In this blog, we will dive into the fascinating world of expat life and the journey of rediscovering one's passion and purpose amidst the challenges of being a working mom abroad. We had the pleasure of interviewing Caryn White, a certified life coach and expat herself, who shares her insights and experiences on how to navigate this unique lifestyle. Join us on this inspiring and informative journey as we explore the joys and hardships of expat life and the pursuit of personal fulfilment.
1: Caryn, Tell us about your expat journey and what inspired the move? How did you fit into the expat lifestyle?
My expat journey started in 2003 when I moved from New Zealand (NZ) to Australia with my now-husband. I didn't think of myself as an expat at the time because there was no visa requirement for New Zealanders moving to Australia. In 2017, we moved to Singapore with our two children (6 and 10) and in 2018, we moved to Shanghai, China. We returned to Singapore in mid-2021. The decision to take up the job opportunity offered to my husband in Singapore (round 1) came at a time when my career was going through major changes and we both felt that we didn't want to stay in Australia long-term. The move to Shanghai and return to Singapore (round 2) were both driven by my husband's company and role changes, our options were to return to NZ or continue the expat journey. We chose the latter. The expat lifestyle involves meeting new people, travelling to exciting places, learning about new cultures, this is the fun stuff, I love this part of it! However, moving from country to country, especially with children, constantly needing to find new friends, saying goodbye to friends, figuring out work permits, distance from close family and friends, these parts, I don’t enjoy so much. This lifestyle is a choice, and until you are in it you won’t know if it is for you. I have more awareness of pros and cons now and regardless of the cons I would still choose this experience again.
2: You have lived all over from Australia to Shanghai… where did you love the best or dislike and why?
For me, each country has something I love including all the beautiful friends I have made both local and expats. Australia is where I had our two children however, when it came time to leave, I was ready. Singapore always represents a time of discovery, I arrived unemployed so I had choices of what to do next. With Singapore's large expat community, I was able to be me and find my people without feeling like I needed to compromise myself. This felt like a first for me. Shanghai was my least favourite at first, I was struggling with the idea of having to leave Singapore and the cultural and language differences were such a shock. As well, working full time and Shanghai’s size, made it more difficult to form new non-work friendships. I did feel incredibly alone at times. Once I learned to let go of what could have been and allowed myself to just “be,” life improved dramatically.
3: You are now a life coach and run your own business! Congratulations - what inspired the transition into coaching? What can clients expect from you?
Thank you! Coaching was a part of managing my team in my corporate role, but it was at a Shanghai networking event in late 2020 that the idea of a “coach” as a career choice surfaced. I completed my Personal Development Plan (PDP) and “coach” was a word I wrote down. A can of worms was opened. My R.A.S was firing and very soon I was researching all about coaching. To provide some context, I had recently returned from NZ where the kids and I were separated from my husband for 8 months due to the pandemic border closures. I was feeling really depleted personally and professionally at this time. Finding out more about coaching was the first time that I was feeling really excited about something in a long time. I enrolled in the Jay Shetty Certification School, I invested in a life coach, by the time I moved to Singapore, I was no longer employed and I took this as the opportunity to set up my own coaching business. There was no doubt that this is what I wanted and I am meant to do.
What I love about coaching is that it is built on the understanding that a client isn’t broken, they are 100% whole, complete and resourceful. I used to believe that as a coach I had to have all the answers. I still hear this thought from aspiring coaches. In truth, the client has all the answers, but maybe they don’t yet believe it. My focus is on creating the right space (safe and non-judgemental) for them and through listening and reflection the client is able to unpack and let go of the thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that aren’t helping them anymore. This is their journey. I get to enjoy watching them transform.
4: What challenges have you faced over the years living the expat life? Cultural differences/ work etc?
Number 1, would be figuring out how and where to buy the basics - food, water, etc and then how to pay for them, transport, schooling. Essentially what are the simplest tasks in your home country become the most challenging to figure out even when you have a local support person. Secondly, assumptions made about me and assumptions I have about a country. To arrive and have people pre-judge you based on where you are from is hard. Language and cultural differences in China particularly were a lot to overcome. We all developed a higher level of resilience as we adapted to each new situation and different levels of chaos. Thirdly, the uncertainty, our journey has always been linked to my husband's role, in Asia particularly, company decisions therefore have a big impact on our movements. Knowing you have minimal control in what is happening next is not easy. Lastly, my career, I had to put my ego aside coming to Singapore for the first time, accepting that my career would be put on hold for a couple of years wasn’t easy, however in hindsight it was the best move for me.
