10 Ways to Find Your Niche Overseas

When my husband and I came to China, it was primarily for his work. His job would be to provide IT support for an International School. I, on the other hand, came as the ‘accompanying spouse’ without any particular job to do. Before leaving for China, I had a job where I felt fulfilled and accomplished – I had found my niche there. I came to China wondering: “Will I find my new niche once I arrive in this new place?”

By definition, to accompany means to go somewhere as a companion. I smiled when my computer’s Thesaurus also used the phrase “tag along with”. I guess it is a little better than ‘trailing spouse’ – a phrase that leaves me feeling dejected and left behind! I was happy to accompany my husband on this new adventure.

I had mentally prepared for the change, and was curious to find out what awaited me. I had hopes and dreams of working in local orphanages and perfecting the Chinese language … neither of which was actualized.

Finding my niche became a gradual process that grew out of simply living out the life of an expat. It was not one I could have predicted or planned for, but one that naturally developed as time progressed. What became my niche? I have been in China for almost eight years. For the first three and a half years I did a little of this and a little of that, and mostly took care of my new babies and adjusted to living in China.

The more settled I became, the more I wanted to find a way to help my children and myself be more involved in our neighborhood and community. As a stay-at-home mom with small children, I thought maybe I could host a playgroup and invite moms and kids from the neighborhood to join. For the last four years I have been hosting a variety of playgroups in my home with local moms, grandmas and their children. I have loved it! This has become my niche. This is what excites me and has given me fulfillment. Here are some things I learned along the way:

1) Take your time. I remember a wise lady in our community sharing with me within the first week of our arrival that she had taken a whole year of observing before committing to specific activities or taking on certain roles. Sometimes we are in such a hurry to find fulfillment in our doing that we miss the better yet to come and settle for the present okay.

2) Don’t let others define your niche for you. By all means be open to suggestions, take note of what others are doing around you, and try a few things. But remain open and take your time before deciding what you will pour yourself into more long term. Let your heart, not the pressure of the community, guide you to where you want to be involved.

3) Consider your passions, the things you love, the things that excite you and consider new avenues for pursuing them. I have a friend who took her experiences with the challenges of breastfeeding and trained to become a certified La Leche League consultant in our city among both expat and national mothers. She has found her niche and is passionate about it!

4) Recognize your limitations. Looking back, I can see that I was not ready to find my niche during my first three years here. During those years I was adjusting to living in China and being a first-time mother. Some days I felt overwhelmed by just those two tasks. Had someone told me then that I would be hosting groups of Chinese women and children in my home on a regular basis, I would have laughed in their face. I wasn’t ready then. And that was OK.

5) Try something new and out of your comfort zone. While playing outside in our neighborhood, I met other local moms with their children. I started to carry a pen and paper and would ask for their phone number and name so I could text them information about joining a playgroup at my home. With limited Chinese language, I began inviting strangers into my home … definitely out of my comfort zone!

6) Don’t force something that is not working. I had hoped that I would be able to immerse myself in the language, but once babies started to come along my brain seemed to stop working. My niche was not going to be language immersion, to my initial dismay. I had to give up that expectation and be gracious to myself.

7) Consider that a weakness might also be a strength. My inadequate language ability actually worked to my benefit! Local friends wanted to practice their English with me and have their kids play with my kids to expose them more to the English language. It was a win-win situation, and hopefully I have picked up some Chinese along the way.

8) When you find something you love, go all out! Initial playgroups developed into a bi-lingual-moms-as-teachers-preschool-type program. Our home was rearranged on a continual basis to accommodate our hosting situations. At one point, our living room was transformed into a classroom for a year and a half. It wasn’t ideal for hosting adult guests for dinner, but that was OK, because hosting dinner parties was not my niche. Hosting groups of moms and kids was, and our home arrangement reflected that.

9) It’s OK to try several different things and then let go of those that did not quite work, guilt-free … even if others thought you were meeting a need. During those early years of being here, I taught a class at the school where my husband worked. I enjoyed it and it filled a need but I did not love doing it. I fulfilled my commitment for that school year, but did not sign on again even though I knew others would have liked me to do so.

