Tag Archives: trailing spouse

Finding Happiness as an Expat Wife

See on Scoop.itInternational Career

Are you struggling with life as an expat wife? InterNations shows you how to avert an identity crisis and how to find happiness as an expat wife.

Anne Egros‘s insight:

Maybe you took a break to raise your children or manage an expatriation or both, but now you feel it is time to find a job.

It is always better to know in advance what are the job market and regulation to get the right visa but if you got noticed of your new destination at the last-minute it is not always possible.

You can take this transition time as an opportunity to explore in-depth your skills and talent and find out what you really want to do.

Not all expat wives are happy with a “demotion” and want to have same or better career while living abroad and acquire intercultural competencies that international employees and global managers need nowadays.

Using a career and transition coach who lives in your place has numerous advantages especially for building your brand, helping you design resumes, supporting your networking efforts with local professionals and elaborating job search strategy that matches local job market.

See on www.internations.org


How To Move On After Moving In ?

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

Any move to a new home, either next door, next state or across continents is a “moving” experience in more than one way.

No matter how often you changed residence before, moving brings a variety of emotions. I have been moving 12 times and still no matter what, I experience the same emotional pattern starting from excitement about discovering new places, new friends, new school and neighbors to discouragement when you start being frustrated that after about three months you still have cartons non-open, you start to lose confidence in your ability to start a new life, find a best friend, re-start a business and fit in your new community.

The good news is that in most families the new experience usually brings member closer as they cannot rely on external support yet. However when the trailing spouse realizes how hard it is to lose a career, a purpose and  trade a glamorous status for SAHMs or SAHDs things get more complicated. Children often mirror their parents’ emotional status so if the couple is happy, usually kids are fine too.

In his book “The First 90 Days”,  Michael Watkins explains that you basically have three months to take visible actions that have immediate results so people turn from skeptical observers to enthusiast supporters. This may work in corporations, but 90 days for expats or new comers are really nothing. You cannot re-build a life, a social network and a safety net in such short time. High achievers are more likely than others to suffer from too much pressure and stress they put on themselves to prove they are highly adaptable.

There is also an element of grief. No matter how eager you are to move, there will be places, things, and people you will miss.  Many family members experience emotional ups and downs.

Moving is a challenging and difficult experience for a family, especially for children. It is natural, therefore, for parents to be concerned about the effect of the move. When faced with a move, it is important to remember that reactions from children will vary depending on their personality and developmental age. The personality of the child is important because it influences the time a child may take to adjust to the move. Some children are naturally outgoing and will be able to make friends immediately while some other children may take months.

To summarize in a nutshell the concept of “moving on” after “moving in” follow these three steps:

1-Recognize you need time to adjust and that the speed of adaptation varies greatly depending on the age, the status and the personality of the family members

2-Acknowledge any loss you had by leaving your previous home but consciously decide to look to the positive aspects of your new situation and what you can gain by discovering your new place and avoid comparing “before ” and “after” the move.

3-Use the transition period to clarify your values, your vision and purpose in life. Think out of the box and have a personal project that brings you joy and happiness such as going back to school, volunteering, starting a business or improve your fitness level, Choose something specific that is aligned with your values,  who you truly are and what you really enjoy to do, do not chose a project because you have to. Find partners and friends to help find resources and keep your motivation high.

5 Reasons Why Expat Women Make Such Great Networkers

There is no recipe to make an expatriation a great moment in your life but meeting new people from totally different backgrounds in term of culture, profession, religion, social status,  is one of the best things about living abroad. Of course for most people it is really hard to meet new people when moving to another location leaving behind close friends and family.

In general women are good at networking but expat women are particularly good to create brand new relationships with other expats, co-workers or other women.  I lived mainly in Europe, Japan and the United States and each country or region has its specificity but globally here the five main reasons why expat women makes friends with people they don’t know much quicker than people who live in the same place for long periods of time.

