Don’t call me a trailing spouse!
Trailing spouses are the unsung heroes of international relocations, playing an essential role in the success of foreign assignments. We meet four inspiring expat women who followed their husbands to Luxembourg and took advantage of the dynamic working environment to branch out into a new career or start a new business.
“I’m not a trailing spouse… I’m a marketing professional who discovered the entrepreneur within,” says Indian born businesswomen Supriya Sodhi who has lived in Luxembourg for the last two and a half years.
I’m not a trailing spouse... I’m a marketing professional who discovered the entrepreneur within.
While we were still in India, my husband was offered a position at Amazon, after a successful career in e-commerce in India. For me it meant giving up my job as Head of Marketing for Royal Caribbean Cruises in Delhi. I was both excited and terrified of the change but hoped there would be exciting opportunities for me in Luxembourg.”
Uprooting from India involved leaving behind her career, family, friends, and life as she knew it. “It wasn’t easy at first, as my career has always been significant to me, but I was ready for something new,” she says.
“For third-country nationals like us, it’s not simple. The first challenge I encountered in Luxembourg was that I didn’t have a work permit to look for a job or oer my services here. If you are a spouse that has moved with a partner, you don’t automatically get a permit for work, so I had to go about figuring that out.”
FINDING SUPPORT TO SET UP YOUR BUSINESS
Supriya was looking to do something different to what she was doing in India setting up a food truck, or turning her passion for dogs into a business. She contacted the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce to work out her options.
“They were very supportive and pointed me in the direction of the House of Entrepreneurship, a one-stop-shop for business creation. The advisors I met there were very helpful in giving me me suggestions, information, documentation in English and telling me what steps I needed to take.”
Supriya has now successfully set up her limited liability company – DogStays SARL-S.
The Sàrl-s format, also known as the “one-euro company” allows entrepreneurs in Luxembourg to set up a business in the Grand-Duchy with capital from as little as one euro. When she was still developing her business idea, Supriya was also invited to take part in the Luxembourg Poland Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneurial Woman Project for 2018 which was attended by thirty women representing twenty nationalities.
“It’s an annual training program which helps women who are in any stage of setting up a business. It’s a weekend commitment over six weeks, so it’s easily accessible to working women and those with families. The workshops offer to coach and mentor on a range of issues from idea generation, taxation, effective communication, fundraising, project management, but the most important thing the program offered me was an overview of the many aspects of setting
up and running a successful business here in Luxembourg. We all spent 6 weekends learning together from morning to evening and this also gave me a fantastic opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs.”
We all spent 6 weekends learning together from morning to evening and this also gave me a fantastic opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs.
At the end of the project, the participants present their projects and are voted for. Supriya’s project won the first prize, which included a €3,000 cheque to help her develop Dogstays.lu, a platform which helps dog parents find a safe home for their dogs when they have to travel for work or a holiday.
YOUR DOG’S HOME WHEN YOU TRAVEL
People in Luxembourg love to travel because the country is perfectly situated in the heart of Europe. Since so many people live here for work, there are many dog parents that regularly have to travel out of the city for business trips. The idea is to help people who have dogs in Luxembourg to find somebody to look after their dogs when they travel. I think all dogs need and deserve love, affection and one-on-one attention. That’s what I want to do through DogStays. It is not a dog boarding. It’s a home away from home.”
It is not a dog boarding. It’s a home away from home.
As the business goes from strength to strength, Supriya is also learning the local languages which is enabling her to work with the diverse international community.
“We are constantly meeting people coming from different parts of the world who have relocated to Luxembourg and it is super to connect with them over our common love for dogs! Overall, my husband and I both love Luxembourg, and we hope to stick around.”
MOVING YOUR FAMILY TO LUXEMBOURG
Irish national Martina McDermott moved to Luxembourg with her husband, and two children less than two years ago.
“My husband was relocated by J.P. Morgan, and the process was very straight forward. The relocation agent found us a fantastic house, and we quickly secured places for our two kids at the International School Michel Lucius.” The free publicly funded school has been awarded Cambridge International School status and offers the international English curriculum.
“Languages are part of their every day, and I think that is so important. They are mixing with a much more diverse group of children than they would if they were living elsewhere. My son has eleven nationalities in his class, and he is learning two new languages. I rate it highly because my kids love going to school, they never want to be off school, and they never come home unhappy.”
My son has eleven nationalities in his class, and he is learning two new languages.
A successful marketing and advertising professional for over twenty years, Martina started to look for a position which would enable her to build on her experience. She was also looking for a job which would give her flexible working hours and space to grow.
OVERCOMING THE LANGUAGE BARRIERS
“Most jobs advertised asked for several languages, so I was downbeat at first, but I pushed ahead and went out and started to network and to understand more about business opportunities and the job market in Luxembourg.”
After three months of job hunting, Martina was offered an initial contract in the marketing department of Luxembourg-headquartered private banking group KBL European Private Bankers. She was soon promoted to Head of Marketing, reporting directly to the CEO.
My new employer is very flexible when you have a family and offers mobile working.”
They wanted a fluent French and English speaker, so I was thrilled when I got the job. Most people speak in English but learning to work in French is probably the biggest challenge of my job.”
Martina feels fortunate that her children’s school is only a five-minute trip from her office in the heart of the city.
“In terms of commuting it works out fine for me because mywork is very close to my children’s school. They start school a lot earlier here, so it lends itself to my work schedule. I can drop the kids off in the morning and still be in time to pick them up in the afternoon. The kids also use the “Maison relais”, which is the after school club. This helps them build up a network of friends and supports them to get them to various activities in the afternoon.”
FLEXIBLE WORKING HOURS AND FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES
KBL offers Martina flexible working and mobile working for home, enabling her to manage both her professional and family life effectively.
“The bank offers certain people in the organisation mobile working within reason if your job lends itself to it and they are very open if you need something. They are very flexible when you have a family.”
My son has eleven nationalities in his class, and he is learning two new languages.
Martina and her family appreciate the more relaxed pace of life Luxembourg offers and the short distances and easy connections to cities such as Paris and Amsterdam as well as access to the lakes and mountains.
“We can travel the whole of Europe very easily. We were skiing last weekend in France, and it’s only a two-hour drive. My kids had never skied before, so it’s opening their minds to new experiences because in Luxembourg you have the flexibility and opportunity to get to so many more places at such a reasonable cost.”
AN AUTHENTIC JOINT DECISION
“If you want to relocate and for it to work as a couple with or without children, it has to be a common decision and both need to find a position and a role,” points out French national Marie-Adélaïde Leclercq-Olhagaray who moved to Luxembourg in 2013 with her ex-husband and young sons.
“I think you have to be open to opportunity. We were Parisian, and I loved my job, but I didn’t enjoy the Parisian way of life. We had two kids at the time, and I couldn’t project myself. I wanted more nature, more space.”
We were Parisian, and I loved my job, but I didn’t enjoy the Parisian way of life.
Marie-Adélaïde participated in the founding of a successful French digital start-up for which she held the position of Head of Sales and spent her first two years in Luxembourg travelling between her offices in Paris and London. While developing her network in Luxembourg, she soon discovered that there was a distinct shortage of women working within the tech space.
“When I attended events, there were only a few women and a sea of men. So I thought ok, that’s something to change, and that’s how our non-profit Women in Digital Empowerment (WIDE) was born.”
CHALLENGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Marie-Adélaïde “virtually met” Marina Andrieu, her WIDE co-founder while chatting on a French google group for women in tech. “We met each other and realised we had the same idea, so we decided to do it together.”
The duo created the WIDE initiative, aimed at empowering women to seize opportunities in the digital economy, around their full-time jobs and hectic family lives. The organisation has been growing for five years now.
“I had the impression immediately that Luxembourg seemed to me like a country where innovative ideas are welcome and supported as long as you are sincere and ready to invest yourself in the long-term. That is how WIDE was born because we were volunteers and we have committed a professional approach right from the start.”
Luxembourg seemed to me like a country where innovative ideas are welcome and supported.
WIDE offers free practical support and activities to include more women (and men) in the field of digital as well as the contribution to building a more diverse workforce and a broader ICT talent pipeline for Luxembourg.
“We have collaborated with companies like Amazon or Microsoft to organise pieces of training. These were so successful that we now have partnerships with many other companies in the private sector, as well as the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Equal Opportunities and the European Commission.”
After two years in Luxembourg, Marie-Adélaïde decided to sell her start-up in Paris to take up a management position at international law firm Arendt. Reflecting on the choice she made to relocate Luxembourg she says, “I rejoice to have my kids and my career here every day. We found the balance we were looking for and couldn’t find in a very big city.”
We met each other and realised we had the same idea, so we decided to do it together.
MEET THE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR
“My husband is a lawyer and had the opportunity to work for the European Investment Bank and jumped at the chance,” explains Italian national Cristina Picco who left behind her career as an economist and town planner in Milan to follow her husband to Luxembourg in 2008.
Having worked on microcredit programs in parts of rural Ethiopia, Cristina was keen to bring her experience in social entrepreneurship to Luxembourg. A chance meeting with fellow young mum Camille Alexandre led to the creation of NGO “Mamie et Moi”. “We had the idea of asking a local granny to knit a sweater for each of our daughters,” explains Cristina.
Amazed by the result, the friends decided to create a social enterprise, where knitting would be a bridge between the generations.
“We have always considered knitting as a way of weaving social bonds between people and a shared interest in advancing social change through innovative ideas.”
We created a partnership with OUNI, Luxembourg’s first packaging-free organic grocery store because of our common interest in ecology and social innovation.
More than thirty pre-retired or retired women from the Greater Region (Luxembourg, France and Belgium) joined the initiative in the last four years: in exchange for little knits they make, they receive an income supplement and a lot of recognition and satisfaction. You can buy their work online and join in fun themed knitting events across the country! But not only! The initiative is growing and is now developing an offer of events to bridge the gap between generations by using other “excuses” such us cooking together, story-telling, gardening or playing together board games.
“In Luxembourg it’s very easy to meet other actors of the social ecosystem and we always try to build up synergies to complement each other’s role. This has been for instance the case with OUNI, Luxembourg’s first packaging-free organic grocery store: while shopping there one could also meet one of our Grannies who was sharing her knitting skills around a cup of coffee in the café corner of the shop.”
We have a shop to promote a different way of living and we do a lot of activities to make people aware of this.
GROCERY SHOPPING REVOLUTION
“We created a partnership with OUNI, which means’ without plastic bags’ in the Luxembourgish language, because of our common interest in ecology and social innovation,” adds Cristina who was shortly after invited to join the management board. “OUNI is a co-operative with 850 members, and we run a shop in the Gare district of the city.
The idea is the shop only sells organic, unpackaged food and detergent so that you can buy your milk, butter, bread, fruit and vegetables. Besides the cooperative promotes a different way of living and we do a lot of activities to make people aware of this. We organise workshops in schools, in companies as well as a “Zero Waste Challenge.”
We organise workshops in schools, in companies as well as a “Zero Waste Challenge.
Cristina says her long term goals are to continue to develop her NGO and to continue to work on projects that are meaningful for her.
“When I go back to Italy and talk to people I see the image of Luxembourg is related to European institutions, and the financial centre but not social entrepreneurship which is surprising because we are very active in that area too.”