I’m so excited to introduce you to Kate Galloway today. Kate works with expats and many others as a coach and is based out of Dubai, UAE. She had a career in HR prior to becoming a flexible-time coach (kategalloway.coach). Her husband continues to work in the energy sector and so she’s turned coaching into her portable business. Kate is from Aberdeen, Scotland, and has moved to Houston, Texas before returning to Aberdeen with her first child when he was still a toddler. She’s been in Dubai for 4 years.
While I interviewed Kate with a few of our traditional questions, I was also curious about what she sees in her repatriation coaching practice and what sorts of exercises she thinks can be particularly helpful for those headed back, knowing that it’s different for everyone.
‘No one will really relate to where you have been, what you have done and even notice how you have changed, so don’t expect it of them.’
So Kate, I know you’ve had a few moves and are in a new home right now, but I’d like to talk about your return from Texas to Scotland for a minute. What was the hardest thing about returning home?
The hardest things about repatriating were two-fold. One was that it happened quite unexpectedly and quickly – I regretted the things we had not done. I was sort of grieving our unmet plans and the second was concern about moving home and knowing that I was not returning to my old life. My old life was not the same and neither was I. I count myself lucky that I had an awareness of this. I think a lot of people struggle when they return back either expecting to ‘slot in’ and/or not recognizing how much they have grown through their own expatriation.
What did you least expect to challenge you when you returned? How did you overcome it?
I least expected my internal struggle about returning to work. Due to the timing of our repatriation and birth of my son, I had broken the usual cycle of either returning to work in the US after 3 months or in the UK within 12 months. I had no contract of employment and no existing cultural codes to work within. I could make my own rules but they did not line up with industry standards. Had I never expatriated I would probably have returned to work 4 days a week without questioning it. However, I wanted to work flexibly for up to 3 days a week…preferably 2. It was a bit of an unrealistic dream but actually I was able to do it. There are times that I wonder what would have happened in my career if I had not expatriated with my husband but I am so happy to be where I am doing what I do now helping others navigate the ups and downs of expat life!
What was the best piece of advice you received when returning? From whom or where?
It was actually advice that had been offered to me many years before when returning home from university for the first time. Someone related what their Dad had said to them, ‘No one will really relate to where you have been, what you have done and even notice how you have changed, so don’t expect it of them.’ Sage advice. It told me to just be, to not expect people to be interested in everything I had experienced but instead to be interested in them and to build upon a new future whilst celebrating the old times we’d shared together. It also told me to be ready to create my own path when I returned and to respect the passage of time.
What do you wish you had done differently when returning?
Gosh, if I think about myself back then, I am quite proud of how I approached it. I had worked with career transitions within my HR roles enough to have some ideas of how I could help myself and my family.
Do you know, with hindsight, I would have said goodbye in more depth and laid ground for my expat friendships to thrive. I am lucky to have stayed in contact with people who were important to our family but there are some that I have lost contact with. It would have taken me being a bit braver and bolder in this area.
Based on what you see in your practice, what do you suggest those returning think about or practice either while returning or soon after?
I suggest, where possible, thinking about it as early as possible and, if you are moving with someone else, thinking about it together. It can be so easy to become caught up in the company and job expectations. As well as focusing on the decisions that the company will make, what will be offered and all the logistics – the things that put some control on us – I encourage them to work on what they know about themselves, what is and will be important to them and to own their part of the process and advocate for themselves – what they can control. I encourage to think about their values and to think of the long term and the short term. It can be quite a deep conversation but you can bring it to life by drawing it out or making a vision board together.
It is also about recognizing when they need support. Perhaps they are ok with the logistical side of things but get caught out with the magnitude of the emotional rollercoaster or vice versa. A coaching session can help you think out what you need to do, to understand yourself more in the process, to take time to reflect and set small actions and bigger goals – it gives you more personal control and to be more purposeful in your expat planning and transitioning.
I’ve worked with some clients who know that they need extra support as they prepare to leave so that they feel they have some ownership in the process. I also work with people who are ok with that part but seek support once they’ve repatted, the dust has settled and they start again with the question, ‘Ok so what now?’
Thanks to Kate for sharing her story and her insights based on her experience both with her own transitions and her clients. Getting started early is certainly key. I also appreciate the thoughts on realigning your values and taking time to reflect on the opportunities that transitions allow us. It's a wonderful moment to step into the next chapter with purpose and drive.