1-A sense of urgency: When you arrive in an unknown place the first thing you need is to set up a good medical support: Family physician, pediatrician, dentists, OB/GY, emergency room etc. Expat women usually either don’t know the language, don’t trust the local medical practices or won’t turn to the yellow pages and ads in local newspapers. In most cases it is easier to meet other expat women who can explain the healthcare system and recommend the doctors that speak your language or English. If you have children in  international schools you usually meet people coming from all over the world and feel included more rapidly than if your kids go to local public schools with very few foreigners living in your town. This motivates even the most shy person to ask for help and search the internet for local support groups. I have been doing that for 20 years and I am lucky to be French and lived in big cities like Tokyo or New York where the French expat communities are very active. Even in suburban New Jersey I found such a group of about 100 french speaking families organizing monthly networking events.

2-Expats never know how long they will stay: on average I have moved every three years for 20 years so I have to make friends quickly but this is the hardest part of being an expatriate. No matter how friendly or understanding people are in your local community, they have no idea what you are going through what is called “culture shock”. It can be really frustrating to be ignorant about what other people take for granted and don’t even think that you are not aware of local customs, unspoken rules and habits. It takes a good 6 months to one year even for the most seasoned expat to make really good friends and adopt a new culture. Hopefully for the last 5 years or so, the growing usage of social networking and the internet in general has helped expats tremendously to connect on a global scale. I have made many friends virtually on expat forums, through blogs,Twitter or Linkedin sometimes having virtual conversations for years before even knowing my next destination. I  am always amazed and  thrilled when I finally meet face to face the person with whom I feel emotionally connected already, it definitively helps feeling at home faster.

3-Women are better at nurturing relationships.   With men, when you buy something even a house, once the deal is done, you cannot really count on extras like recommendations for where to shop, a hair salon, gym, schools and children-related topics. For example for the last move I met great american women and good service providers through my local real estate agent who is not an expat but she is such a great listener and connector I can really call her a friend.

4-Great  listeners and communicators.  living abroad makes expat women great listeners and communicators. When you don’t know the culture and the language well, you need to make special efforts to understand what people are saying to you both verbally and with body language. You have to ask questions or rephrase to clarify the messages. You also have to be creative and test various strategies to get yourself heard and become assertive.

5-Natural collaborators: Expat women can be corporate managers, entrepreneurs or stay-at-home moms, the are successful at what they do because they love doing project together. As expats we search other like-minded people we enjoy to be with to accomplish something by combining our talents. A collaborative spirit reign among expats and if you search expat women resources you will see more collaboration than competition.\ even among entrepreneurs such as  expat coaches or cross-cultural trainers.

Being a great networker makes you a better leader, marketer or entrepreneur and an effective communicator to thrive in non-familiar, complex environments.

Are Expat Women Good Friends ?

What do you think ?

Related articles:

Expat Life: Finding Home Abroad

Greater Tokyo Area is the world's most populou...

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My definition of a home as an expatriate includes: the architecture, the layout, the light and energy vibes of the house, the neighborhood with its schools , the sport facilities. the shopping, the recreation zones, restaurants, support groups and communities, possibility to work as a spouse, public transportation, commutation time.

Choosing the right home is a crucial piece in the success of an expatriation, yet most of the time expats learn at the last-minute they will relocate to another place, usually they only have one week maybe two to find a home with a relocation company hired by the company. If the new country is too far, like Japan from France, it is rare to have a pre-visit paid by the company so expats usually stay in a business hotel or furnished apartment until they find a suitable home.

All my expat life (20+years) I have followed that pattern every three years on average. Of course the definition of my home changed along the years starting as a young student couple followed by an international double career with no kid (or DINKs), then we became a family of three with my son and I quit the corporate ladder for becoming an entrepreneur  while my husband is still climbing at it.

I am going to share some of my experiences about what it means to make “home” abroad for me.

