Making your life your own as the expat partner

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Why being proactive is important for the accompanying expat partner

Are you an accompanying expat partner or trailing spouse? Or will you be, because you are about to move overseas because of your spouse or partner’s career?

As an expat partner you may feel you have put your life on hold as you support your partner’s career. While they trot off to work on arrival, with all the colleague camaraderie and new, stimulating challenges that entails, you’re left in your new home dealing with… what?

To start with, it’s all new and exciting, “Wow, I’m actually living here!”, but after a few weeks of ‘normal life with extra challenges’ it can become very hard work. Here’s a very random selection of typical challenges many expat partners encounter, and must deal with, on their own…

  • Perhaps you can’t get a job because your visa won’t allow it. Or your child’s school finishes at lunchtime some days and you hadn’t expected that, so therefore you can’t get a job as you have to be available for your child.
  • You want to make a favourite meal but can’t find the ingredients in your new country.
  • Your child has a birthday soon, but you don’t know what the local customs are, and besides they’ve only been in school a couple of weeks – how do you know who to invite? And how do you invite them anyway, when you don’t know any of them?
  • The buses unexpectedly had a timetable change and your lack of language skills make it hard to work out what’s happening.
  • You have a niggly health issue that’s a hundred times harder to diagnose and cure in a different health system or language.

Day to day life becomes a frustrating grind, with no support. It’s hard for some people to find and make new friends. And if you do find it easy to meet new people, are you comfortable to offload your frustrations on them within days of meeting, or do you feel you have to keep on your happy face?

For some, it’s all a short step to disappointment, resentment and maybe depression. Your partner is busy in their new job and all the focus is on you having to make the effort; every single day.

To help head this off at the pass, make sure you’re not living as a shadow in somebody else’s life. Live your own life; one that feels right to you. Not the one foisted on you by other people’s expectations, or even yours.

Steer your life

As an expat partner, the emphasis is on you being proactive. Why?  Because all the people you’re (hopefully) meeting will probably already have established lives. They aren’t waiting for you to slot into their lives, so you must be the proactive one; to go out there and make friends and create your life. I know this can be hard, especially as you’re new to that country and that life. But believe me, as an expat partner whose been in your position, being proactive will give you the rewards of personal fulfilment and satisfaction like nothing else. You can’t just rely on other people making the effort, including your partner, to be the ones to ensure your happiness.

Imagine yourself as a yacht on the ocean. If you don’t take ownership of your life and steer it in the direction you want, then the wind will take you all over the place. You may lose all sense of purpose and even end up lost. Or at the very least you’ll end up doing things you don’t particularly want to do. So the most important message is

Don’t let life happen to you.

Steer it in the direction you want to go in.

Expat life is the perfect opportunity to create your life exactly as you want it to be. Find new activities you didn’t have time or opportunity to do before.

Be open to meeting new people – you may not like them, but all conversations are interesting.

Say yes to all opportunities you are offered. If you turn down invitations too soon, they’ll soon dry up.

Plan your life

Clearly, you do need to be proactive by saying “yes” to opportunities, but I think it’s a good idea to plan your life too. If you’re proactive in a completely random way you may achieve certain goals but perhaps not the one thing that would have made you truly happy and fulfilled. Maybe you’ve planned to study for a new qualification, but if you’ve not factored that into your plans, you may find you’ve left too little time to complete it.

You also need to be proactive about seeing your old friends and family back home and arranging to keep in touch. Remember, other people’s lives will move on, so you need plan your trips back home in advance, so when you go back to your home country you know your friends and family are going to be there and not on holiday. Plan visits home, and friends and family visiting you as far ahead as you can, so you can see your life mapped out on a calendar. It helps to have something to look forward to.

Even keeping in touch takes some planning, especially if there is a significant time difference between you and home. And don’t forget that sending cards and gifts takes longer from overseas so you need to be more organised and forward thinking when it comes to birthdays and Christmas.

Your comfort zone

Stepping out of your comfort zone is one of those phrases that is bandied around a lot, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and so on. Of course, it’s all very true! Life is better when you move away from the norm. However, when every hour of every day is spent outside of your comfort zone – simply just getting around and finding food – it can become draining, Mentally and physically exhausting. Therefore, it takes an even bigger leap of faith to keep on going further from your comfort zone to where the wonderful stuff lives.

Persevere, making sure you are aware of your mental and physical health, but get out there and make your life your own.

As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.
Robin S. Sharma

The great thing about being proactive is the sense of achievement it gives you. When you set out to do something – however small – and you manage it, then it gives you a true sense of worth. This is particularly relevant if you’ve moved overseas to a place where you have little sense of purpose in the early days other than supporting your partner in their new job or your children in their carefree child’s life.

So, these kinds of tasks will improve your own sense of self-esteem and confidence. Moreover, they will help you settle much more quickly in your new country.

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