Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs Europe

We are Women Migrentrepreneurs. Finding our place, making our mark.

How I reinvented myself professionally in countless, complicated steps


 As a new contributor to this blog, I thought I’d share my account of my shape-shifting professional life as a migrant woman, by way of introduction. This is not quite a success story or a cautionary tale, but like so many things during this process, it seems to be a work in progress.

I moved from South Africa to Portugal in 2005, the question regarding what I would do in terms of work initially overshadowed by the issue of how I would be able to legally stay in the same country as my husband. Anyway, I was at the beginning of a great adventure, ready to explore the unknown… and equipped with the tools of the therapeutic, academic and research trade – surely I would find something, or be found (fantastically discovered!) by someone. This was the first disillusion: becoming aware that I was also completely unknown, a stranger, not easily recognizable or recognized, invisible. In the psychology and education faculty where my husband was doing his PhD then, I would be seen first as a foreigner and not as a potential colleague (as I had presumed). Mostly, I would be asked where I was from and whether I could speak Portuguese, and not what I did or could do, or what my interests were. A concomitant realization was that much of what I did professionally depended on language, and given the fact that I could hardly speak Portuguese, this presented a thorny problem.

This introduced the first transformation: becoming a freelance proofreader and teacher of English (a language I could speak and write, combined with my skills as an educator and my background in academia – and voila!). Problem solved? Alas, not exactly – besides not having an idea of the value of the service I provided (also possibly related to the sense of disappearing I was experiencing at the time) and hence at times accepting not being paid all that well, I missed my former professional self. I would be proofreading academic articles I told myself I should be writing, or teaching an English class trying to somehow incorporate psychology. Another reinvention was needed, and so I became a volunteer researcher, trainer/facilitator, activist. This meant that I was engaging in meaningful action in areas I was passionate about – however, it also implied investing most of my time and energy into more work that could not sustain me (and my family) financially.

Finally (after various twists and turns and returns to the all-too-familiar “square one”) I decided to re-vision my next metamorphosis, instead of reacting to whatever was pushing or pressing me into certain shapes. There is also joy and excitement in reinventing, of course (for one, at some point I got to live my dream of being a performance artist, but that’s another story) – but most importantly, there is imagination. I started to consider another possibility: what if I tried to create my kind of work… Earning money doing something of your own choosing – imagine that!

{to be continued  ~ d*}


Filed under: Creating Opportunities, Crossing Borders, Inspiration, , ,

4 Responses

  1. Msanhle says:

    It’s never easy to live a country of which you don’t speak the language. I’ve been in that situation so I found this post really inspiring. Please continue your story!

  2. […] happy to be joining Nola in this (ad)venture, I share my story here […]

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