I've never considered myself a risk taker. I drive the speed limit (albeit in the right hand lane), I go to church each Sunday, and I don't take any drugs stronger than ibuprofen. I would have been perfectly happy to live in my hometown of St. George, Utah, my entire life. But, opposites attract, and I married an adventurer. In fact, he just got a yellow fever vaccine for an upcoming trip to Rwanda. (I'm not going; It's for business.)
This is how I landed in Europe, and while it's pretty vanilla as far as adventuring goes, living in a country where I didn't speak the language (I do now) and trying to figure out a culture that places an extremely high priority on proper scarf usage, all while trying to build a career and care for a family here was extremely challenging. Here are just a few of the challenges:
While I speak German pretty well for an expat, I'm nowhere near fluent, so all my clients are English speaking. The vast majority of them are located in the United States (with a few other scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East). I'm six hours ahead of the U.S. east coast and 9 hours ahead of the west coast. While 95 percent of my work can be handled via email, sometimes you have to speak to someone, and that can be a bit tough.
Fear of Foreigners
I want to clarify that this isn't my fear, but others' fear. One of my favorite things is to speak on the radio. (I'm especially good for morning drive time shows in the U.S., because I'm already up and awake and ready to discuss employment issues when other experts are still groggy. Email me.) Though from time to time I get contacts like this:
Radio producer: We read your article on X and would love to have you come on our show to talk about it! 6:00 am Eastern time.
Me: Great! I'd love to!
Radio producer: What's your phone number.
Me: Country code 41 00 000 00 00. I can call you if you can't call internationally.
Radio producer: Ummm, no thanks. This is an American issue and so we need someone in the US to discuss this.
Me: You need someone other than me to discuss my position on this issue?
Radio producer: [silence]
While I'm living in Europe, the vast majority of my job focuses on American Human Resources issues. Turns out, I didn't check my U.S. passport or my knowledge or my ability to keep up with U.S. issues when I boarded a plane.
It's not easy being an American overseas. The U.S. government seems pretty intent on making finances as difficult as possible, by requiring U.S. expats to pay U.S. taxes in addition to taxes in the host country (the U.S. and Eritrea are the only two countries in the world that tax their citizens abroad), and demanding tons of information from foreign banks. As a result, I only accept U.S. dollars in payment and keep my U.S. bank account to handle my business. And because my husband and I are both subject to U.S. taxes, my accounts are mainly used to pay for our US storage shed and our U.S. taxes.
The other problem with finances is more straight forward--since I mostly work for American companies, I make American wages, but my costs are Swiss, which are much higher. This can be a bit painful.
Last Monday, Switzerland celebrated Pentecost. This meant my husband and children had no work or school. Me? I had to work. Of course, the previous Monday was Memorial day in the US, so while my husband and children were at school, all my clients were closed for the day. That's nice when that happens. Of course, the biggest problem with vacation is the same one that solopreneurs face all over the world--if we don't work, we don't get paid. My husband gets five weeks of paid vacation per year. I get zero. But, then again, I chose this lifestyle. I could leave my solo work and go get a corporate job, but where's the adventure in that?