SERIES: Following Spouses on International Assignments, article 3 of 5

Picture a Geneva potluck lunch on a sunny Tuesday. Israeli pita and falafels are proudly displayed next to a geometrically arranged plate of Japanese sushi. Burgers are on the grill, the greek salad is promptly being unwrapped. Swedish cakes and Italian tiramisu await in stand by. A multitude of languages are spoken, English is our “lingua franca” spoken with different accents and level of proficiencies. We hold twenty different passports, but we share one common trait. We are all expats.

We deal with change in different ways. Some of us embrace it, some of us tolerate it, some of us loathe it, but we all eventually find our own strategy to cope with the exceptional circumstance of leaving all that we know behind and start a new life.

Because of my work and personal experience I have observed different ways spouses come to cope with their new world with varying degrees of success. Stereotyping is always reductive as reality is far more nuanced; it can, however, be a way to start our exploration. Most  spouses I have met fall in one of the ten profiles we will explore in this article and the next one. Each profile bears its opportunities and its challenges.


They have just arrived: their time and efforts are focused on creating livable conditions for their family. This is a stressful time or it can be an exciting time depending on individual preference and circumstances. This period may last a few weeks up to a year or so and for some people involves different moves, from a temporary accommodation to more permanent housing. The “just landed” spouses concentrates on the here and now, rejoice when the utilities are finally connected and when the last moving box is finally flattened out. Their short-term focus may detract them to plan ahead and may face a sudden fall when the landing phase comes to an end. You may remember Kelly from earlier in the series. She was a recently landed who was coming to terms with the fact that she had successfully dealt with the move and she had nothing else to looking forward to.


They have seamlessly integrated in their local community, they act like the hosts of the party. They have both expat and local friends, speak the language of the hosting country and call the hosting country home as much as their homeland. These are expats that are likely to have been in the hosting country for a long period of time, often ten or fifteen years. Life is good and their greater challenge may come later, if and when they choose to return “home”, a home where they no longer belong and connect with.


They are first and foremost parents! They have a clear sense of mission and their focus is somewhat location independent. Often these are the parents of younger children who relish the idea of spending more time with their little ones. Sometimes they are so busy with their children that it really makes little difference in which country they happen to be. They may suffer from the lack of a support network at the outset, but generally manage to create connections to meet their childcare needs. Their challenge may stem from raising TCK and baking too many cookies for the International School PTSA.


They know their experience has a defined time frame. These are those expat spouses who have a very clear perception that the expatriate condition has a finite duration. To them being abroad feels very much like an never ending holiday, an opportunity to travel and enjoy new experiences. And when the budget allows it, they make a point to travel extensively throughout the region. While they are in a very fortunate position they may fail to integrate with the local community.


They have portable careers: these are expat spouses who have created a career for themselves that is location independent. For them, once their laptop is connected, it is “business as usual”, their traveling does not affect their client base and their productivity, they still continue to enjoy what they always did, their moving has no bearing on their professional identity and their financial freedom.

To be continued…

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