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Transition Easily: Insights from Linda Mueller, The Expat Partner Coach!



Amidst the thrill of new cultures and experiences, there often lies a sense of uncertainty, especially for expats. Enter Linda Mueller, a beacon of guidance in the expat community. As a certified life coach specialising in supporting expat partners, founder of International Women in Chicago, and an expat herself, Linda brings a wealth of wisdom and empathy to those navigating the intricacies of life abroad. In this blog, we gain insights, strategies, and experiences from Linda, offering a glimpse into the invaluable support she provides to expat partners worldwide.


1.Linda, could you share your transformative journey towards achieving certification as a

life coach and establishing the International Women community in Chicago?


It’s been a long and winding road - literally and figuratively! Both my coaching practice and

International Women in Chicago stemmed from seeds that were planted the first time we lived in

Tokyo (2004-2007). When we arrived in Tokyo, I was determined to hold onto my corporate career. I was hired as a consultant by the local subsidiary of company I worked for in the U.S. Little did I know that this arrangement would eventually lead me to permanently step off of my corporate path. Working part-time gave me time to explore Tokyo and beyond with new friends and I realised that there was more to life than just climbing the corporate ladder. While I was living my “best” accompanying partner life and carrying on with my career, I took on a volunteer sponsorship position with Run for the Cure Japan. Through this organisation, I connected with local small business owners and other entrepreneurial accompanying partners. These relationships led to a few fun and interesting marketing strategy consulting projects. The realisation that I could find fulfilling work outside of the corporate world inspired me to read about entrepreneurship and personal development. I eventually hired a life coach, which was pretty revolutionary way back then, especially in Tokyo!

My life coach empowered me to begin disentangling myself from all of the ‘should's’ related to

my career and lifestyle that I had absorbed over the years. I decided to become a certified

business coach so that I could have a portable career. While my career focus was transforming, I was also creating a strong community of local and foreign friends through various social and volunteer activities. As we explored Tokyo neighbourhoods, restaurants, crafts and so on, the group grew to include friends of friends and their friends. Local businesses began reaching out to see if I wanted to bring my ‘friends’ to their business. Just as I began merging my social and entrepreneurial interests, the company called my husband back to its U.S. headquarters. The seeds had been planted and a whirlwind of international relocations had just begun. We moved back to the USA for ~18 months and then headed back to Japan unexpectedly 6 weeks before I gave birth at the age of 40. During the following three years we were in Tokyo, I reengaged with business clients and worked toward a business coaching certification, as well as using my community-building skills to create a much needed new-mom group. In the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami, I realised that I was doing more general life coaching with my clients than business coaching. Once they were given the space to process their thoughts and ambitions, many of them became more focused on higher-level life issues than their business goals. This understanding empowered me to shed the thought that I ‘should’ be a business coach and I found the confidence to shift my focus to life coaching for international women. Once again, as I gained clarity on my next steps, the company called us back to HQ ‘forever’. That lasted just a big longer than a year as we then began relocating - somewhat unexpectedly - every 14-24 months as my husband changed jobs and employers.

Between 2004-2017, we made seven international relocations between the U.S. and Tokyo, Abu

Dhabi and London. For part of that, I was my own best coaching client as I was caught up in a

whirlwind of culture shock and setting up and dismantling our life in multiple foreign cities. It

wasn’t always easy but I wouldn’t trade the experiences, people we met and lessons I learned

for anything. During the pandemic lockdown, I decided to formally relaunch my business AND establish International Women in Chicago to use all that I had learned and experienced around the world to empower others to create a life they love more quickly and easily than I did at times.

All in all, my transformation was an evolution that mirrored the growth I was experiencing on a

personal level.


2. Could you elaborate on the specific methodologies and resources you employ to

empower international women to not only adjust but flourish in their new environments?


