Expatations: Know Your Worth

That’s the thing about moving to another country: your notions about yourself, your career, and who or what you think you are worth can change in ways you never imagined.

English teacher at the blackboard for the Expatations column feature photo
English teacher giving a grammar lesson. Photo (edited): Joshua Hanks on Unsplash.
“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” – Brené Brown

The loss of income for expats can be triggering because it may define who we are. As an American, it certainly defined my “worth.” However, I’ve learned my real currency should not based on what I do, but rather who I have become. Sure, it’s a social status motivator that drove my career and the same holds true in other countries, except others don’t cling to the notion quite as tightly. I learned this early on in Paris when I discovered my soon-to-be ex-husband lost his job after 17 years (surprise!) which meant that the partial income I depended on would end abruptly, forcing me to rethink who I am.

Six months into that cruel spring of my new Parisian life, I could neither rely on the income security I had planned on nor my own consulting because I couldn’t deliver the trainings in fluent French. Broke (and not a little scared), I sought the advice of my friends, what I should do. One of them wisely said, “What do you want” and I said without hesitation, to stay in Paris. So, I swallowed my pride that was tied to a certain income value by taking babysitting jobs around the clock to make ends meet, until my citizenship came through. I had a master’s in applied business Anthropology and now I felt like I had sunk to a new low, feeling like a failure, completely demoralized. Then, a funny thing happened: No one else seemed to care. To others, I was still me and they understood that being an immigrant expat is challenging, so of course they didn’t judge me (as harshly as I judged myself). They were much kinder and gentler to me than I was to myself.

I powered through that hurdle and by fall my dual Italian citizenship came through. The worst was over, and I could begin applying for English Language teaching jobs. Soon, I got a call from an international school to interview, and they hired me at once because I had the Wonka golden ticket despite a lack of classroom experience: Dual citizenship, a BA in English, and I was mother tongue.

For the next year and a half, I taught my heart out (before, during, and after the pandemic online and in class) creating a syllabus for four classes from scratch and becoming a quick study of all the tips and tricks I could learn from my colleagues about everything from class management to differentiated learning. I discovered I was not only good at teaching, but I enjoyed it even though I thought I identified more as an intercultural trainer because it was a prestige job that paid ten times as much. Now, the real income value was that I could be of service. As if I had been preparing for this new career all my life, and I tapped into all the information, education, and experience I had accumulated over a lifetime. Every grammar rule, video, author, book, and fun fact I had ever learned about English became a tool I would access and use to teach.

New country, new life, new career. I became someone who could earn an income that was intrinsically lower, but the value of my new became priceless. Five years later, being an English teacher is my proudest achievement. I have become more confident, self-reliant, and happy with a patience, creativity, and enthusiasm I never thought possible. That’s the thing about moving to another country; your notions about yourself, your career, and who or what you think you are worth can change in ways you never imagined. I not only survived that bump in the road, but I realized my true value.

Next column: We explore concerns about culture shock loss of income and ways to make the foreign become more familiar. Share your questions or concerns with me at info@italicsmag.com.

Read the past Expatations columns here.