Advice by Yvonne Lefort, Career Consultant and Intercultural Trainer

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Moving Through Transition

My work as a career consultant and intercultural trainer brings me into contact with many people in career and life transition. At UC Berkeley, where I have been working as a consultant and teaching a course called “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America,” I have met many international spouses and partners going through intercultural, career and life transition.

Some have never lived or even traveled outside their home country, and living far away from friends and family is a daily challenge. Finding a place to live, setting up the apartment, opening a bank account and knowing where to shop or get a good haircut are some of the practical challenges of living in a new place, but there are also psychological challenges. Most people from other countries experience some degree of “culture shock” and loneliness, while others can get paralyzed with fear, depression and anxiety, and not know how to “get out” of what may feel like a big, black hole.

I often refer people to William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Every transition, according to Bridges, begins with an “Ending.” When you move to another country, you experience many endings: an end to your job and to the sense of identity you got from your work, an end to time spent with close friends and family, and an end to being in a culture where you know the norms and can feel safe and comfortable, to name a few. You may go through a period that Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” where you feel lost and confused, unproductive, and not sure who you are anymore. It’s not a comfortable place. But in this period of confusion, there is growth happening as you begin to sort through who you are, what’s important in your life, and what you need to have to feel fulfilled. Your new identity is trying to take shape. Eventually, you will experience a renewed sense of energy as you begin to get new ideas and take action. You have moved through the neutral zone to a new beginning!

I have witnessed this process with the spouses and partners at UC Berkeley with whom I have had the privilege to work. To them and to you, I say, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It may feel scary because you don’t know the culture, your English isn’t perfect and you have an accent, or maybe you’re not used to starting up conversations with strangers. I understand, but don’t let this stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take your inspiration from some of these spouses:

Satu, a spouse from Finland, applied for work authorization but her application was denied. So, she decided to form the “Language Café,” an informal language exchange where people meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice different languages.

Mila from Mexico is a marine biologist. After volunteering at a nature center, she applied for a grant from UC Berkeley and received a sum of money to start a program on sustainable living called “Nature Village.” ( She received an award for her work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Ernani from Brazil is a high school physics teacher and musician. Since he couldn’t work on a F-2 visa, he decided to join a band and volunteer at a children’s science museum.

Doro from Germany didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in the U.S. and wanted to meet new people. She started a social group called the “Berkeley Wives” and created a website (, and now she has a membership of almost 300 spouses.

Kathy from Chile is a veterinarian who volunteered at an animal shelter for several months before getting a part-time job as a veterinary assistant.

Kirsty from Australia loves to sew and make her own clothes. She started writing her own blog, “Tea and Rainbows” (, to show off clothes she has made and talk about sewing techniques, patterns, fabric and anything else crafty.

These are just a few examples of spouses who have created or seized opportunities, taken risks, and stepped outside their comfort zone. You can too.

If you’re a new mother, find a mothers’ club to join where you can meet other moms to share the joys and frustrations of motherhood. Or, start your own new moms group.

If you’re looking for work, learn the American way of networking and asking for informational interviews, and begin to make contact with people who can help advance you in your career. Take job search classes to learn how to write an American style resume, interview for a job, and “toot your own horn.”

If you are unable to get work authorization, find other ways to make your time in America meaningful and fulfilling. Is there something you’d like to try that you’ve never had the time to do? Is there a class that you could take or certificate that you could get to upgrade your professional skills? Can you think of some ways that you could be of service to others and volunteer your time? Or perhaps you’ve been too busy with your career to just take the time to have fun and relax. Allow yourself to do what makes you feel good and what makes you come alive.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your life in America!

Yvonne Lefort

YvonneYvonne Lefort, MA, is a career coach and intercultural trainer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She coaches and teaches classes for individuals in career, life and intercultural transition. She also designs and develops programs for universities and organizations. “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America” is a course that she developed to help international spouses and partners gain the skills, knowledge and support they need to rebuild their social and professional lives and regain a sense of their own identity. For more information, go to 


Have you ever thought of writing a blog?

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Blog is a personal website or webpage where an individual updates his/her opinion on regular basis. It has become very popular over the past few years. It is a great platform for an individual to share their expertise on specific topics. Over the years it has turned out to be one of the greatest assets for many individuals.

It certainly is one of the best ways for dependent spouses to build their personal brand which in turn would help them get noticed in their job search. Through blogging, you can market yourself to your prospective employer. In “About Me” section of the blog, you can give brief introduction about your qualifications, professional experiences, skill sets, etc. This page could be your online resume and if you follow a dedicated routine of posting the blog, it would show also your prospective employer that you are organized and structured.

Strong verbal and written communication skills are required selection criteria for most of the employer. Through blog, you can improve your writing skills. If you will post your blog on regular basis, you will certainly improve in your writing, grammar and research skills. These skills play very important role in any professional career.

Networking plays an important role in job search and blogging is also one of the great networking tools. You will meet new people who share the same interests as you which in turn would grow your professional network. Writing a blog would also help in building identity on social platforms by providing an RSS feed to a Twitter account, LinkedIn profile etc. Social networking sites are also powerful networking tools. This would also multiply the chances of being noticed by your prospective employer.

 Blogging also helps in earning money. There are several ways to monetize through blogging.  Google Adsense program is one of them. It is a great program for bloggers, as they can display ads in their blog site and earn money from the number of clicks over these ads from their visitors.

 You can blog about the knowledge gained from your career/education/experience so far. However, it is not necessary that your blog needs to be career related. You can write a blog on anything. If you like travelling, write one blog on each city/tourist attraction you visit. If you like photography, food, dance, drama, etc., you can also share your experience through blog. Initially, you might face some issues but once you start writing, you will start enjoying it as writing gives a structure and direction to the random thoughts that come to your mind.

It’s also important to note that running a successful blog takes lot of dedication, time, perseverance and hard work. Success does not happen overnight. If you will write out of passion and dedication, then the success, fame and money are bound to happen. Celebrate every small achievement of your blog like every new follower, new like or comment, and use it to move to the next step. It certainly needs lot of effort but in the end the reward could be a step closer to your dream career. So, why not start a blog today.

Mishika Soni’s story

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August, 2011- My husband was offered a long term project in Los Angeles and he shared the news with me. I was ecstatic and both of us looked at it as a brilliant opportunity to travel and experience a new place, a new country. Having known each other for 5 years through B-school and beyond, I knew he understood my career aspirations as I did his. I happily quit my job at a leading financial firm, taking it as more of a long and much required break from work. Both of us were sure that we would return back to India sooner than later if I do not get a good career opportunity myself.

So we embarked on this journey together, and I have to be honest- I enjoyed it immensely, missing work at times but completely loving doing things which I never had the time to do before. However, I also knew I had to work hard to get a job. It took me at-least 4-5 months to get a grasp on the exact visa cycle, the process, what kind of firms should I be applying to, etc.  I was told time and again by friends and well wishers that my MBA degree and my achievements at my previous work place is all secondary to my visa status here. God knows that if I had to embark on another such journey, I would definitely choose Australia or U.K. for their simpler visa rules! So I religiously applied to countless firms, spoke to many consultants, friends of friends but all went in vain as even as I was trying to understand the process and find the right people- the H1B cap for the year was full by June 2012. That was the first time since I had landed in U.S. that I realized that I have been forced to be out of work for at least 15 more months if I decide to stay in this country! So my first learning was- Pull up your socks if you have to beat the crazy visa cycle!

My next option was moving back to India, but both me and my husband decided to put that one on the back burner!  So the eternal optimist that I am, I started applying for universities and Non-profit organizations since I now knew these organizations did not fall under H1B cap. Yes! Too much research converted me into a pro at all visa matters. But there too I got one rejection after another.

Another hindrance for me was the fact that being from a completely non-IT background, it seemed as if I was totally non-H1B material. Every consultant I spoke to wanted to “enhance” my resume, “train” me and put me in an IT job which I had no intention of pursuing. I would much rather volunteer or work pro bono. But still against my better judgment, I did waste a lot of time in useless training sessions which did not add value to me in any way. My second learning- Do not compromise if you think you have the right skill-set. The right opportunity will come to you. I would have been better off reading more books, or pursuing a hobby at that time.

After around 8 more months of travelling, networking, job hunting, in February 2012 I actually got my first offer from 2 leading MNCs in non-IT roles. The timing was just right, the profile was to my interest and I knew both the firms were into visa sponsorships. After multiple rounds I got through one of them and they sponsored my H1B application. I have just got my visa approval and would be starting work very soon. I consider myself fortunate because I did have some personal contacts who apprised me of the opportunity at their firm at the right time. At the cost of repetition, I do feel that networking with the right people is key as is diligence. I did lose some time in understanding the process and settling in a new country, but in retrospect it all worked out for the best. While everyone on an H4 have their own priorities and considerations that affect the bigger picture, I think a few  things that most people would find helpful  are

1) Even on an H4, there is no dearth of volunteer work you could pursue.

2) Register for pro bono work based on your skill set at sites such as

3) Do not fall into the trap of consultants who offer you false hopes.

4) Stay optimistic and enjoy your long vacation while you can.

Mishika Soni (Alias)