So, your husband or wife received a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity which requires a move to a foreign land and you are now the official “trailing spouse,” something you never thought you would be. And trailing spouses are not always willing, which is understandable. Trying to juggle the practicalities of an international move, supporting children and learning all about a new country is a mountain-sized TO DO list. While their spouse’s career is on a role, the trailing spouse can be left feeling aimless and a bit lost. What is there to look forward to? Where do you begin? How will I overcome culture shock? How on earth do people do this? Here are ways to confront unique challenges of an international move. It doesn’t have to be a giant mountain of stress. The key is in the preparation.
Ease Your Acclimation. No doubt, a lot of stress is cause by such a big move. Knowing where you are headed will help avoid the typical expat headaches. So, learn about the area. Look at maps, books, real estate listings. Find restaurants and nearby attractions. Know even the most basic things such as who to call in an emergency, where the bank is, how to mail a letter, the location of your children’s school, where to shop, how to recycle, and where to get a haircut. And focus on short-terms goals from locating housing to meeting your spouse’s coworkers and managers. All the longer-range plans can wait for now.
Talk about money with your spouse. Usually, the term trailing spouse implies that you will be unemployed, so if your partner will be the only one working and you are leaving behind a career, brace yourself for that change. And most importantly, communicate that with your spouse. Know how much money will be available, how it will be spent and how financial decisions will be made. Adapt a team effort towards shared goals.
Trailing spouses that wish to work may find procuring a job challenging, though not impossible. Even without a consistent job history, trailing spouses that highlight their skills to potential employers can find work. After all, moving an entire family across the globe involves superb negotiation and people skills, high flexibility, openness to change, superior multi-tasking skills, self-starting abilities and meticulous supervisory abilities. No employers would argue with those skills!
Do your negotiating. Be sure that somewhere in the new contract therein lies some advantages for you. These can include anything that makes life easier for you during the move. Have the contract include a stipend for language classes for you and the rest of the family, money for formal education or assistance obtaining a work visa and one trip to the U.S. per year.
Taking classes in the language of your new land is most important when you arrive. There is no better way to ease the transition! And it is helpful when you are exploring new cities and meeting new friends. It will make your new country feel much more like home. Be sure language training allowances are in the contract. And if it is not, don’t be afraid to ask for support.
Embrace basics and awe. Like a child who walks into a new candy store, see everything as a new opportunity. Don’t recreate the past. Open yourself up to change and new experiences. Now is the time to try new things, taste new flavors, and experience local customs. Recognize and embrace the differences. Practice the language. Take advantage of getting involved in something that speaks to your heart. Seek out community sooner rather than later. If you won’t be working, find how you can volunteer and even add to your resume if you want. Any experience as an expatriate rounds out your resume.
Be grateful. Hopefully, your spouse’s company is helpful in aiding you with all you need for the move. If they are not, be sure to do a little extra homework for your new adventure. And be grateful for the opportunity of a temporary move. Because that is what it is. Just temporary. While being in charge of the “non-corporate” aspects of life, try to have some fun as well. There is no denying that it can be a hard transition, but knowing it is short-term and knowing there is much to be gained makes it easier.
By Ilona Knudson