To explore our theme of ‘networks’ and their importance during an expatriation, I interviewed Muriel Françoise, a freelance journalist who has accompanied her husband to the four corners of the world. Putting your career in your suitcase and recreating it elsewhere is a challenge for many of us. A beautiful meeting and a beautiful exchange:
MT: MURIEL, COULD YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF IN A FEW WORDS?
M: I am a Belgian journalist, graduated from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Before moving to Stockholm in 2007 with my husband and our son, I was a cultural journalist and editor of a Belgian magazine. As an expat, I’ve had to recreate a network and make myself known professionally in each new country. I’ve lived in Montreal since 2014 where I work for the Belgian, French, Swiss and Quebec press, mainly in the fields of design and travel.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE WHEN ARRIVING IN A NEW COUNTRY?
I question myself and do some background work to explore the local job market, so I can find a place in it for myself. During my first expatriation, I had to start from scratch. Unlike my husband, no one is ever waiting for me. At first, I receive a lot of refusals, and I sometimes face a certain mistrust, because, despite my experience, I am new. I have to prove myself and convince others of my worth. My main challenge is to make both myself and the foreign media I work for known.
MAGELLAN-TRANSITION IS EXPLORING THE THEME OF NETWORKING THIS MONTH. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY IS THIS THEME IMPORTANT DURING AN EXPATRIATION?
A network is, above all, incredibly important to establish relationships, recreate a working framework, creating the possibility of meetings, exchanges and learning. It also helps to understand the new country in which we land and to open new doors, but also, in my case, to get “scoops”.
HOW DO YOU RECREATE A NETWORK WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN A COUNTRY?
As organically as possible. I make the most of everyday meetings to discuss with school parents, a designer, a shopkeeper… I also let local institutions, such as museums, and to some public relations offices, that I have arrived! I attend trade shows and press conferences, as well as some “5 to 7” meetings, where I meet “colleagues” and professionals in my fields of interest. I register with the Federation of Journalists, and if possible, I apply for accreditation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the host country. I also use social media to discover talents to follow, find future collaborators and know where things are going on.
WHAT BARRIERS DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME?
When I left my country, I was forced to overcome my relative shyness. In addition, in Sweden, long winters tended to keep us indoors and isolated. There was also the language barrier: I had to improve my English and learn Swedish. Professionally, the geographical distance from the media I worked for in Belgium and my inability to write for the local press in Sweden were also hurdles in my integration. But I still ended up collaborating with ELLE Decoration Sweden! There was also the reservations of the professional world that I joined and which sometimes thought, I’m sure, that I have just decided to improvise myself into being a journalist.
HOW DID YOU BUILD AN INTERNATIONAL NETWORK?
In hindsight, I would say mostly thanks to luck, and also thanks to beautiful encounters. A Belgian magazine entrusted me with an article combining design and travel, which led me to reporting for another French magazine – this time with a local photographer. Slowly, things fell into place and allowed me to weave my “web” as a journalist. When I knew I was going to live in Montreal, I wrote to the dailies and magazines which I liked and with whom I wanted to build something. Today, thanks to my portfolio, some media approach me, which makes things easier.
YOU HAVE LIVED IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES. WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES YOU HAVE NOTICED IN THE WAY YOU APPROACH NETWORKING?
In Belgium and Quebec, contact is quite easy and direct. In Sweden, things are more organized and leave less room for spontaneity and improvisation. Integrating Swedish networks is more laborious. In Sweden, for example, family and personal development are priorities that influence the pace of work. Writing for French magazines, which operate in a more rushed fashion, has been another challenge to overcome. But, once the first effort is made, things become simpler.
DO YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF A CULTURAL Faux Pas?
Yes, in Stockholm, I had dreamt of reporting in Lapland, to observe the midnight sun. The magazine that selected my proposal required the presence of a professional photographer for the report. When I spoke to a Swedish employee, he replied, embarrassed, that it would not be possible until the end of August, more than a month after the midnight sun disappeared. From mid-June, the Scandinavians work a lot less, in order to enjoy the short summer. So I convinced the magazine to let me take the pictures myself.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS TO AVOID WHEN REBUILDING YOUR NETWORK WHEN ARRIVING IN A NEW COUNTRY?
If you can afford it financially, I would advise:
1) Not accepting a job for the sole reason of pleasing someone. Dare to say “no.”
2) Do not start an activity unrelated to what you want to do or like to do.
3) Stop doing a job that does not meet your expectations without giving it a second thought. You can easily become mis-directed in the wrong job.
BETWEEN RELATIONAL NETWORKS AND SOCIAL NETWORKS, WHAT IS, FOR YOU, THE RIGHT BALANCE TO ACHIEVE?
Personally, I prefer a coffee or dinner to two hours behind my screen. But, as a journalist, social networks are essential. Very often, they are my main source of information and allow me to stay in touch with my acquaintances abroad, to follow their news, their projects, and also as a way to “meet” new people.
CAN YOU GIVE THREE TIPS FOR DEVELOPING A NETWORK WHEN ARRIVING IN A NEW COUNTRY?
1) If possible, prepare your professional arrival in advance by doing plenty of preliminary research.
2) Take the time to settle down and discover your new environment, the job market and its way of working. Take your time and identify your personal project.
3) Prefer quality to quantity. I am not a fan of the “5 to 7”, very popular in Quebec. I prefer to meet one-on-one with people who inspire me and whose work I appreciate.
Interview by Florence ROISIN