The first time I heard the term ‘trailing spouse’ was one month before I was set to move abroad with my husband. A trailing spouse is described by Expatriate Connection as:
“the partner following his/her spouse on assignment abroad…[t]he “trailing spouse” is the anchor in a successful relocation process. It’s the central element around which everything falls into place. While the working employee goes to work, the trailing spouse is in charge of all the “non-corporate” aspects of life for ALL family members: the children of course but the working partner and herself as well.”
I have to admit, the term is a little degrading and implies I’m a lost puppy following my partner around wherever he wishes to go. But it also captures exactly how lost I felt at the time before our move.
I did feel as if I was just trailing along at times. And don’t get me wrong, being able to live in another country is incredible but having to give up your career, your dreams and leave family and friends behind to start a new life somewhere can be incredibly daunting.
Moving abroad can cause you to have a bit of an identity crisis especially when coupled with culture shock. Below I’ve listed the most important points that really helped me adapt and find success in living abroad.
Negotiate Yourself Into The Contract
As a trailing spouse, make sure you know full well what you are signing up for, and that the contract your partner signs for work is beneficial to both you and your partner.
Things you may want to ask to be included into the contract are language courses for yourself (so you are able to meet locals), a working visa (if applicable), health care, your flights and your luggage for the move (the company may only cover your partner, this is very unlikely but you still need to make sure they are planning to cover the cost for you to move as well), a vehicle and/or transit passes, and anything else you might need.
My opinion is, if you don’t ask for it you’ll never get it. If there is anything that would make you feel more at home, ask the company. They may be able to provide it for you.
Remember, you are giving up a lot to make the move. I’m not saying you should have a laundry list of demands for yourself, but have a reasonable list of some things you may wish to negotiate into the contract.
Maintain Your Relationships
Now a days it is so easy to stay connected. Set aside time to speak with those you love. Here are a few ideas:
- Skype yourself in during holidays and family gatherings (or weekly phone conversations)
- Watch a movie together (log onto Netflix and hit play at the same time)
- Read the same book
- Write each other letters to be delivered by snail mail
- Send flowers to let your family know you are thinking of them
The little things help remind you that you are not alone even though you may feel completely disconnected from your community back home.
Develop Skills You Can Contract Out
My husband plays hockey, meaning that we are only living abroad for the duration of the hockey season. During the off season, we come back home to Canada and then at the end of July we have to move again. This leaves me with almost zero possibility of finding a stable job.
I decided to learn graphic and web design so I could become an online branding specialist. These skills complemented my marketing degree, and allow me to work on my own, no matter where we are living.
Find something you enjoy doing, and turn it into a source of income.
Maybe you are unable to work due to visa specifications, in which case freelancing would be out of the question.
Volunteering in your new community is an excellent way to get to know some locals. You can make new friends and give your new life abroad purpose through volunteering.
Many organizations also need virtual volunteers such as the United Nations Volunteers Programme. Virtually volunteering is incredible as you can work on projects from all over the world without having to physically go anywhere. This is great for those who can’t speak the language where they are living.
Find Expat Communities
Facebook is a great place to start looking for local expat communities within your new home. Also, check out www.reddit.com/r/YOUR-NEW-HOME (replace YOUR-NEW-HOME with the name of your city) to bring up discussion boards from where you will be living. Reddit can be a good place to meet locals and ask questions.
Another great group is InterNations which allows you to connect with other expats in your city.
Utilize Spouse Support Services
Talk with your spouse’s company and see if they provide any support for trailing spouses.
Has there been something you’ve always wanted to do? When we moved to Denmark, I looked into joining a choir, joining dance classes and taking a public speaking class. I scoured the entire town for little groups I could join.
I also took advantage of all the free online courses you can find online. You can find many free educational resources to learn graphic design in my blog post about how I learnt graphic design without going to school.
If graphic design isn’t something you are interested in, no need to worry. There are a ton of free online resources to find a class to take.
Start a Blog
Setting up a simple blog is free and easy. Not to mention it will give you a little project to work on if you can’t find any volunteering or work.
Check out my detailed guide to starting a successful blog!
Easier said than done, but staying positive is key. Tyler and I make sure we are open with one another about how we are feeling. Our community is also an incredible support network. Visiting one of our new friends can cure a bad day in an instant. Some of our new friends are locals, and some are trailing spouses like myself.
If I didn’t have my little community I wouldn’t feel as at home as I do. Being apart of our community is the most important piece of my success abroad.
Keep in mind that you will probably have a few bad days. Don’t expect everything to come easily to you. It takes a lot of work to feel at home somewhere foreign and you must be willing to leave your comfort zone.
I’m a homebody – I love staying in but I knew that if I stayed in all the time I would become miserable and unhappy abroad. I promised myself that if I ever got invited out, I would always say ‘yes’.
As an introvert, this really caused me to leave my comfort-zone but was the best tactic to growing my relationships and happiness.
Have you ever moved somewhere new? How did you cope? Leave any tips below!