Moving to a foreign country is among of the most stressful things a person can do. And, since 70 percent of Word’s readership consists of foreigners living in Vietnam, we can assume that many readers of this article have faced the taxing toll of international relocation at least once.
American lawyer, wife, and mother-of-two Laura Sheehan, has faced this daunting task five times. Laura’s most recent endeavour has led her to Vietnam, and she is again ready to start the next chapter in her ever-shuffling life.
“My husband’s job is what brought us [to Hanoi],” Laura explains. “He is a diplomat with the US Embassy, so we must move every couple of years. This is my sixth overseas posting and his seventh. We are going to be here for at least two years.”
Laura, who has grown accustomed to having to reinvent herself personally and professionally, now finds herself once again having to assimilate into a new city. All of Laura’s previous stints have been in the Middle East. During that time, she often found work in the US embassies stationed in those respective countries, with jobs ranging from administrative work to organising presidential visits for the Obama family.
But throughout her itinerant lifestyle, Laura has always been diligent about maintaining her law degrees, and she still holds practising licenses in both Virginia and Washington, DC.
“I have always gone back to law. I started my own firm [while we were in Cairo]. There was a large community of Americans living there that had zero access to an American lawyer who could deliver personal legal services, wills and divorce counselling. It was not the most uplifting thing to do, but it was the most practical.”
Having spent 15 years shuffling throughout the Middle East, Vietnam is Laura’s first placement in Southeast Asia. With new surroundings comes renewed motivation for change, and word of mouth led Laura to her next calling. While taking lunch with her new Hanoian friends, she was referred to a job position which suited her well.
“There is a programme that the Department of State runs out of Washington,” she says. “Their main goal is to help family members of US government families find employment in whatever country they are in. I sent in my resumé, and I got the job.
“I am now an independent contractor hired by a US-based company to help promote and facilitate the Global Employment Initiative of the US Department of State, by offering a full range of career counselling to the family members of US diplomats posted abroad.”
Through happenstance, Laura, who has often been facing her own major life changes, is now in a position to mentor and support other American families who have to do the same.
“It was so hard and depressing,” Laura says, as she reflects on her years of relocating. “I was angry for so long about feeling I had no options.”
It seems that Laura has found the fulfilment she has been searching for. She is coaching a dozen clients, many of whom are from Hanoi; but, since she oversees the entire Asian region, Laura also has clients in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia and China.
“I get to go and meet with family members. That is where I find the most joy,” she says. “My favourite part is talking to somebody about their life and you can see where they light up. From there, I help them see where their next steps might lie.”
As Laura strives to find permanence and stability for displaced families, her usual two-year resettlement schedule is also looming. So, what will Laura’s next career move be when a new posting calls on her family to relocate homes yet again?
“This has been the best job I have ever had,” Laura says. “I am absolutely going to take this wherever I go. When we move as much as we do, we sometimes feel lost and stuck. Even if you only do it once, it’s still hard, and anything I can do to help [families] get through it makes all the hardships that I have endured worthwhile.”
Photos by Julie Vola
To read more stories about people who have made substantial personal change, click on the following links:
Todd Gilmore, The Triathlete
Sophie Pham, The Introvert
Ha Minh, The Woman
Laura Sheehan, The Mentor
Robin Babu, The Fitness Dude
Sheereen Amran, The Pastry Chef
Mitch Brookman, The Hairdresser
To read about some ideas for personal change, click on the following links:
Get Into Stand-Up Comedy
Take Art Classes
Get Professional Help
Nutrition and Vietnamese Food
The Power of Habit