In Japan we have lived in 4 houses at different periods of our lives between 1990 and 2006. Our first expatriation to Japan was in 1990-1991, we were post-Doc students and around 25-year-old. We were outside the “yamanote line” ( the train line in a circle that marks the limits of the center of Tokyo), in a small town called Oimachi. We had a pretty new apartment but with a traditional Japanese room with new tatami mats and futons(beddings used at night but put in closets during the day to make a living room). I still remember the smell of rice straw and reeds,  the natural and biodegradable materials that make a tatami.

At that time outside the Yamanote line no English or roman letters were used in the trains or in stores, so we learned survival Japanese pretty fast as it was not an expat area or even a place for international college students. I fall in love with Japan and this tatami smell is part of what made me at home in Japan. This first experience had a tremendous impact on the choices of our other homes in Japan.

Because this first experience was linked with wonderful experiences both about the culture and the Japanese people, we always felt at home in all of our houses and apartments in Tokyo in very different neighborhood such as the vibrant Shibuya or the very calm Komazawa-Daigaku and Shirogane

What we experienced in the USA was very different but still what made me most at home were places where I had strong emotional bonds and feeling good with people around me.

In NYC we had a relatively “big” apartment for Manhattan (3 bedrooms) on 38th street an 1st Avenue. with a tiny kitchen with no table or sun light. It was very noisy all day and night long with car horns, police and ambulance sirens. The fruits and veggies were not very fresh compared to Japan and more expensive. Yet I adored NYC ! I could walk like in Tokyo, no need for car, I was feeling free, arriving in July 2001 expecting my son to be born 1st week of October. I was just enjoying the relocation process without the usual rush to be settled quickly. For some women having a baby makes them seeing everything in pink and I was one of them and even if our apartment was far from being the ideal home, it was my home and I liked it. My baby was delivered in the NYU hospital with great doctors and nurses although it was only 12 days after 9/11. I was blessed to become a mom as that time and felt strongly connected with New Yorkers and other people during this dramatic event.

The second time that we came back to the USA was in Atlanta. At first I hated this place that was not a real city for me where you have to take your car for everything: drive in pharmacy, drive in Starbucks and Mac Donald. It was the first time I did not have time to explore and do my homework to find a house and I regretted it. It was a true culture shock as I thought I already knew how to live in America because I spent 3 years in NYC. I did not like the house I chose although I had one week to find  it with a relocation agent. I did not feel safe in this house because I had a wooden backyard, and my husband was travelling often. The heating system broke in the winter and we could not find a good handyman to fix some other stuff that were not working. I look at my new house in Atlanta with all negative filters, it was a big one but with an empty heart !

Hopefully we had a happy end like in most American movies. After 6 months, we moved to a small community of 30 houses with very nice people in Buckhead and I really loved it. It felt home because it was only 15 min drive to the school, the sport club, 5 minutes to shopping mall. I had time to make friends at the International school and I started studying how to become a professional coach and registered my coaching business Zest and Zen International there  and  got some clients before moving to Brussels.

Reference: At Home Abroad:How Design and Architecture Influence Overseas Living: http://www.interchangeinstitute.org/files/At_Home_Abroad_final.pdf

Expats In A Bubble: A Survival Mode ?

I have been inspired by this article : Inside The Expat Bubble” Written by Patryk Kujawski for the Just landed Blog.

I  have been living in an expat bubble for 20 years: moving every 3 years on average. While I adapt usually very easily, make local friends, learn the language, eat the food, participate in cultural traditions etc, I must admit that I usually ignore all the negative things related to the places I am living in. I don’t get involved in local politics or public debates and avoid sensitive subjects such as religion or xenophobic opinions.

I think it is somehow a survival mode. It takes 6 months to fit in a new place, make friends and setup new habits. Then when I finally have settled both my family and business it is time to leave.

