Pauline is head of design for C&A children’s wear in Brussels, Belgium. She previously worked for Marks & Spencer as a design manager.
What were your main motivations and reasons behind your international relocation?
I felt I’d done what I set out to do at Marks & Spencer as a design manager and there wasn’t the opportunity for a head of design role. There wasn’t much else on the UK high street that I wanted, so I knew an international relocation was the way forward.
How has relocating helped with your career?
Well it’s been a step up, I’ve moved from design manager to head of design but there’s also a much larger team here, and more stores. There’s more complexity because the organisation has stores across Europe, whereas before I was just operating within Britain.
What is it like living in Brussels? How does it compare to the UK?
I’m really enjoying it. Having lived in a tiny flat in London for 15 years, it’s great how much more space you get for your money here, and the food’s amazing! There’s also a lot to explore here, and Holland and Germany are within driving distance so we’ll make the most of having a car here.
What do you do outside of the office?
My biggest passion apart from fashion and retail is horse riding and we live three minutes away from the stables. I’ve started swimming again and because Brussels is on the edge of a forest there are plenty of nice walks. My partner John does music PR so we’ve got plenty of gigs lined up; we’re certainly making the most of our time. Brussels just has a lot going on, there’s great bars and restaurants – did I mention the food?
What personal growth opportunities has relocating offered?
It’s really given me the chance to hone my leadership skills; I’m the boss now so I don’t have that cushion of asking, “should we? Shouldn’t we?” My interpersonal skills have also improved from having to deal with multiple nationalities. It feels like I can make a difference here, the challenges I’m facing are similar to what I’d already faced in my previous role, but now I have the knowledge of hindsight I can overcome them.
What is the hardest thing about relocating?
I miss my friends, it’s great to be able to Skype and phone them, but it’s hard not being able to catch up with a drink after work. One thing about Brussels is that lots of people who work here don’t actually live in the city, so a lot of my team have to drive home. It means there is less after work socialising than back in London.
What advice would you give someone looking to make an international relocation? What will they need to consider?
I would really encourage anybody to do it. I’d say that if anybody finds it daunting, just remember it doesn’t need to be forever, some people may find it easier to think in terms of two years or five years. Speaking practically, you should consider how much it will cost you to get home, especially if you’re planning on visiting family and friends often.
Brussels is fantastic because everyone speaks English here, but if you’re relocating to a different city you should find out about the languages. People here speak about four languages each, so we’re going to learn French; it’s another way of integrating ourselves into the community.
What advice would you give to someone for trying to juggle settling into a new country and new job?
I’d advise people to avoid just doing the expat thing, it’s great that community does exist but I think it’s really important to submerge yourself in local culture. The other thing I’d advise is ensuring you have a good work/life balance, because if you’ve just moved and are missing home it’s important to make sure your life doesn’t start to revolve around your job.
I really would encourage everyone to consider an international relocation, we’re both really enjoying life here and it’s important to remember that you can always come back, but when you do you’ll have extra experience.