Going Places

Two professionals share their sabbatical experiences.

Deloitte LifeOver the course of a career, there are many memorable moments – taking on a new role, achieving a well-deserved promotion, meeting an inspirational colleague. And thanks to the Deloitte Sabbatical Program, Jessica Beauregard and Janet Brady can now add interactions with people and cultures from around the world to their list of unforgettable moments.

The two women join the nearly 350 Deloitte professionals who have used sabbaticals to enhance their personal and professional lives since the program began in 2009. “We are committed to addressing continually the work-life needs of all our people as we recognize its critical importance to fostering an environment where leaders thrive,” says Paul Silverglate, Work-Life managing partner, Deloitte LLP. “The Sabbatical Program is one more way by which we are able to provide our people with the flexibility they need, when they need it.”

Global volunteerism

While “Rarotonga” may not roll easily off the tongue, and its location is likely to have stumped many middle-school geography quiz contestants, it was exactly where Jessica Beauregard wanted to go. With roughly 13,000 inhabitants, Rarotonga is the most populous of the Cook Islands in the south-central part of the Pacific Ocean, a long way from Beauregard’s Boston-area home.

Beauregard, who is a Deloitte & Touche LLP Audit manager serving clients in Boston’s Private Equity/Hedge Fund/Mutual Fund sector, took her four-week sabbatical in June 2012, but the search for the perfect sabbatical opportunity actually started much earlier. Following the rigors of her work and her tireless commitment during the 2010 busy season, Beauregard realized she would benefit from some time away to refresh and recharge.

“I knew I wanted to do volunteer work,” says Beauregard, “and after some intensive research, I found Global Volunteers, a leading organization that has provided assistance to disadvantaged communities since 1984.” Global Volunteers is a leading Non-Governmental Organization that has special Consultative Status with the United Nations and partners with UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization. “My next steps were to talk with Deloitte leaders and determine when it would be least disruptive for me to be away.”

A tropical paradise, Rarotonga’s economy is driven by tourism and a fledgling agriculture sector. A declining population and sluggish economy have resulted in significant cuts to social support programming. Global Volunteers, which has sent teams to Rarotonga since 1998, provides a service that is relied upon to help plug the gaps.

“I wasn’t at all familiar with the Cook Islands when I began my search, but I chose Rarotonga because it is a destination I would not otherwise have visited,” says Beauregard. And so, after a short vacation in New Delhi, India, and more than 32 hours of air travel, Beauregard arrived on the Pacific island referred to by its inhabitants as “the Rock.”

Cultural immersion

Working with the resident Global Volunteers staff, Beauregard was assigned to the Takitumu School in the village of Matavera. Comprising some 200 students — preschool to level 6 — Beauregard taught English and math, led storytelling sessions and participated in afternoon music, sports and cultural activities with students of all ages.

“Working with the kids was the best,” she says, “but I also enjoyed working with the principal on budget issues. I brought a fresh point of view that was both respected and appreciated” she says. “The school didn’t have much in terms of resources. For example, the children didn’t have notebooks or crayons, and paper is a luxury that must be rationed. It’s kept locked in the faculty lounge.”

Although she doesn’t have a background in education, Beauregard eagerly shared many of her childhood lessons with her pupils. “The simple things I assumed all children were taught, like clapping out syllables, were new to them. It was so rewarding to see the children learn,” she says. “They had never seen cursive writing, so I wrote a name tag for each child in cursive and they loved it!”

Another project in which Beauregard was involved took place during a weekend lagoon tour she and some new friends experienced in the Muri village. When the owner of the tour company heard she was a Global Volunteer, he asked her for business advice. “We analyzed his budget and developed a modest plan that included expansion of the ticketing hut and promotion of his new stand-up paddleboards,” she says. “Tourism is vital to the island’s struggling economy, so it was an interesting project. When I got home, I received a picture from the owner of his new billboard and was surprised to see that I was on it!”

But it was clearly the children with whom Beauregard interacted who left the deepest impression. “I admit that I came away from this experience with far more than I had expected,” she says. “Just seeing those children learn felt great. I believe I added value to their lives and, as a result, I value things differently in my own life.”

Keeping a family together

Janet Brady, a Deloitte Services LP Talent manager in our Houston office, was well aware of the sabbatical program but had never seriously considered it until her husband, Kelly, was assigned to Shanghai for the summer of 2012. With three daughters under the age of eight and both parents working, the idea of the family being separated for months was a daunting prospect.

“The sabbatical program offered me the flexibility to do something I might otherwise never have done,” she says. “I wanted to stay at Deloitte, but a summer without Kelly was a long time for the girls to not have their dad around and a long time for me to manage a career and a family by myself.” The Bradys had talked at length in the past about showing their children the world. The sabbatical program opened the door for doing it.

“I was able to get the support of my leadership team to take the four-week sabbatical,” says Brady. “The key was finding a time to go that was doable for my family and for my team at work, to whom I will always be extremely grateful for having made the trip possible.”

Brady decided July would be the best time to be away. The children were off from school, Talent’s busy season was winding down, and she was even able to use personal time off (PTO) to further extend her family’s time together.

Using Shanghai as their base, Janet and her girls set off to discover their temporary home without a driver or car service. “It’s a large, expansive city,” says Brady. “A fascinating mix of modern and traditional China.”

The family stayed in corporate housing located in an older part of the city center, but convenient to the subway and several parks. When exploring the city they tried the subway and would occasionally use a taxi, but mostly they walked (over the course of the 40-day trip, Brady estimates she and the girls walked between 60 and 80 miles.) “While I’m used to Houston, I was still surprised at how hot it was in Shanghai,” says Brady. “It was definitely something to contend with.”

Making the most of it

Wanting to show the children as much of the country as possible, Brady led them on several adventures outside of Shanghai. “We had a lot of girl time during the day and we always explored something different.” Those explorations included a trip to visit her sister-in-law in Hong Kong, and an overnight ride to Beijing where the family took a bullet train with sleeping berths (a brand new experience for the girls) and then toured the many ancient cultural sites of the capital.

“We weren’t tremendously experienced international travelers, so being out and exploring the culture firsthand was really rewarding for me and the children,” says Brady. “We were treated in a friendly manner everywhere we went. We also got a lot of stares – mostly because I was with three children and they were all girls. That’s not a common sight in that country.”

To Brady’s surprise, the girls were nearly as adventurous eaters as they were explorers. Well, at least two of them were. “My picky eater stuck with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pizza,” she says.

All in all, it was a journey well traveled. “I think the most important aspect of the trip was that my children learned that things can be different from what they are used to,” says Brady. “I’m glad they had the opportunity to see and appreciate the diversity of cultures. To be able to share that with them meant the world to me and Kelly.”

Back home

Both Beauregard and Brady agree the Sabbatical Program was the right solution for them and believe it’s a valuable benefit to Deloitte professionals. Because they had carefully prepared for the sabbatical and worked closely with their project teams and partners, principals and directors, both women were able to step back into active work roles upon their return without any impact to their career momentum or ratings.

“I had a personal and meaningful reason for taking my sabbatical,” says Brady. “I told everyone I knew that I worked for Deloitte and whenever possible I told them how generous a program it is.”

Not surprisingly, Beauregard initially had a hard time leaving the island, but believes her time in Rarotonga delivered more than she’d hoped. “I’m thankful for the support I received from my colleagues and I highly recommend the program,” she says. “It’s not that hard to find the time for a sabbatical if you plan in advance and make it a priority. And it’s so worth the effort!”