At this time of the year, many expat families relocate to new destinations. While they unpack their personal belongings, many also take their portable careers out of their suitcase. If like me, you are a partner who has built a portable career to keep on working while following her husband, I invite you to read my reflection on the affect relocation can have on your work.
Relocating to a new country is in most cases a big challenge, especially if children are involved in the move. It takes time before the whole family finds its place and feels confident in the new setting. Generally speaking, and though the number of accompanying men is on the rise, women will be the ones with a leading role through the adaptation process for every family members. Because they don’t have to go to a working place or to a school every day, it is given for granted that they will take care of untangling the unknown and create a functioning routine, where all the uncertainty of dealing with new procedures and cultural codes is cleared.
This is a heavy job and quite an ungrateful one. Although situations and rhythms can vary enormously according to factors like culture of origin, previous destination, degree of complexity of the new country in relation to past experiences, just to name a few, it can take up to one year (in some cases even more) before every member of the family has satisfactorily completed the process of adapting to the new reality.
Until that point, the expat woman is at the forefront in many ways. She will be the moral buffer for husband and children who come back home overwhelmed by the task of quickly have to learn how to function in a mysterious set of new rules; she will have to deal with practicalities that would take her ten minutes in her home country, but that in the new destination can chip away all sense of confidence necessary to organise things; she will be the one in charge of forging new friendships to give the family that sense of social solidity necessary to thrive in the new setting; because she has no immediate working engagements, she will be expected to follow the children’s school life, attending meetings, talking to teachers, getting to know the parents of the children’s schoolmates and making sure all the school materials, uniforms, lunch-boxes etc. are thoroughly organised and functioning.
All this takes a lot of time and not only. It takes energy, motivation, and engagement. Depending on the person you are, it can be an exciting and rewarding process or a tiresome and troubled one. Or maybe a bit of both. In any case, relocating to a new country for the accompanying partner might mean to put her career on hold or to drastically reduce the working rhythms.
This can be frustrating, but there are some points that might be worth the while to keep in mind in order to ease the process and live a satisfactory mobile life:
- getting installed and helping the family find their marks is a wonderful chance to penetrate the local culture. Besides the richness of the experience per se, this will prove useful when the time comes to go back to a working project;
- relocating means facing a lot of changes, which usually results in a more creative mood. Maybe while unpacking and discovering, you also get new ideas and inspiration, which might need a bit of time to be put into action;
- the first period in a country is usually when you are more keen to look for and make new contacts – the children’s school, the neighbors, the expat association, they all give a chance to meet new people. Needless to say, people are what you’ll need when the moment comes to go back to your working project, both if you are looking for employment or if you have to launch your business in the new country;
- at the same time, while waiting for the routine to solidify, you might have moments that have not been occupied by social engagements and such, and could give you precious time to start reflecting quietly on your next professional move;
- when the whole family is well settled, you’ll feel more relaxed and happy, and will feel comfortable to go back to work on your professional project.
Claudia was originally an interpreter and translator. Claudia became a serial expat in 1989 when she followed her husband abroad. She lived in Sudan, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Congo, Honduras, Peru, Jerusalem, and Indonesia. She is presently in her native Italy, waiting for her next destination.
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