Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas

SWE Fellow Jan Williams, who was interviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of SWE Magazine, for the article “Key Considerations for Working Internationally,” offers additional thoughts on the experience of bringing her then-14-year-old son with her overseas, and other aspects of family life during her assignment in the United Kingdom.
Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas

View SWE Magazine's 2018 Winter Issue on your mobile device by downloading our app on  iTunes or Google Play. In this issue, find our WE17 recap, awards highlights, and our WE17 By the Numbers infographic.

Part Two of Three 

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

Jan Williams, F.SWE, was honored with the Society’s Distinguished Service Award at the recent WE17 conference. In addition to serving SWE in numerous capacities, including co-founding the Central New Mexico Section, and receiving honors such as the Distinguished New Engineer Award in 1994, Williams has had a fruitful career of more than 30 years with Sandia National Laboratories.

She has extensive experience in systems research, facilities engineering, engineering management, and other roles at the lab, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2006, Williams received an exciting offer to use her expertise “across the pond.” She moved with her husband and then-14-year-old son to the United Kingdom for two years, where she worked “on loan” at the U.K.’s Atomic Weapons Establishment. The couple’s older son remained in the States, as he had just completed his undergraduate degree and was eager to establish himself. He was able to visit several times, however.

Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas
One of many side trips, the Williams family explored the ruins at Glastonbury Abbey. From left: husband Mike, older son Shaun, Jan, and younger son Ryan. The overseas experience transformed Mike "from a workaholic into a travel-loving family man who decided to retire early."

In terms of daily life, Williams cherished living in an 1,850-square-foot cottage in the village of Reading, about 50 miles outside of London. It was quiet, historic, and charming. The “executive home” was two-thirds the square footage of the family’s home in Albuquerque and cost about four times as much per square foot. “But we loved it!” said Williams.

“We lived near fields that bloomed effervescently yellow with canola,” she said. “You could take walks through the woods.”

Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas
For Williams' son Ryan, enrolling in private school entailed a uniform-fitting and strict adherence to dress codes, as well as commuting daily by train and adapting to the British academic system.

The decision to live in the U.K. also meant that Williams’ son was placed into Britain’s two-year prep schooling that leads up to a battery of exams that determine the students’ futures. He also had to learn to commute on the trains to get to the private school he attended, which required the students to wear ties and suit coats.

From academics to social expectations at school, to all aspects of daily living, adjustments and adaptations had to be made. While these were pleasant for the most part, they did require flexibility and an open mind.

Just as going overseas may involve some degree of culture shock and adjustment, the same is true in reverse. When the family returned to the United States, Williams’ son was a high school junior. His best friend no longer attended the same school, and he was an outsider to the new cliques his fellow students had created.

Looking back, Williams is glad her family had the opportunity to experience real life in another country. Being overseas also provided opportunities to explore most of the U.K. and travel to a number of other countries — which was personally enriching and created cherished family memories.

Read the other two parts of our series:

In Part One of our series, Career Pathways: Karen Ramsey-Idem Reflects on Working Overseas, Karen Ramsey-Idem, Ph.D., Cummins Inc., was interviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of SWE Magazine, for the article “Key Considerations for Working Internationally.”

In Part Three of our series, Career Pathways: Reflections on Working Overseas with a Trailing Spouse, Elizabeth Ruetsch of Keysight Technologies, a 2017 recipient of SWE’s Global Leadership Award, shares her thoughts on being accompanied by a “trailing spouse.”