Expat Interview: Life as an 'Expat Spouse' in Vancouver
Posted by Dannielle Noonan
Expat Spouses are often the real 'relocation heroes' of a family or couple that moves overseas. Here, Jen from The Expat Spouse shares her experiences as a self professed home bird living abroad in Kazakhstan, France and Canada.
Tell us about where you're from, where you have lived previously and where you live now
I was born and raised in Essex (United Kingdom) as were my parents and many generations before them. At 18, I went to University and being a three hour drive away was a big stretch outside my comfort zone; I was "one of those" that went back home every other weekend despite having an amazing time there. A good few years later my boyfriend (who has since been promoted to Husband status) became aware of an opportunity to join a roller-coaster ride: moving to a new job role and country every few years. As you can imagine - this blew my mind!
I really was quite hesitant about the idea as I am at my happiest around my home, friends and family; it had never even crossed my mind to live in a different country. Nevertheless, we talked about it incessantly and I knew this was a huge opportunity for us both - we decided he should apply.
I know my Husband is destined for great things so it was with no surprise that his application was successful and we have so far lived in Almaty (Kazakhstan), Paris (France) and Vancouver (Canada) and are loving our life more than we could have ever imagined. At the end of the Summer we are due to move again, but since we don't have any control over where we are sent to by his employer - we are currently sitting tight waiting for news!
Read our Expat Interview with Alexandria, who is also in the midst of planning a relocation to an unknown destination.
What has been the most difficult aspect of settling into new locations?
You will see from my post "Here's my Number... call me maybe?" that I have been positively hopeless at making new friends in previous relocations. I have built up a circle of lifelong friends here in Vancouver (albeit in a very slow and reactive way) but they've all enriched my life and are all so special to me. This has shown me that making "new" friends should be a priority from touchdown and that it is integral to achieving true settlement in your "new country".
What's the best thing about being an expat in Vancouver?
Vancouver is stunning. Without sounding like the Tourism Board for British Columbia; for those that are blessed with a love and ability to travel - a lifetime wouldn't be complete without a trip to British Columbia. Canada never crossed my mind as a holiday destination and I didn't have a clue what to expect. I recall a Canadian friend sitting me down in a Parisian Cafe before our move explaining "Vancouver isn't all like this" whilst pointing at a picture in my guide book that showed a deserted field with a lonesome horse staring back at me quizzically. I just burst out laughing!
I guess that is what amazes me about expat life; knowing I may never have been exposed to the delights of Vancouver and getting to know a city on a deeper level than a vacation would never allow, yet still appreciating it like a local may not (I'm saying this as a Londoner that recommends Buckingham Palace as the number one thing people need to visit when in London but has never ACTUALLY had the time to go inside myself).
Before the move, which aspects of planning were the most stressful for you?
I am the Queen of the 'rose tinted glasses'. Whilst the move planning is exceedingly time consuming I can't remember being overly concerned about anything at the time. Yet, you ask my friends & family and I'm sure they would have a different answer! That being said, this was only because we had the right partners and service providers working with us. At the moment and despite not knowing what continent we are even moving to, I am currently doing a lot of research into moving our dog with us and this is already quite stressful... I think I'm going to need more than one wine on the plane knowing she will likely not be having a rave down in the hold on her own.
What is the healthcare like in Vancouver?
Excellent. I remember my first call to the Doctor's Office and asking the Gatekeeper (aka Medical Secretary) for an appointment... she snapped back with "well are you going to tell me when you want the appointment then"? As most fellow Brits will appreciate - you get the time you're given in the UK! I couldn't believe I could get a non-emergency appointment that day with such a great GP.
You'll see from my Blog post "The Red Wedding" that my Husband is rather accident prone... hence we've had a few joyful visits to St Paul's Hospital A&E/ER department over the past few years - they are super there. My friends that have given birth here in Vancouver have had great care at the BC Women's Hospital. All in all, I can say I've been astounded in Paris and Vancouver at the excellent healthcare we've both received. As with anything expat related, it is important to find the right service providers and insurance.
Which alternative term for "Expat Spouse" do you really hate?
There are many different terms assigned to us, such as an accompanying spouse, relocation hero, trailblazing spouse, expat partner, trailing spouse or dependent spouse. Some names are nice but most are wince worthy and others just downright derogatory. I would say Trailing Spouse annoys me most, particularly as it is still used so widely and not remotely representative of our role and life.
How do you think an Expat Spouse's experience of life overseas differs from others?
Like Expats, every spouse's experience and life is different to others but expat spouses find themselves with similar highs and lows. We are often known as relocation heroes because we take on a great deal of the relocation organisation while our partner is settling into a new role, in a new culture perhaps even with a new employer. Ultimately we tend to project manage our family's life transition and cross our fingers it is as smooth as possible!
I believe there has been a great shift in Human Resource Management recently where many companies are starting to see the importance of a spouse and how they are the key enabler for a successful relocation. However, what is also recognised is that our own happiness can be side-lined during a relocation. Unlike our partner or other expats, we tend to find career management, making new contacts/friends and generally maintaining our independence somewhat more difficult. On the other side, it can open up opportunities such as making a new career move, having the opportunity to decide whether to be a stay at home parent or pursue lifelong hobbies that could not have been possible in our home country.
You say you dread being asked "So what do you do?" How do you fill your days?
"So what do you do" is a real hard question to answer for most people who have moved for their partner's job, despite it usually being an innocent and natural question to ask after an expat spouse has explained why they are an expat in the first place. Countless research and statistics are sprawled across the internet that demonstrate many spouses are highly educated and have left seriously good careers to support their partner's career relocation. Often they may be struggling in the early stages of their relocation for whatever reason and will find it very hard to answer this question; sadly it can often be followed by judgement too. Therefore "How do you fill your days" is such a lovely way to start the conversation, thank you!
So, I'm currently incredibly lucky as I work from home for an insurance agency based in the UK and of course The Expat Spouse keeps me very entertained and busy. My weekdays are quiet - sitting at my laptop for pretty much the whole day, then counteracting my idleness by walking the dog along Vancouver's beautiful seawall and going to exercise classes to burn off my Banana Bread addiction. Who said life as an expat spouse was all glamour hey? Everyone is at work during the daytime so at least it makes me buckle down! Then, weekends and evenings I spend with my Husband and my friends.
Tell us about the "Expat Spouse Connect" service you have launched
As Expat Spouses we can sometimes feel alienated from a group of outsiders... expats themselves! I often wonder where I fit within the Expat World; Expat Social Networking Sites and Networking events both positively scare and bore me in equal measures. I sometimes feel other expats can be more interested in business networking, dating or meeting after work hours (for some of us the daytime tends to be the quietest when a spouse is at work). That is why I launched Expat Spouse Connect; to help Expat Spouses independently create a social circle in "real life" with other Expat Spouses, wherever they live.
It starts out by just completing a simple form and the member receives a list of future Best Friends Forever. If both Spouses indicate that they want to get in touch, then with express permission their email addresses are released to each other. The rest is totally up to them but Expat Spouses become trustworthy members of our community through feedback & recommendations. No cost and no commitment; it is just an easy way for spouses to get to know each other without depending on their partners or trailing through social networking sites - perhaps even before they have moved country.
Are you moving abroad with your family? Perhaps you've already started your expat life and have realised the importance of access to the best healthcare facilities. Why not get in touch with Medibroker, where our experts will take the time to discuss your needs on the phone then use our market knowledge to recommend the best international health insurance plan from a range of over 20 providers.
Why go direct or use a comparison site when you can get expert, impartial advice from Medibroker for free?