If you are or have been a “trailing spouse” who followed your working partner on an expatriate assignment, or if you are the working expatriate relocating with a partner, this post is for you
“The trailing spouse” is the term used to define the spouse or partner of a working expatriate who follows them on their assignment in a new country. In my opinion, this term also embodies the loss of personal identity and the gain of complete dependence on the working partner for everything you have taken for granted before the expat assignment.
It also means leaving your support structure of family and friends behind, yes a Skype call away but not there to hold your hand or look after the kids when needed, and possibly leaving a job that earns you your own money.
Trailing spouse also means staying alone in a new place where you know hardly anyone, in a home that is not yet yours, feeling fearful of the unknown.
It means waiting for your working partner to come home after work to sign all the documents needed for that cell phone contract, gym membership or bank account because you are in this new country as a “dependent” and cannot sign any contracts for yourself.
It means the little frustrations of not knowing where to find the best dentist or butcher or how to drive in the new place.
After a month or two after the initial excitement and adrenalin of moving country has worn off all these issues can cause you to feel helpless, frustrated and even lead to the “I give up, I’m going back home” moment. Before it gets that bad, read these tips that may be of assitance to you to start living and loving the expat life as the “trailing spouse”.
- Write to-do lists and do them. Write up a list of what is important to you as a person to accomplish in terms of professional activities, social activities, sport and self-improvement or study, prepare an action list of priorities and pursue them relentlessly every day.
- Routine. Create a daily routine, that way you will not wake up thinking you don’t know what to do with yourself.
- Hobby. Remember that the beauty of following your working expat partner is the fact that you now have a lot more time to follow some of the dreams you had but never had the time to explore before, like taking up painting classes or signing up for golf lessons.
- Work. Find a job, not necessarily full time but something you do daily. If remunerated work is not possible explore the local charities that need your expertise and support. Sign up for one and be consistent in going there. This will quickly fulfil the need to feel busy and productive and will add the immeasurable satisfaction of helping others that cannot help themselves.
- Study. Sign up for courses or study programmes that will add to your self-development or to your CV. Going back to school may put you out of your comfort zone, but will also get the brain cells working and help in future endeavours when you are back from your expat assignment.
- Friends. Look for groups in the area that do what you love, whether it is people in the paint classes, the local gym, the local book club or jogging club. Join these clubs and be open to walk up to people and start chatting. Explain that you are new to town and invite them for coffee. You will be amazed how many people will open for friendship if you speak frankly.
- Support. Learn to ask for help and get all the help and support you can. Ask your expat partner to take time off when possible, request the company to provide additional spousal support, look for expat support groups.
An expat assignment will add to your life experiences and open your mind to embracing the new and the unknown. The power is in your hands to make a success of it.
We at Expats On The Globe strongly believe that the “trailing spouse” is the foundation of a successful expat assigment. We offer spousal support programms that are tailored to individuals’s needs and focus on achieving all the outcomes listed above. Call us to discuss how we can add value to your expat life.