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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Jo Parfitt: The world is your workplace

By Sharon Aschaiek

When Jo Parfitt moved from Dubai, U.A.E. to Muscat, Oman in 1993, she assumed she could easily maintain her thriving resume writing business/computer shop. But when she arrived at her new locale, she quickly learned her services weren't needed.

"No one was interested in Oman," says Parfitt, a native of England. "You get there, armed with the tools of trade, and can find there is no need."
"I want people to realize they can have a job they love and they can do something that fits their lifestyle, passion and objectives," says Jo Parfitt, author of A Career in your Suitcase, on developing and maintaining a portable career.

But the setback was only temporary for Parfitt, who, after living abroad in a foreign culture for more than four years, had become adept at reinventing herself.

She began investigating the local markets and, having always had an interest in food, decided to try her hand at making and selling date chutney. She was able to maintain a small business, and even wrote a cookbook on dates during her two years in Oman.

By the time she left Oman for Norway, she'd hit on a brilliant new career idea that would incorporate everything she'd learned about living and working abroad: portable career consulting.

She culled all of her experiences, ideas, knowledge, resources and contacts she'd made over the last eight years, and ended up with the aptly named concept, Career in your Suitcase.

She developed herself as a consultant and public speaker specializing in expatriate and career issues. Her speaking engagements have taken her to international networking and career conferences, as well as to run workshops for non-profit associations and spouse associations of various corporations.

Her all-in-one concept is spelled out on her Web site (, which provides comprehensive information for expats, repats and domestic travellers about networking, success strategies, finding you passion, coping with transition and much more.

But her real secrets to maintaining a successful portable career can be found in her latest book (which she self-published), A Career in your Suitcase 2. It offers valuable resources, information and anecdotes that will inspire anyone wanting to turn their wanderlust into a practical option.

"I want people to realize they can have a job they love and they can do something that fits their lifestyle, passion and objectives -- they can make it happen."
Parfitt's book, A Careeer in your Suitcase

According to Parfitt, flexibility and adaptability are critical. "Flexibility is the most important thing," she says. "You have to find a way of taking your skills and business and applying them to a new location."

This means being able to cope with the emotional transition of leaving your home and surrounding loved ones and making all the necessary arrangements.

Once you've picked your locale, there will be even more work to do -- and flexibility is even more crucial now. As she writes in her book, the challenges will include:
  • Communicating with people who speak another language.
  • Adjusting to the myriad differences in everyday life.
  • Learning native customs and manners.
  • Discovering how public entities and organizations work.
  • For the expatriate partner: finding interesting vocational and non-vocational pursuits.

    Adjusting to your new host country and its unique ways of doing things will be easier if you carry the right attitude.

    "You've got to be positive, optimistic and proactive, and have to be able to turn problems into opportunity."

    You also need to be open minded, and let go of any preconceived notions about your new place of residence.

    "In Dubai and Oman I was expecting to wear long skirts and not drive, and I thought people wouldn't look at me and life would be difficult," she says. "It's not like that. You can wear anything you want and do anything you want -- there are no restrictions. It was really easy to adapt."

    Networking effectively and consistently -- wherever you are -- will also help the transition go smoother.

    "Try and keep in touch with everybody. Concentrate on making friends, and at the same time, not making any enemies."

    Networking can help you secure a reliable contact for when you arrive at your new location. This will help immensely in getting you settled, learning the ropes and planning your new line of work.

    "Just by hooking up with one person, you will be able to find out if there's a saturated market or a gap (in your field)," Parfitt says. "They can give you the names of hospitals, corporations and other institutions in advance."

    Ultimately, if you go with the right attitude, do a bit of preplanning and learn to adapt to new situations, you'll reap the rich rewards of experiencing new cultures, peoples and ways of life. "Nobody's the same once they've been abroad," Parfitt says. "It can be exotic because you have people of different nationalities or land spaces, languages, and you just crave this difference, this adventure. For the majority of people, there is no going back."

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