“Opportunities Mingle With Fear Overseas”

This is an article by Eve Tahmincioglu that appeared in the Business section of The New York Times  on October 24, 2001.  Vicky & I were surprised to see the article on Day One of our arrival in Paris.  An interesting side note: The New York Times sent over a photographer to our home in Evansville, Indiana as we packed up.  The photographer turned out to be Jessica Brandi Lifland, a very talented photographer, friend, and fellow customer at Penny Lane, a coffee house down the street.  Penny Lane, incidentally, hosted a one-man show for my art earlier that year. – Robert

October 24, 2001 WORKPLACE

Opportunities Mingle With Fear Overseas


Vicky Pagán-Leedy was apartment-hunting in Paris with her husband, Robert, when the real estate agent told them two jetliners had crashed into the World Trade Center. The couple, who were planning to move to Paris a few weeks later, suddenly felt overwhelmed by a desire to return to their home in Evansville, Ind.

“We wanted to be with family and friends,” Ms. Pagán-Leedy said. They did return to Evansville – to pack. Still, she said, she harbored doubts right up to the last minute. “It’s not really a fear that something is going to happen to me,” she said. “It’s just, when things are like this, it’s not the right time to make these major changes.

But in the end, she made them, deciding that her transfer to be the vice president for market research in the Paris office of Western Union was too good a career opportunity to pass up. And so, on Monday, the couple flew to Paris from Cincinnati for a three- year stay. Mr. Leedy plans to devote time to painting and travel writing.

Not counting men and women in military uniform, about four million Americans work or live overseas not only as corporate executives but as teachers, plant managers, software engineers, accountants, secretaries and lawyers – to name a few professions. They go abroad to enhance their careers, enrich their intellectual lives, immerse themselves in cultures or just have fun. These days, though, they feel more exposed to the threat of terror.

And yet, employment experts say, most seem to be resisting the impulse to flee back to the relative safety of America, or like the Leedys, are going through with their plans to leave the United States.

“There are concerns out there, but I think most people are taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Richard Jacobson, an international lawyer in Tampa, Fla.

Since Sept. 11, none of the estimated 50 American expatriates who work for Dell Computer  have asked to come home, according to the company, which is based in Austin, Tex. And DuPont, the chemical maker in Wilmington, Del., says it has received no requests for reassignments from its American employees in Asia and Europe.

“Some of the expats have been in touch with our security to discuss some issues,” said a DuPont spokesman, Lee Hoffman. “But there have been no additional security requests from anyone.

Not surprisingly, Americans with jobs in countries like Japan or Sweden, which seem relatively less vulnerable to terrorism, can be not just willing, but eager, to stay put. Ronald Poe, a manager at Access Technology in Tokyo and a four-year resident of that city, said recent discussions with fellow expatriates had centered on how it “now seems safer to be outside the U.S.”

“Living in fear is not living,” Mr. Poe said.

To be sure, the terrorist threat has dampened some Americans’ enthusiasm for an overseas stint. The Global Gateway area on Monster.com, where Americans can look for international jobs, for example, recorded a 12 percent drop in visits, to 517,000 in September from 586,000 the previous month.

And 4 percent of the human resource executives questioned this month by KPMG, the accounting firm in New York, said at least half of their work force abroad had requested repatriation or had taken temporary leave. Unsurprisingly, those who work in countries deemed to be at high risk, like Pakistan or Egypt, are more likely to experience anxiety than those in safer havens.

“I think people are generally feeling pretty insecure,” said Cheryl Buxton, who leads the health care products practice at Korn/ Ferry International, a Los Angeles recruiting firm. She said several Americans who worked in Germany for a client, a pharmaceutical company, had requested reassignment back to the United States.

Countering the fear of terrorist attack, however, is the allure of career advancement. No matter how jittery workers might be about going overseas, that is increasingly where opportunity lies as the American job market falters, says Jeffrey Kaye, chief executive of Kaye/Bassman International, an executive search firm in Plano, Tex.

Charles Thomas, a labor lawyer in Tampa, Fla., has always wanted to work abroad. And since he was laid off on Sept. 30 from Intermedia Communications, a telecommunications company, he has been looking for employment anywhere in North America, South America or
Europe where he can use his proficiency in Spanish.

Yes, he is nervous about the prospect of leaving America. But because so many other people are, too, he assumes he can leverage his willingness to do so into perks he never would have thought of requesting before Sept. 11.

“I’ll be looking for any kind of evacuation contingency plan and things like kidnap and ransom insurance,” he said. “I guess those will now be considered just the basics.

Employment consultants say candidates for overseas postings can probably ask for even more extravagant demands, like paid housing in gated communities with 24-hour security. While companies might have balked at such an expense in the past, said Timothy Dwyer, national director of KPMG’s international human resources practice, they may be more open to it now.

On a more mundane level, Ms. Buxton of Korn/Ferry suggested that Americans working abroad or contemplating doing so ask their employers for additional home leaves to help cope with living so far from family and friends.

Of course, some Americans are making do on their own. Carol Hoffman, 54, who teaches students with learning disabilities in
Kuwait, said she and her husband had put themselves on high alert since Sept. 11.

“Not knowing the language puts us at a disadvantage because we are dependent on English news sources,” Ms. Hoffman said. “We don’t know what is being said in Arabic.

“Another obvious concern is that we don’t look like everybody else,” she added. “When we go out, people notice us. We are told to keep a low profile.

But, she said, their Kuwaiti acquaintances have shown good will. “Everyone we meet is supportive,” she said. “Everybody tells us how sorry they are for what happened and that Islam has nothing to do with those terrorist acts.” 


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