Another type of bubble is being assisted by the companies that send you abroad through relocation companies. While at first sight you think it is a good thing you deserve for leaving your “home”, on a long run, when you stop to be a corporate expat you have great difficulties to deal with the local bureaucracy, finding an affordable house by yourself or looking for local schools. Even during an expatriation some studies actually demonstrated that too much assistance may decrease the chances of expatriation success.

Recent studies show that the profile of an expatriate family is shifting away from the traditional expatriate profile of a male senior-level executive with a “trailing spouse” and family to up to 18% of women expatriates with dads being the trailing spouses taking care of children.

The change in demographics and the way global organizations manage the work-life issues for both expatriates and local employees  may affect the concept of “expat bubble”  In fact any employee may create their own bubble, refusing to integrate other cultures and have difficulties working in multi-cultural teams.

The danger for  global companies is the “ethnocentrism” of the headquarters, thinking that everywhere on the planet people share same opinions and cultural  values such as personal development or  time perception

If there are no proper HR policies  in place the company may lose its competitive edge very rapidly starting by not being able to attract global talent in the future.

Who sets the working norms in a global context will increasingly become an important issue. Ref.Global Work, Global Careers, and Work-Family(2010)

For additional resources about expatriates visit:  http://ExpatWomen.com/

Zest or Zen? How To Get A Balanced Expat Life ?

Do international workers really live a more stressful life today compared to the 20th Century ?

I think expat families are under higher pressure to perform than 10 or 20 years ago just because they cost 3 to 4 times more than locals in case of expat executives. In appearance at least, the should enjoy their new job, the following  spouse and kids must be happy because they stay connected with friends and family more easily than before thanks to the new mobile technologies.

However not acknowledging your true emotions and feelings such as fear, loneliness, guilt, sadness, pressure or  stress (positive or negative) can lead to international assignment failures, premature returns and various chronic diseases.

Which personality are you ?

1: Very active, feeling good when you agenda is full  of activities, self-confident, assertive, very proud of your achievements in life. You don’t worry too much about the future, want to show that you are successful  because you can control your life.

2-Anxious by nature, you want to control everything and get easily upset if things are not working the way you planned. You are worrying about the future very often and like to think about all the nice things you will do  next year or in 10 years after you retire, when kids will leave the house, or when you are back from your last international assignment.

3-An adept of the “letting go”, living in the here and now, taking time to discover and enjoy each moment of your life. Sometimes you look back at your past to search inspiration about solving today’s problems. People say about you that you are introvert, shy and getting easily emotional.

These are stereotypes and there are no good or bad personalities but you can identify the type of person you truly are, the one  you want people to see and the one you idealize or would like to change to.

“Letting Go” has become a ‘buzz word” and is synonym of cooling down or being “Zen”

On the contrary, having “Zest” in your life means you enjoy the excitement of discovering new cultures, new career, meeting new people and feeling truly alive when you are re-inventing your life every time you move abroad.

Identifying your true  needs and manage your expectations.

It is easy to stay on automatic pilot and follow the flow without thinking what is really good for you and your family. Perhaps 10 years ago when your children were still at home you wanted to spend more time with them but now that they study in college you may want to do something else, something more meaningful for you.

When a new year starts, many people feel obliged to start new resolutions like quitting smoking or drinking, being more relaxed or losing weight, being less stressed at work etc. A lot of them run to the gym, hire a sport coach or subscribe to a weight-loss  program  or attend a leadership training, but even if you are very motivated if your new resolutions are not the true goals you really want intrinsically, then you have few chances to reach your targets before the next year starts.

If you want to use a coach don’t hurry be ” Zen” . If a coach  pushes you, gives you quick tips to reach your goals  then it is probably not the coach you need for lasting results. Once you have reflected on what you want, you can add the necessary adrenalin or “Zest” you need to perform at the level that is not too challenging for you but not too boring as well.

Then you have found the right balance between Zest and Zen !

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