% of spouses were employed before an international assignment, only 12% were employed before and during the assignment.


The key reasons that accompanying partners do not work include:

• No work permit.
• Lack of fluency in the host language.
• Incompatibility of certification.
• Lack of suitable opportunities.


‘It is more stressful to not have work when you want it than to do something you dislike.’
Tom Jackson, Author, Guerilla Tactics in the Job Market

If an international work assignment imposes a career hiatus on one partner, that partner will experience an identity shift alongside the physical relocation. One of the main reasons for spousal unhappiness on international assignment is the difficulty he or she has in maintaining a professional identity or career. Without the security the job title, the colleagues, the income, the routine and satisfaction that can be derived from a career, you can start to lose sight of who you are. It is a major shift in life roles.
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What else is in the chapter 'Introduction - setting the scene'?

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