5: You mentioned you have lived in Singapore for a long time! What are the pros and cons of being a female expat there? What is the lifestyle like?
It does feel like a long time, but compared to some I have met who have been here for 15+ years, maybe not so long! It is an endless summer here which I feel naturally lifts everyone's mood (most days). I would say in terms of meeting people it is a plus as a female as there are so many events that I find tend to have more females than males. For work, I have witnessed challenges for other females however I have not been impacted directly.
6: What do you do for fun?
I love being a coach, so this for me is fun, building my business, my personal development and learning is something I truly value, walking and bike riding, catching up with friends, chilling at home, dining out, local and international events -. Singapore Rugby Sevens and F1 are a lot of fun. Plus the concerts! I would if I could travel all the time, however as our kids get older, study and their commitments do fill up the weekends. So maybe solo travel or travel with friends is the better option? 🙂
7: Where have you travelled to that truly inspired you and why?
Every place I have been to, in some way, is inspiring for the adventure, the culture, and even the challenges sometimes. I would say although I love the short trips to nearby countries in the South East Asia region, it would have to be my travels in China that truly inspired me. In 2019 my family came from NZ for 2-3 weeks. We all travelled by bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing. Climbing The Great Wall, I can still remember standing looking back and turning to my brother and saying “did you ever think you would be here standing on the Great Wall?” His answer was “No” It is one of those places I never knew I wanted to visit until I was there and to share that with my family was amazing.
My final trip in China was a solo trip along parts of the silk road - Gansu province - I did this in 2021 just before moving back to Singapore. I knew I was leaving China and this was a very reflective soul searching time for me, without the distractions of normal day to day life I was able to immerse myself in the experience and be truly present with me.
8: What advice would you give to women who are living the expat/digital nomad lifestyle and have become unemployed? How to keep motivated?
It is tough when you know your value! My suggestion would be “know your why?” Why are you seeking employment? To stay motivated you need to have something worth fighting for. Consider is it financial, is it companionship, is it career advancement.? Find the meaning and hold onto that. Stay true to who you are, allow yourself to be open to the opportunities, they may not come how you expect, but if you put aside the time each week to spend on your why, and focusing on the small steps you will get there.
9: What is life like as an expat mum? What are the challenges you have faced as an expat mother? What advice do you have for other expat mothers?
Expat mums go through ups and downs just like any other mum, the challenge is that our children are growing up often in a completely different environment to what we grew up in so it can feel like you have no point of reference. In addition, our children have friends that are often from completely different backgrounds. This brings different values, often different financial backgrounds, and different beliefs. I could go on. So for me it is about how do you navigate this to stay true to your family values but also recognising that your children will have a different experience to you anyway.
My advice is finding the support that you need - online, in person - generally you don’t require professional help - a counsellor or coach even - it is just to touch base and share what you are going through, more because you are trying to figure out is this normal? Or should I be more concerned.
My last piece of advice that I would share is that you know your children, you know your family, if you are feeling disconnected and you aren’t happy with it, do something about it. I have on at least 2 occasions called up a family psychologist for a family session to figure out how to deal with what is going on. Having a third party listen to each of us and then share some quick tips allowing us to regroup and reconnect has been priceless. In the end in this expat journey your family unit is the one stable thing in every country.
10: What are your key tips for women looking to set up their own business as an expat?
Love what you do!
Know your why for your business?
Ask yourself, is this a side hustle or a business?
Ask more than one source about any regulatory requirements from setup, to annual filing, tax, closure costs, get the overview upfront so no surprises. Never assume.
Trust your intuition.
Network! Find like minded business owners and connect with them online through facebook groups and in person.
Have regular 1-1’s with key contacts that can support you. A mix of those starting out and already in business.
Surround yourself with people that see the greatness within you, even if you don’t yet see it yourself.
Connect with Caryn: