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SERIES: Following Spouses on International Assignments, article 2 of 5

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Turn your expatriate chapter in a time for renewal, a time to broaden your horizons and create a vibrantly positive experience.

Kelly left her job and the buzzing life of Manhattan to follow her spouse in Geneva. Now, alone in a small French village, she is  facing a sense of disorientation, a loss of confidence and she is resenting the loss of financial independence that ensued her move. The imminent visit of her mother is her only source of joy.

Like many “trailing spouses” after the initial settling phase Kelly came to the realisation that she had not planned past the actual move. She was experiencing that nagging “Now, what?” feeling of those who have successfully completed “phase one” but have no clue on what to do next.

Like Kelly, many expatriate spouses experience a dip in their morale within a few months from their arrival. They have sense of disorientation, often a loss of confidence, and lament the loss of financial independence. They may face homesickness, cultural distress and sometime a profound sense of isolation that they attempt to actively hide and, sometimes, find hard to even admit to themselves. For some guilt and resentment creep into their relationships with devastating consequences!

Those of us who have been expatriates know well that beyond the glamor there can be a dismaying reality of loneliness and isolation and failing to adapt to a new way of life. It does not have to be this way, however. With a support network, introspection and an honest self-assessment, it is really possible to transform the expatriate chapter in a time for renewal, a time to broaden one’s horizons and create a vibrantly positive experience.

In my work as an executive coach in a prestigious international business school, I often get to work with expatriate executives. I help them to master heart-to-heart dialogues with their teams and to ultimately become influential leaders who can seamlessly lead people beyond cultures and borders. I have often found that these executives, focused as they are on making their part of the equation work, they may, at times, fail to realise what is happening at home until the situation hits crisis point. So keeping the dialogue open and tackling issues earlier is one way to prevent crises.

I am acutely aware that the expatriate experience is very personal and it can vary immensely. So many factors come into play: The location, the financial situation, the quality of the connection between spouses, the age of the children and, last but not least, the life style and the opportunities that the hosting country offers. It is my observation, however, that the common thread that links successful expatriates is the ability to develop and sustain a positive outlook. Regardless of personal circumstances, it is your attitude that will ultimately make the difference that makes the difference between heaven and hell in the expatriate paradise. Keep open, be curious rather than judgemental.

As a member of the expatriate community I ultimately believe that we have a great role to play in showing that a world with no borders is a world that transcends boundaries, that lives beyond cultures where we can and must peacefully coexist. Expats are the natural ambassadors of tomorrow’s world.

In my experience of living in the expatriate communities of Geneva, London and Los Angeles and from stories related to me by expatriates from all over the world whom I met in the past 15 years I have observed different ways spouses cope with moving with their loved ones. While any classification may appear somewhat restrictive and limiting it can be helpful to evaluate one’s starting point and discover how to move forward. In the next few articles of this series we will meet spouses at different stages of their expat journey.

Please share your journey by commenting below. Find your place around this virtual campfire so that we can all benefit from each others’ experiences.

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2 comments

  1. I wasn’t really an expat but when I moved with my American husband from Berlin, Germany to the U.S., we ended up in paradise, aka Hawaii. So I had nothing to complain about. It was a great experience. Living in New York now, I still have a strong bond with Hawaii and go there as often as I can. As a matter of fact, I even devoted an entire chapter of my novel Desperate Pursuit in Venice to Maui, Hawaii, where the two main characters share their first vacation as a couple together. 

  2. I too have left my country to follow my husband to London where he was born. 
    It was nice and exciting for the first month then things became quite difficult. I still tried my best in supporting him achieve his career goals.
    10 yrs on and the stresses of being in London and other marital stresses,  we are now divorcing. I however, have now decided to stay in London and now explore and enjoy London properly.

    Lovely article. Looking forward to more. 

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