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Rebecca Ronane: Networking and Personal Development in Provence

Rebecca Ronane:

Networking and Personal Development in Provence

By Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Lavender, grapevines and a Mediterranean climate. Living in Provence sounds nothing short of magical. However, behind the glorious visuals, there are the lives of expats facing day-to-day realities that include jobs, commutes, schools and, for many, a second language. Expat Rebecca Ronane is combining her career experience and professional goals into building a networking and personal development business based in Provence.

Ronane was born in the United Kingdom, in Wimbledon. Raised around the world of theatre, her one-time dream of pursuing an acting career brought her near the stage when she worked in Royal Haymarket’s box office in London. However, acting as a profession took a backseat, with her discovery of exciting travel opportunities. Ronane shared that her interest in travel was piqued by her first job abroad; working as an au pair in Rome, followed by Paris and the United States. Once she determined that assisting families with their children afforded her a glimpse at other destinations her bags were packed.

The owner of a travel company took a risk, as did Ronane, on her first “make-it or break-it” tour with 50 guests — a group of student travelers. That voyage’s successful conclusion morphed into many years of leading group travel excursions to global destinations. Ronane has traveled extensively in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, China, and many points in the United States. Even now, she remains the “go-to” tour guide in Monte Carlo, for an Australian-based travel organization.

As a tri-lingual speaker (English, French and Italian) she credits her knowledge of other languages with an ability to communicate with others. Ronane feels that understanding additional languages helped her even in cases where she did not speak the local language such as Chinese. Her feeling is that most travelers have the same basic set of needs (food, shelter and security) once those are satisfied they can enjoy their holiday. Ronane appears to have mastered the ability to make a gathering of people feel comfortable in new surroundings.

Ronane and her husband determined that they wanted to relocate to the sunny South of France, from rainy London and Amsterdam. It took them over three years of searching to find a suitable property that they could afford, in an area they liked. In 1995, they discovered Maubec and bought a house that Ronane describes as having terracotta tiles and old beams, the rest they overlooked. They renovated the interior and developed a garden from scratch. The construction work took a few years, as they were both away more than they were at home (her husband is also in the travel business). When they were back from tours, they would jump into contractor mode and advance their project bit by bit. It was worth the effort; Ronane’s home is both charming and comfortable.

Submerged in work and the restoration project, Ronane says there was little time to consider that they were expats. She credits their extensive travel and lack of fear with the unknown in her words they, “Moved quite easily into the situation.”

Perhaps while they were laying floor tiles, their conversations led to what next? The idea of teaching English as a foreign language to employees of French companies seemed to resonate and Ronane immersed herself in associated studies. She received the certification, but never put the training into practice. She says that in the effort to land on a name for the language service company the words coach and coaching continued to pop-up.

A serial learner, Ronane cracked open the window into the world of adult leadership and reinvention coaching. It required weekend trips to the United Kingdom to work through the curriculum for her coaching certification. In the process, Ronane discovered two women coaching professionals (Carole Ann Rice and Ruby McGuire) who continue to inspire her to build her practice.

Ronane feels her background in drama and group travel give her a comfort level when working with people. After all, if you can lead a tour in China, without ever being there before, how hard could it be to stand up in front of a crowd? Her coaching business focuses on women and typically those 50-years and above, she calls her company Forward after Fifty. Why target this segment? She sees this grouping as a niche with a timeline. According to Ronane,

“Women can feel more empowered within themselves in a group. There is a powerful connection with women together.”

“I never thought that my life could change so much after 50. If you are going to be anyone, do anything or reinvent yourself in any way you better get on with it, because time is ticking. Maybe the age also influences you to make and take decisions.”

Her coaching techniques involve working with clients either one-on-one or in groups to identify personal goals and action steps to achieve those targets. Ronane eliminates the fear associated with change.

As expats, the Ronanes experience moving to Maubec was not punctuated with any events that might have had them turn tail and head back to the London. Ronane credits the fact that they both speak French and their absorbing renovation project allowed no time to dwell on negative experiences. However, she realized that meeting other women in the region is not straightforward and the opportunities for professional collaboration are limited. Network Provence was born from that realization; it is a loose grouping of women throughout the region who are connected virtually via a Facebook group and physically with monthly meetings (approximately 10 per year) organized by Ronane at various locations from Aix-en-Provence to Avignon and Orange.

“Network Provence this group has created lots and lots of friendships for members.”

The gatherings started just over two years ago, growing into an active community of women throughout the region. Longer-term she would like to see the network expand beyond the geographic area that she can physically cover; possibly the Var and the Côte d’Azur.

Ronane is embracing her post-50 phase by surrounding herself with women in Provence and helping these same people reach their goals.

“It is a time to find a way that you can achieve your goal, your dream, now that maybe you don’t have your family making the same demands on you.”

Building on the success of Network Provence and her coaching work, her vision is to host five-day mini-breaks in Provence, for women over 50-years old in a peaceful setting.

“Five days focusing on yourself in this amazing part of the world.”

The group size for these personal development retreats is deliberately small, a maximum of eight, allowing for group dynamics without too many voices. The program includes several modules with one workshop per day and plenty of downtime. Ronane has selected a gorgeous semi-secluded location in the Luberon the Domaine Saint Jean for these sessions. Always the tour guide, Ronane’s itinerary includes daily discovery excursions so participants can explore Provence. However, for those who would prefer simply relaxing by the pool that is always an option. At the end of the retreats, Ronane’s goal is that participants have forged some new friendships and made some strides in their self-discovery journeys.

[Images courtesy of Rebecca Ronane]

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