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Krippit CEO Melissa Chung says that connecting with other Canadian entrepreneurs in France helped her adapt her view of success in a new environment.Supplied

Gone are the days of decades-long service at just one company. Today, many Canadian women are moving abroad to seek career opportunities and explore new markets as entrepreneurs.

According to a 2022 Statistics Canada report, approximately four million Canadians lived abroad in 2016, representing roughly 11 per cent of the Canadian population.

Alesha Bailey, co-founder of Yard + Parish, an online retail shop for Black and African-owned lifestyle brands, moved from Toronto to Berlin, Germany, in June 2022 without ever visiting the country after finishing a degree in German Studies.

Ms. Bailey says that the move was a strategic decision based on creating a bridge to the European market.

“Germany has been one of our top locations for visitors to the Yard + Parish website,” she says. “With [Germany’s] proximity to the U.K., it showed a lot of promise as a hub for innovation in products for diverse audiences.”

Ms. Bailey remembers the disorienting adjustment period of relearning life and business in Europe. “Leaving your home country to discover a new one feels like being born all over again,” she says. “You have no history, no family, no guidance, just a blank slate and a fresh new chapter.”

While establishing her business in Germany, Ms. Bailey did freelance brand strategy work for supplemental income. She leveraged the European contacts she did have (from previously studying in London, U.K.) to grow her understanding of the new business and cultural landscape.

“I was able to build a local network quite quickly by joining social groups, meeting friends of friends, and sliding into a lot of DMs,” she says.

Support and advice from fellow Canadians

Melissa Chung, founder and CEO of Krippit, a fashion tech company that creates 3-D-printed high heel protectors and shoe accessories, moved from Toronto to Paris in 2021 through Toronto Metropolitan University’s Fashion Zone incubator. The program offered an opportunity to do an exchange with another incubator abroad, which led to Ms. Chung joining government agency Business France and obtaining a French Tech visa for entrepreneurs entering the French startup ecosystem.

There were challenges in establishing a business in Paris, notes Ms. Chung, including registering for international patent filing, finding an accountant with both Canadian and French tax law knowledge and dealing with language barriers (she was not fluent in French when she moved). She found support and advice from other Canadians in the French fashion industry, such as Tanya Heath, an entrepreneur who established her footwear business in Paris several years ago. Ms. Chung recommends forging those kinds of relationships to have a successful transition to a new country.

“If you don’t know the ecosystem … make sure you find good mentors and partners in your industry,” she says. “It’s important to look for someone who has a similar mindset, who’s trying to solve a similar problem and learn from their mistakes.”

Ms. Chung says the connections she made helped her adapt her view of success.

“Don’t feel like you’re failing if adjusting abroad is tough,” she says. “Talking to others helped me have an index to benchmark my challenges and gauge the difficulty levels, [and] to realize it’s normal to struggle.”

‘Let yourself be surprised’

Laetitia Jallais, vice-president of strategy and innovation at bicom, a Montreal-based public relations firm, has spent the past two decades building her career in two countries. Originally from Brest, France, Ms. Jallais moved to Montreal with her husband in 2011 through Canada’s Working Holiday Visa program. Her initial plan was to spend only one year in Montreal, but she and her husband ended up staying for more than a decade, becoming Canadian citizens and having two daughters in the process.

Ms. Jallais had been working in PR with fashion and beauty companies in Paris before her move to Canada, and she remembers initially mourning the exciting life she had left behind. She took on a beauty adviser role at the Chanel counter at The Bay department store while applying to PR agencies in Montreal. Her international experience served her well – she soon landed a position at an agency, joining bicom five years later in 2017.

The key to her success abroad, says Ms. Jallais, was maintaining a professional and personal mindset that was bold and eager to seize opportunities.

“Be open-minded and ready to reinvent yourself,” she says. “Don’t tell yourself that you’re leaving for ‘X’ amount of time, let yourself be surprised. It’s part of the adventure.”

After 12 years in Canada, Ms. Jallais and her family returned to France last July. Still with bicom, she’s been able to leverage her international experience to help launch the business into the French market. She now heads projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

Reflecting on her career thus far, Ms. Jallais says she now appreciates how her country-hopping journey transformed her perspective on the value of leaving home for work.

“When I left Paris, I thought I had left the most exciting period of my career and I was wrong,” she says. “I am a stronger professional thanks to this experience and I now have two countries I can call home, which is a gift.”

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