The reluctant expat

Carole Hallett MobbsChallenges & difficulties, Preparation & Planning, Well-being & Health19 Comments

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One half of a couple doesn't want to move overseas; tug of war with a suitcase

One half of a couple doesn't want to move abroad; tug of war with a suitcase

What if you don’t want to move overseas?

Not all overseas relocations are a welcome and exciting experience. Sometimes the news of a potential posting causes your heart to drop into your shoes while depression and resentment creep into its place.

Reasons for this reluctance can be numerous and variable, yet sometimes those explanations aren’t immediately obvious or even logical. You just know you don’t want to go.

If it helps, there are expats all over the world in the same situation as you. Not everybody enjoys every country. However, one person’s ‘hardship’ is another person’s adventure paradise. Everyone is different, with different problems and different ideals and therefore, one solution does not ‘fit all’.

If you are a trailing spouse, you may feel that you lack control over your own life because decisions are generally taken away from you. Occasionally this feeling can turn into anger against your partner, the employer, the country and even yourself… obviously none of these are good feelings.

If you are in this situation, it’s important to have open and frank discussions with your partner, and the employer. Not talking about your qualms will allow the resentment to fester and that can only end badly.


Your mind-set before the move will have a bearing on how you cope with your relocation and new life. If you think you’re going to have a great time, you probably will; if you think you’re going to have an awful time, you almost certainly will. A negative frame of mind has the potential to ruin an international assignment, and possibly even break up your family. Be aware that negative feelings will be picked up by your children, so your attitude will influence their own adjustment, leading to even more problems.

Identifying precisely why you’re having difficulties getting to grips with a move is your first priority. Once you recognise the problems, solving the issue is easier.

It may not be as straightforward as having a tangible reason; you may have to delve a little deeper into your subconscious to discover the main issue. This is called the ‘what’s stopping you factor’  as recommended by Nicola McCall of Live Life Now Coaching. Ask yourself, “What’s stopping me from looking forward to this?” or “What would help me make this move happily?” and write down your thoughts and feelings in answer to this question. They may surprise you.

Prior experience of that country

Maybe you’ve taken against the move because you’ve already visited or lived in that country and didn’t like it for whatever reason.

The key to coping with this issue is to remember that this new relocation to the same country will be different. Similar, probably. Different, definitely. Why would it be the same? You have changed over time, the children are older, the country will have altered, and the friends you make will be different. In fact, everything will be different.

Of course, there may well still be issues you find hard to overcome. In this case, the adage ‘forewarned is forearmed’ will stand you in good stead. You know what you don’t like about the place and can therefore plan strategies to avoid or overcome them.

You may find it helpful to obtain a tourist book of the area and plan to view the place as if you are a tourist in the initial stages of your relocation. You might discover new interests and a fresh insight into the culture.

Focus on the benefits to you and your family and work out ways to tolerate the things you cannot change.

Be location independent; find something fulfilling you can participate in regardless of your global location.

Pre-conceived ideas about a country

Are you making assumptions about a relocation based on nothing more than pre-conceived ideas? Where did these notions come from? Are they valid? Open your mind and don’t allow other people’s thoughts have space in your head. Again, cold, hard research will help you here. Join online forums to find out the ‘real deal’ on the ground from people who are there.

It’s also vital to remember that everyone is different, as I mentioned before, and one person’s heaven is another’s hell, so take other people’s advice on that country with a pinch of salt.

Change your perception

Let go of the past. This is especially important if you found your last home to be fantastic, but do attempt to look forward and not back. I must admit to finding this part the hardest to do, but living in the past is unhealthy and ultimately holds you back from living in the present. Plan things to look forward to, outings, holidays, parties, for example.

Embrace all the opportunities a place has to offer. These may not be immediately obvious but look around and you should find something, whether it is proximity to another country you’d like to visit or the opportunity to try a new hobby or sport.

Consider seeking outside help. Using a professional life coach can help you change your outlook. Cross-cultural and relocation coaches are very experienced in dealing with this issue and have heaps of advice to offer and methods of dealing with your specific problems.

If you really cannot reconcile yourself to this move in a positive mind-set, then it may help you to radically re-evaluate your questions.

Try this one: “What would happen if I DON’T go?” What are the positives of staying versus the negatives of going: what are the positives of going versus the negatives of staying. How would this impact on your family?

It’s vitally important that you acknowledge and admit your concerns about the relocation. Not to do so can make life extremely difficult for you, and if you’re not happy then that will filter out to the other members of your family too. It is acknowledged by many that the main reason that an overseas posting fails – ie you return to your home country earlier than expected – is to do with family problems. So make the effort to prevent all the angst before it takes hold.

Have you ever been in this position? How did you deal with it and what was the outcome? Do share your experiences in the comments below – you can help others!

Please also see ‘Overcome relocation reluctance‘ for more tips on what to do when you moving abroad troubles you.


Other articles on this subject:

The reluctant expat

Carole Hallett MobbsChallenges & difficulties, Preparation & Planning, Well-being & Health19 Comments

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