10) When you find your niche, share what you are doing with others, but also understand that there might be someone who has not yet found hers and may be intimidated by yours. Just because you love what you are doing doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to want to do it too!

As with most everything about the expat life, flexibility and adaptability are key. There will likely come a time when the niche you have found changes because of a variety of circumstances. As I anticipate my youngest child starting school, I know that hosting playgroups in its present form will naturally come to a close, and I’ll be looking to find a new niche again. Making this list has helped me think through how I will approach this change.

Though it took a while initially, finding my niche has helped me find contentment in my role as “the accompanying spouse”. It has been rewarding to feel like I am able to contribute something to the community around me, while I continue to learn and gain so much as well. Whether it be orphan work, becoming an expert in the language, mentoring others on your team, providing decorating advice to help others make their home feel beautiful and welcoming, sharing kitchen or homemaking skills, or opening your home to host playgroups with expat or national moms, we all have something to contribute and share.

Have you found your niche yet?

Photo Source : Unsplash

8 Comments

  1. Ruth January 12, 2015

    I like this advice!  I have found I have needed to rediscover my niche throughout different stages of our time here – as a single, married without children, changing locations, during language study, life with small children…  I’m sure it will continue to change over time.  And some of my passions and opportunities have changed as well.  It’s definitely easy to look at someone else in their niche and thing, “Oh, I ought to be doing that.  And that.  And that.”  So it’s a good reminder not to compare!

    1. Beth Everett January 12, 2015

      Yes, so true Ruth!  Discovering and re-discovering our niche really is an on-going process!

  2. Elizabeth January 12, 2015

    I relate to so much of this post. I started out as a true trailing spouse — meaning I didn’t want to go. AT ALL. But I like “accompanying spouse” in this light, because it’s saying you may not have the “main” job but you are willing and supportive and settled or settling), etc etc. And that’s where I am now.

    And the idea that it takes time to find your niche, because it takes time to figure out regular life, oh my, YES. I find that simply living and homeschooling is a full time job. There are all these things I want to do, but they don’t fit my season of life. Even this month, there was an opportunity I “passed up” because it doesn’t fit in my schedule at this time. Something I love that I just can’t make happen right now, and still fulfill my other obligations. I think this is something that is sometimes hard to accept about combining children with living abroad — those things take so much out of you already, that when you combine them, it doesn’t leave much energy or time for other meaningful pursuits (and still keep my sanity). I just try to tell myself I can do those things later 🙂

    1. Beth Everett January 12, 2015

      I’m glad you were able to relate, Elizabeth! And that you are at a place now where you feel more settled and supportive.

      There are all these things I want to do, but they don’t fit my season of life” – yup! I relate!  Seasons imply change at some point; and before the change there is an opportunity to focus on and enjoy the present!

  3. MaDonna January 12, 2015

    Great list, Beth! I really appreciated this one: ” Let your heart, not the pressure of the community, guide you to where you want to be involved.” It is so so true and easy to be “forced” (that is a strong word, but it sometimes feel like that when we are in the midst of the situation) into doing something that is not our desire, passion, just not our niche! 

    And that being said, it is a good reminder to us that have been around in the community to help, encourage, but not expect the new teammate/co-worker to find their niche right away. Sometimes God puts new children in your life alongside a new culture and THAT is enough to deal with and adjust to without the pressure to do more. 😉

    btw, I feel we should know each other. I’m pretty sure know the same people. haha! Maybe one day we’ll get a chance to meet this side of heaven.

    1. MaDonna January 12, 2015

      type: should say “I’m pretty sure we know some of the same people”

      1. Beth Everett January 13, 2015

        We do know some of the same people, and we did meet briefly once! 🙂 Actually my husband met your husband back in the 90s when they were both single.  He was visiting the school where your husband was at the time.  Mine now works there! 🙂  And … they reconnected briefly at PFO, where I also got to briefly meet you and your kids (we having none at the time).  With all those connections the chance to meet again is quite possible before heaven!! 🙂

    2. Beth Everett January 13, 2015

      So true, Madonna.  Sometimes the pressure is in our head and expectations we place on ourselves or think others place on us; sometimes the pressure is from the outside and very real.  Either way “pressure” hardly ever seems a good way to go about doing something.  Grace for ourselves; grace for others.

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