Most training for overseas work is front-loaded. This makes sense logistically – people are still located in their home countries and can attend conferences or counseling sessions. There is no need to plan around time zones. It makes sense professionally and emotionally because staff are about to leap into the unknown and being well-prepared for that massive transition will help smooth it out and contribute to long-term productivity.
However, this front-loading of training means it focuses on the first steps, the early years, and those initial culture shock experiences. If you are a parent, it focuses on the early years of parenting, too. Over time, all of that shifts but the training rarely keeps pace.
What about once you have learned the language well but continue to have tense interactions with coworkers? What about staying up to date with current issues and current events that impact everyone like Covid, LGBTQ+, police violence, or Black Lives Matter? No matter where you fall on these issues, if we aren’t engaging with them at least on some level, when we return to our home country (in my case, the USA), we will be sorely out of touch. Also, these issues are not limited to their country, not any longer in our connected world. We need ongoing training to stay relevant.
What about the emotional impact of when your kids are all grown up and no one has prepared you for sending them back across the ocean for university? Or caring for aging parents? Nurturing a work or ministry project through the long-term issues that arise, not just those in the initial stages? What about ongoing training for deeper personal shifts of identity and transformation?
Training needs to continue far beyond the orientation weeks. It should be regular and ongoing. It needs to intentionally include women no matter their role or stage of life.
To feel (and to actually be) well-trained after 20+ years abroad requires candid conversations about how to maintain and sustain training beyond the first year and those conversations need to take place in the first year so that the groundwork is laid. It will require that women make their desires and expectations known and it may require sacrifice on the part of a husband or an organization to make it happen. For example, this means a husband might need to slow down their own language learning in order to make sure their wife is not left behind because of taking care of kids. It might mean spending more money so both spouses, or single women, are able to attend conferences where they will receive training and also network with other leaders and thinkers in their fields.
If you, like me, are already in or nearing your 20th year, you can still have these conversations and seek out the training you desire. This will make you more effective and productive and will also help your organization realize what they can be doing for younger staff. It is an opportunity to invest in future generations.
Maybe you are one of those who are training women. Ask incoming staff where they imagine themselves in 20 years. Help them design a plan to reach those goals and revisit it over time as life intervenes and disrupts. For couples, include husbands in the planning. Being involved in international work is not like more traditional workspaces. Both husbands and wives are necessarily engaged, even if not officially. This lifestyle is more like a family-owned business and each family member deserves to be acknowledged, equipped, and valued for their role.
I would love to hear if some of you have experienced quality on-going training. Or do you feel that you’ve missed out on it? Why? Is that related to being a woman? To your marital status? To having children or another factor?
This post is more exploration than declaration, more raising topics than providing answers them. I don’t think we, as a broad “we”, have figured out yet how to successfully train women for the long haul and would appreciate hearing from other women about your experiences. What has gone well or where do you feel left behind?