Making the Most of a Move

Making the Most of a Move

Tokyo: Here & Now speaker Gabriela Mandrea explains why being a trailing spouse offers a chance to reinvent yourself.

When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, a 22-year-old Gabriela Mandrea saw nothing but opportunity. After all, growing up in Communist Romania, career options were limited.

“You could choose from but a handful of careers: architect, doctor, engineer, economist, teacher,” Mandrea explains. “Marketing and public relations and the hundreds of careers now available are things we just did not hear about. So, naturally, I became an engineer.”

But the burgeoning world of brand promotion is what appealed. Mandrea took a job as a secretary at Romania’s first business center and never looked back. She later landed a position with advertising giant Ogilvy, where she worked her way up to executive director of the firm’s public relations department.

Then, in 2010, life took a turn familiar to so many Members. Her husband was offered a position with his company in Moscow. The timing wasn’t ideal. Mandrea had just finished her MBA studies and was in line for promotion. And there were also their two children to consider.

“Something—probably instinct, which I’ve learned to listen to—told me to go for it,” says Mandrea. “You have nothing to lose. If you don’t like it, you can come back.”

She struggled to settle in the Russian capital.

“For six months, I was the trailing spouse with nothing to do but go for coffee in the mornings and plan painting and ceramics classes. I was pulling my hair out,” she says.

After telling her husband how unhappy she felt, he, bearing champagne and flowers, promised her that they would work it out.

“If he is so open and can approach our experience in this way, why am I so stuck in my old view and why am I not opening my eyes and looking at things differently?” she remembers thinking at the time.

Developing a flexible mindset to work when relocating is the focus of Mandrea’s talk at next month’s Connections-organized Tokyo: Here & Now program. The two-day orientation for new arrivals to Japan includes explanations on everything from healthcare and earthquake preparedness to Japanese culture and food.

Mandrea says she is passionate about encouraging expats and trailing spouses to see moving as “an opportunity to reassess everything.” Her own stint in Moscow led to a role overseeing Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

She shifted course again when the family moved to Japan in 2016. She put her skills to use leading the marketing and communications efforts of the Club’s Women’s Group (now known as Connections). In another career transformation, Mandrea now runs her own consulting and coaching business.

“Being in another country is a gift,” she says. “It shouldn’t be seen as a burden or an obligation but rather as a chance to rediscover yourself and reconnect with your purpose.”

Tokyo: Here & Now
September 27–28 | 8:30am–2pm

Words: C Bryan Jones
Top Image of Gabriela Mandrea: Enrique Balducci