How does the 'Expat Experience' differ if you're the 'Trailing Spouse'?
Posted by Dannielle Noonan
For expat spouses, no matter what gender you are; the story is usually the same. Partner gets lucrative job offer. Partner says you’d be mad to turn it down. You know that too – but the job is in a different country. Maybe one you know nothing about, or one that’s just never appealed. But the money is so tempting and the lifestyle would be good for you.
There’s a flurry of excitement, lots of late night talks about what could go wrong, and the ultimate, life changing decision: you’re making the move overseas.
You have to say goodbye to your family, your friends and more often than not, your career.
Over 50% of people in the Internations survey who identified as ‘Travelling Partners’ are educated to degree level or higher. These are educated people, willing to work, but who are largely unable to enter the corporate world in their new country due to visa restrictions.
You leave behind your job progression and try to forget about that promotion you might have been offered had you stayed. You swap busy offices for an empty, unfamiliar house – which still feels empty long after the shipping company arrives with your possessions.
Moving abroad is a challenging time
Whether you have months to plan and fret or it’s a whirlwind relocation; there’s always the sudden jolt when you realise that you’re actually there, living your new life abroad.
Many ‘trailing spouses’ have memories of the early days of their partners’ international assignment that involve rattling around like a coin in an empty purse. While the working partner can focus on their new role, new office and new colleagues; you’re left with the difficult tasks.
Sussing out where to buy groceries. Perhaps dealing with children who are suffering in a new climate. Desperately grinning at new neighbours in the hope of a brief conversation. If you’ve moved abroad for your partner’s job, these may be all too recognisable stressors. You may battle with a surprising sense of resentment towards the working partner. Why should they get to swan off to the office in their new suit while you’re stuck at home trying to figure out the air-con?
While most companies with a globally mobile workforce provide relocation support to their employee, few offer spousal support.
Loneliness is likely to affect those who weren’t the ‘powerhouse’ behind your joint transition to expat life. With less distractions and the harsh reality of culture shock, you can feel alienated and further from home than you actually are. Skype and Whatsapp make it easier, but your listening ears aren’t actually there to comfort you, and your partner probably can’t relate. Add to that the frustration of navigating time differences when you just need an after dinner chat with a friend, and it might feel like you’ve done the wrong thing.
A support network for all expats
At Medibroker, we run an #ExpatHour twitter chat specifically for English speaking expats, and these chats are often full of so called ‘trailing spouses’. It’s a place to share your experiences, your frustrations and your tips with other expats – and to learn from each other. The international expat community are all in it together – because after all, who else understands?
Tight-knit expat groups in your host country can be intimidating. While you should by all means attempt to meet other expats in your new area as well as integrating with the locals, it’s good to know you have a global community on twitter to reach out to.
Whether it’s visa worries, insurance qualms or you’re just wondering what kind of foods your fellow expatriates are eating abroad, follow @ExpatHour and join in #ExpatHour on Mondays at 12pm GMT and Thursdays at 2pm GMT. We welcome new participants and are always looking for co-hosts or topic ideas! Are you the working partner? Don’t worry – we’ll let you in too!
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