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Working Mother October 2003

Copyright 2003 WMAC, Inc., WORKING MOTHER

October 2003

SECTION: FLUX

PAGE: 30

BYLINE: Allison Overholt

 

We're Moving When?

 

Carolyn Moncel dreamed of living in Paris—someday. Her husband had more immediate plans.

 

Moving into a two-bedroom flat with an Eiffel Tower view should have been très romantique, but Carolyn Moncel was hardly in the mood for love. She knew no one in Paris, didn't speak French, and her consulting business was on hold. Every day, she moped around the apartment, muttering about how much she hated France and wishing she were back home in Chicago. Then she heard her 5-year-old daughter, Chloe, mimicking her complaints—and realized she needed to change her attitude. "That's when I knew I had to stop the finger-pointing," she says.

 

Moncel's turnabout was several long months in coming. Last October, just two weeks after their second child, Jillian, was born, Moncel and her husband, Philippe, boarded a plane for Paris with their kids. It was a sudden move, prompted by something that forces many people to pack up and go: work. The experience shook the foundation of Moncel's marriage and, in the end, redefined her relationship with her husband.

 

The couple had met in Chicago in 1997, fallen in love and married just four months later. They talked about living in France—Philippe's home country—someday, but for Carolyn the operative word was "someday." She thought about learning French, she says, but what was the rush? "There were always more pressing things to take care of first."

 

Among those priorities was a new direction for her career. In 2001, Moncel quit her marketing post at a public relations firm and started MotionTemps, a business she planned to run from home that handled marketing and back-office duties for small companies.

 

Philippe, meanwhile, lost his job during the dot-com bust and enrolled in graduate school to study computer science and ride out the economic downturn.

 

Carolyn Moncel in Paris

 

Carolyn Moncel outside the entrance to the Louvre in Paris. Courtesy of Working Mother Magazine. Photo by Mark Arbeit.

 

Preoccupied with running her business, Moncel figured her husband was sending out resumés to local companies as he neared graduation in June 2002.

 

Then one day I overheard him doing a phone interview and he started talking about a face-to-face meeting—in Paris!" Stunned, Moncel confronted him as soon as he hung up the phone. He was shocked as well: Hadn't they discussed moving to Paris? Granted, admits Philippe, he never talked explicitly about the timing: "I was thinking in terms of weeks and months, and she was thinking months or years."

 

They agreed that Philippe should go through with the interview-given the tight job market, they figured, he couldn't afford not to pursue every lead. He came back from Paris with a job offer and a request that he start in two weeks.

 

 

 

Carolyn, by this time seven months pregnant with Jillian, had a quick reply: No way. How could she pack up her family and business so quickly? Philippe turned down the job, but he made it clear that he would be less willing to refuse the chance a second time if another position he had applied for in Paris came through. Moncel consented: What were the odds of another overseas job offer?

 

To her surprise, one came a month later. This time, Philippe's mind was made up: "It was the right offer. And Chloe had seen her grandparents just two times in five years. I didn't want her to grow up thinking she had only half a family." Carolyn gave in with great reluctance. "I felt he was giving me an ultimatum. And I really resented it."

 

That resentment escalated when Moncel arrived in Paris. She had hurriedly notified her clients that she was moving and now wondered how she'd get her business going again. She and Philippe fought nonstop. "I cried all the time. When I couldn't find the paperwork for our taxes, I'd say, 'See? This is because we moved too quickly.' "

 

In fact, the Moncels' predicament isn't uncommon, says Robin Pascoe, author of a new book on expatriate relationships called A Moveable Marriage (Expatriate Press Limited). Couples who relocate for one spouse's job often "focus on the externals: Where will the kids go to school? Where will we live?" she says. "They don't think about the relationship. They're afraid to." Talking about how a move will affect your marriage, your career and your sense of self-worth is critical to making it work, she says.

 

For the Moncels, that difficult conversation came after yet another heated exchange last winter. It was Philippe who finally called a cease-fire. What could he do to make things better? His question cut to the core of the problem, says Carolyn: "I realized that I didn't trust him anymore because he hadn't told me he was looking for this job. I was waiting for him to say, 'I'm sorry.' " She also recognized that nothing good could come from more complaining. "I'd been in a funk for months. It had to stop."

 

The first step was small: hiring a babysitter so the couple could explore Paris together. Carolyn vowed to express her needs directly. Philippe agreed to share his plans explicitly. They're also seeing a marriage counselor to help deal with lingering issues of trust and resentment.

 

Carolyn, meanwhile, has settled into life in her new country. She joined a group for women in culturally mixed marriages, and, with a little help from technology, she's working again with several of her Chicago-based clients. And thanks to weekly lessons, her French is coming along nicely.

 

Alison Overholt is a staff writer at Fast Company.

 

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