Coaching is about transformation - helping clients to achieve their self-defined goals. The

central idea of my methodology is that my clients know what is best for themselves; they just

need the judgement-free space and time to uncover that knowledge and act on it.

I meet my clients where they are and adapt to their work style. On one end of the spectrum are

clients who want to work through a process that is outlined from start to finish, which I offer

through my Confident Relocation, Resilient Repatriation and Create a Life You Love coaching

packages. Others come to me with a specific goal in mind and want bespoke coaching sessions

to help them achieve it. Regardless of the situation, I provide the space they need to gain clarity

on who they truly are and what is most important to them so that they can confidently focus on

achieving their goals. My favourite part of the process is celebrating any and all of their

successes.

I have an ICF-accredited life coaching certification from the International Coaching Academy,

which taught me foundational coaching models (e.g., GROW: Goals. current Reality. Options.

Way forward.) and gave me the strategies and tools to create my own (i.e., CHOICE: Connect.

Hold space. Observe & Inspire. Create. Evaluate.) Since earning my certification in 2012, I’ve

continued to add to my bevy of resources through self-study and additional coaching and

personal development training programs.


A few of the most impactful practices I use are:

1) Reflective inquiry - My client always mention how much they take away from the reflections I

provide on what they tell me - including awareness of word choices, tone and behavior patterns

that they never detected on their own. Having someone listen to what we say without judgement

and then reflect and question those statements enables us to dig more deeply to gain new

perspectives on our thoughts and beliefs.

2) The Work of Byron Katie - We often mistake our thoughts for facts. The Work is a method of

inquiry that enables clients to identify and question thoughts that may not be serving them well

by causing stress, keeping them from taking action, etc. Katie has developed a series of

questions that help my clients to assess the validity of their thoughts and imagine who they

would be without them.

Although I lead with coaching, I also offer mentoring services to clients who want to learn

directly from my experiences. These sessions are typically focused on tactical relocation issues,

life in one of the places I’ve called home, parenting abroad, creating a portable business,

managing a dual-career relationship abroad and the like.


3. With over a decade of experience facilitating global partnerships, could you delve

deeper into the challenges and opportunities consistently encountered, and whether

these varied across different organisations?


Most of my global corporate partnership experience was with a very large and diverse

manufacturing company that was struggling to modernise business practices and decentralise

operations. Although I left this company nearly 15 years ago, there are a few observations that

have stuck with me.

The opportunities seemed endless from camaraderie and growth on a personal level to an

opportunity to grow a business through the exchange of industry knowledge, synergies and

resources. One challenge that those of us closest to the partnership often encountered was

resistance from the greater organisation when trying to fund and execute partnership strategies.

It was often a struggle to align what was best for the partnership with a much larger

organisation’s overall goals and objectives.

Layering cultural differences and individual personalities on top of business practices added

another level of complication. This is where I saw variances across different organisations as

partnerships are between people when we look at them on a base level. Learning to listen and

learn before speaking and telling helped me to navigate these situations.


4. In navigating your professional path, what notable hurdles have you encountered and

how did you overcome them?


Right out of undergrad, in the early 1990s, I worked in government relations in Washington, DC.

In retrospect, I saw a great deal of sexual discrimination and even harassment take place. The

biggest hurdle was that it was normalised - meaning inappropriate things would be said and

done and then laughed off or excused in some other way. I overcame this by trusting my

intuition and excusing myself from situations that seemed complicated. I also learned to

advocate for myself in the same way that I was advocating for an industry - know the facts and

speak the truth in a diplomatic fashion.

As I entered the corporate world, my biggest hurdle was managing my personal boundaries. I

was ambitious and eager to prove myself. The harder I worked, the more I was praised and

promoted. I craved external validation at that point in my life so it was a dangerous combination.

I overworked to prove my worth. We now call this imposter syndrome. Overcoming this mode of

operation was an evolution. While partnering with my life coach in Tokyo, I gained clarity on

what is important to me and how I wanted to live my life. I then spent time figuring out how to

align my actions with the vision I had for my life. It was a challenge, but it was worth it!

