Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore and discuss the role of motivational cultural intelligence and its related strategies in the experiential learning and cross-cultural adjustment of self-initiated expatriate (SIE) women. Design/methodology/approach – Interactive qualitative analysis (IQA) was the design and process used for this research. Two IQA focus groups were conducted with a non-probability purposive sample of 21 SIE women, aged between 26 and 53 who were living and working in the Netherlands at the time of the research. Participants were invited to brainstorm about their adjustment experience and actively construct a framework of their adjustment experiences. Findings – Evidence is provided for the role of motivational CQ, with specific reference to reinvention, self-efficacy and goal-setting as motivational strategies, in the successful adjustment of SIE women. Conceptual frameworks of the cyclical learning process and motivational strategies with choice as a moderator in the process, have been developed. Three propositions for future research are also presented. Originality/value – This study represents an under-researched group and proposes conceptual frameworks for understanding the complex, multidimensional process of SIE women adjustment and the role of motivation, from a participant perspective.