Only sometimes as idyllic as it sounds, life abroad as an expat’s partner or child can present its own challenges. Nevertheless, an experience outside of their comfort zone can prove to be enriching for the person or people who move alongside someone who has found a job abroad.
For the partner of an expat, the decision to follow their other half can lead to sacrifices and frustrating experiences. From a professional point of view, it can mean putting their career on hold for a certain period of time. Sabbaticals do exist, so it is important for them to negotiate returning to work with their employer if they are only leaving the country for a year.
Once they reach their destination, the expat’s partner has an important role to play. Whilst the working partner will have professional challenges to deal with, their other half must help with all the activities related to setting up home in a new country. This is a critical period in starting their new life successfully. Finding somewhere to live, making it feel like home, enrolling the kids in new schools, taking care of all the bureaucracy… all these different stages take time. Nevertheless, they also all contribute to having a sense of purpose. This is an important time for the expat’s partner because they also have responsibilities when the couple or family move abroad. These tasks can be rewarding for those who know how to make the most of the experience. They will start to establish a daily routine that will help them to integrate. The partner of an expat will find they have things to sort out that they never had to worry about in their home country. Days will quickly begin to revolve around meet-ups with other expats in a similar situation, forming new social groups, organising sporting or cultural activities, and maybe even finding a part-time job. Finally, they will start to feel at home in the host country.
However, sometimes things don’t quite go as planned. When they’ve left their old job behind and the host country isn’t as welcoming as expected, the situation can soon become a nightmare for the partner of an expat. Being in an unfamiliar environment without their normal routine, they may find it difficult to get used to their new lifestyle. They may feel increasingly like they’ve sacrificed their career or that they just don’t fit in in the new country. These people may often feel depressed. It’s the responsibility of the working expat to understand why their partner is unhappy and to find a way to help them live more harmoniously as a couple or a family. And it’s the partner’s responsibility to create a new life for themselves, despite the differences in culture and language.
When two people move abroad together, it takes both to build a new life for themselves. They should be honest about their hopes and fears so that the partner who follows is able to find their place once they arrive in the new country, without feeling like they’ve put their life on hold in order to benefit the other’s career.