As an entrepreneur, the biggest hurdle is balancing my client- and community-facing time with

the day-to-day requirements. For example, I feel energised after watching a client make a major

discovery during a coaching session or after an engaging podcast interview. At the opposite end

of the spectrum, I’m wiped out after doing my taxes or researching technical issues. I’ve learned

to keep it simple on the back-office tasks so that I have more time for the activities that energize

me.


5. Would you mind sharing a compelling success story of an individual you’ve guided

through the complexities of their international journey?


My most powerful example is a client - I will call her Jess - who wanted to move back to her

passport country after spending 10+ years building a life and local business in Tokyo. Her life

included her partner, who held a different passport than her, as well as her newborn daughter.

Given her multi-cultural family’s financial, visa and employment circumstances, Jess couldn’t

envision how to overcome the hurdles she faced in making the relocation happen.

We worked on clarifying Jess’s goals, which was based on creating a realistic 5-year repatriation

plan. This was the amount of time that she estimated it would take to transition out of her

business and re-establish herself professionally back home in order to continue supporting her

family. Although finances were her largest concern, there were also obstacles related to cultural

differences; adjusting to a different quality of life; reverse culture shock, as well as culture shock

for her partner; immigration; ownership of a physical business in Tokyo; as well as self-

confidence and personal fulfilment.

We worked closely together as Jess evaluated her life in Tokyo and envisioned the life she

wanted to create at home. She identified what was most important to her individually, as well as

to her family unit. She used this information to formulate, research and assess location options.

As Jess gained clarity on the life she wanted to create after repatriation, Jess began to outline

the steps that she would have to take to make her vision a reality. All that time, I supported her

by providing tools and strategies to guide her work, reflections and questions to empower her to

think more deeply and encouragement and accountability to support her progress.

As Jess’s plan was taking shape, Japan was hit with a triple disaster. The 2011 Tohoku

earthquake and tsunami resulted in a nuclear accident in Fukushima. Jess and her partner did

not feel safe in Tokyo and desperately wanted to leave as soon as possible. As their priorities

shifted, the clarity Jess’ gained through her coaching work empowered her to accelerate her

repatriation plan from 5 years to 5 months.

We shifted the focus of the last few coaching sessions to streamlining her repatriation process

to the most critical steps. Jess wanted support and encouragement as she made quick

decisions and took action to relocate her family as soon as possible. Jess wasn’t able to wrap

up her Tokyo life and business as planned, but she did get her family out of Tokyo. She told me

that she wasn’t sure it would have been possible without the work we had done to break through

her mental barriers and create a vision for what the future could hold for her family.

Jess and I continue to reconnect every once in a great while for an update. I’m happy to know

that she and her family are thriving in her country and it warms my heart each time she

mentions that she still reflects on what she learned about herself during our sessions and

continues to use some of the tools that I shared with her during our sessions.


6. Reflecting on your diverse experiences spanning from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo, could you

elaborate on the challenges and obstacles you faced? Additionally, what resonated with

you most and why?


I faced the typical relocation challenges as we moved in and out of the U.S. - the culture shock

and reverse culture shock, language challenges that could transform the most simple task into

an exercise in futility, missing friends/family and events back home, making new friends as an

adult and so on. In retrospect, I handled these in stride - for the most part - thanks to my student

experiences in The Netherlands, France and Norway.

While I used to discount my relatively short and structured international experiences, I now

realise that they provided me with insight on what to expect during longer periods abroad. That

awareness helped me to address each challenge with increasing ease as I continued to

relocate. Of course, I had my bad days but it was comforting to know that they would pass.

There were some country-specific challenges that I experienced. In Tokyo, it took some time to

realise that ‘maybe’ typically meant ‘no’. In Abu Dhabi, the drivers were so aggressive that the

school run often felt like a Formula 1 race. In London, I frequently encountered negative

American stereotypes that made for some awkward social situations.

All that being said, the biggest challenges I faced were internal - identity loss from giving up my

corporate title, expectations of myself and others, and seeking purpose and meaning in my new

life. These challenges pushed me to embark on a personal development journey in tandem with

my international relocation journey. This journey - from a career-obsessed corporate climber to

a fulfilled life coach, mother and accompanying partner - has empowered me to create a life that

is more full of fun, adventure and personal growth than I ever imagined for myself.

On a more positive note, I’m a collector of experiences and people. The opportunity to do this in

four distinct regions of the world and to constantly be expose to new and different experiences

is what resonated most. I carry a bit of each of the countries I’ve called home with me. I’m a

keep-in-touch type of person and frequently chat with friends from each phase of my journey

and we sometimes have opportunities to reconnect in person. My experiences allowed me to

develop interests that I’ve kept alive by creating an international mindset. Even in my passport

country, I’m able to live an international lifestyle by the way I’ve decorated my home, the types

of food I cook, the restaurants I visit, the people I hang out with, the music I listen to, the trips I

take and so on. I’m always scanning for opportunities to nurture my international mindset.


7. Your journey includes career pauses for relocation and full-time parenthood. What was

this transitional phase like? shedding light on the adjustments required when balancing

parenthood, career, and relocation simultaneously?


The transitional phases were always a bit of a whirlwind as relocations are full of unknowns and

factors that are out of one’s control. I always do my best to focus on what I can control and

what’s most important to me. I’m a planner and recovering perfectionist so I’ve had to learn to

be flexible to thrive in my globally mobile life.

When moved to Tokyo the second time six weeks before I gave birth to my daughter. As we had

only been back in the U.S. for about 18 months, adaptation was fairly smooth. The bigger

adjustment was my decision to turn down a regional position that my U.S. company offered me.

At a different point in time, this would have been a dream job but it didn’t feel right with newborn

at home and a husband who also traveled regularly.

I decided to get certified in coaching, which gave me the flexibility I needed to balance career,

motherhood and my self care. I felt very empowered by my decision to become an entrepreneur,

so this transitional phase was very exciting and filled with optimism.

Our time in London and Abu Dhabi was much shorter than planned due to my husband’s job

changes. In both cases, I had barely finished setting up our home and life before we received

word that we may be relocating. Also, shortly after we arrived in Abu Dhabi, we learned that our

daughter had food allergies. Keeping her safe became my priority as I managed these back-to-

back relocations. These factors made the entire four years feel transitional. I began referring to

myself as the Mueller Family Chief Relocation Officer.

At times, I was frustrated by the ongoing delays in relaunching my coaching business. I adjusted

to the situation by using my free time for self-study. I also acknowledged that all that I was

experiencing would make me a better coach in the long run.

In 2020, while merging and purging all of our international “treasures” following a local

relocation, I felt that it was finally time to formally relaunch my coaching business and to

establish International Women in Chicago. After years of prioritising relocation adaptation and

my family over my career, we all had to adjust to my new responsibilities as working parent. I’ve

become very good at delegation and asking for help.

Although I’ve been fortunate to be able to pause my career, it’s also been frustrating at times.

Knowing what’s most important to me (i.e., my values), my family for one thing, has empowered

me to make intentional decisions. Over time, I’ve had to reminded myself: I chose to step off my

corporate career path. I chose to have a child. I chose to relocate multiple times. I chose to take

risks. Acknowledging the choices I made kept me from feeling like a victim to my circumstances.


8. How do you envision the trajectory of your coaching enterprise unfolding in the

foreseeable future?


I have loads of ideas for expansion in the future of both my coaching business, as well as

International Women in Chicago (IWC). I’ve been collecting these ideas for decades now, ever

since those early days in Tokyo, and I’m motivated by the encouraging feedback received from

my coaching clients and IWC members. At the same time, I’m conscious of the fact that my teen

will leave for college in a few short years so I’m always focused on maintaining a high level of

harmony between my career, family life and other personal interests. Let’s just say that I have

plenty of opportunity to use my coaching strategies and tools on myself, so I know that they

work!

Over the next few years, while my daughter is still at home, I see expansion for my coaching

practice through collaboration with other entrepreneurial women I’ve come to know and respect

through local and international communities. Current collaborations include partnering with

others who serve the globally mobile community to increase awareness of our services via

social media and podcast interviews, referral relationships, contributions to several upcoming

books on global mobility-related issues and co-hosting a month-long podcast series on

repatriation.

I also see IWC - a free Facebook Group for international women in and from Chicago -

continuing to grow in terms of membership and number of monthly activities we are able to host.

IWC is a member-driven collaborative that provides space for members to connect and support

each other by organising/hosting events and by meeting in person and offering support within

the Facebook group by sharing information and engaging to form relationships. We have plans

to grow IWC’s awareness throughout Chicago and to offer additional social, wellness, creative

and self-improvement activities and services to help members enjoy their lives in Chicago and

beyond.


9. Having experienced the aftermath of an earthquake in Japan, could you recount how

this event impacted your worldview and perspectives?


On a personal level, the 3.11 earthquake justified my decision to officially leave my corporate

career to become an entrepreneur. If I had not done so, there is a strong chance that my 2-year-

old daughter could have been alone in Tokyo with a caretaker when the earthquake struck since

my husband and I would have both been traveling regionally on a regular basis. I’ve never

questioned the decision again. Up until that point, I still had thoughts that perhaps I ‘should’

have stayed on my corporate path. I now think back to 3.11 whenever I’m struggling to make a

major decision between what I think I ‘should’ do and what my instinct is telling me.

The aftermath of the earthquake also showed me the good in people. For a short while, it felt as

if everyone just wanted to help. Differences and disputes no longer existed. People near and far

gave their time, money, energy and so on to help each other. It was the silver lining of an

otherwise tragic situation. I still believe that most people are fundamentally good and I remind

myself of what I saw in 3.11 when I’m challenged by interactions or what’s going on in the

greater world.

Finally, 3.11 made me realise how quickly life can change. Kids went to school in Tohoku that

day and never returned home. So many people were going about their normal business and lost

their lives. The Japanese believe that everything is impermanent so we should find happiness in

the here and now. Sakura - cherry blossoms - are tied to this concept because they only survive

for a few weeks before falling from the tree. Ever since 3.11, I’ve carried this bittersweet concept

with me.


10. Lastly, what key insights or recommendations would you offer to women seeking to

not just survive, but thrive in foreign settings?


My top three self-proven strategies are:

1. Get to know your true self: Many of us get caught up in the ‘should's’ of life. These are all of

the roles and responsibilities that get layered upon us over time by our family, friends, society

and even our own beliefs. Use your time abroad to explore what’s most important to you and

what you want to get out of this next chapter. Some people refer to this as reinvention, but in

many cases it’s getting back to who you are deep down inside. Either way, knowing who you

are and what you want will allow you to live authentically.

2. Focus on community: This tip is two-fold. It’s important to nurture your most important

relationships back home and to create a new community abroad. While your loved ones back

home will miss you and want to know about your new life, they may not fully understand your

new life. Your new community will provide the support and friendship needed to both survive

and thrive abroad. This is well worth the effort, even if you have to stretch far out of your

comfort zone, as you may find that the people you meet become your chosen family.

3. Lead with curiosity: You will experience an onslaught of newness while navigating the various

phases of culture shock. It can be exciting and overwhelming. Looking at everything through

a lens of curiosity - observing and learning instead of judging - will help you understand and

appreciate your host country’s culture. From there you can decide what you want to embrace

and what you want to try to keep at a respectful distance.


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