Your partner is at work, the kids are settled in their new school, now what happens to you? Moving abroad can be an exciting experience with a lot of change to adapt to. Expat partners often play a key role in helping the expat focus on their job whilst ensuring everything is up and running at home. Often the first few months are spent unpacking boxes, turning rented accommodation into a home, checking children have the right equipment for their new school, identifying familiar food in new shops and all the time absorbing and adapting to many cultural differences. And then at some stage, quickly for some and more slowly for others, there reaches a point where things start to shift. The children might be settled, the shops are more easily decipherable and the pressures start to ease off. This is the time when you can start to think about you and how you might be able to spend your time abroad. Some partners choose to work whilst others prefer not to. Either way it is a period of time where support is needed to adapt and acclimatise to being in a new culture, often with a limited network and long days to fill.
For the non-working partner, integrating into the local culture often involves meeting parents through schools. But for people moving without children it can be particularly difficult to establish new connections. Hobbies and sports can be a useful avenue to network with like minded people and often online expat communities can be a helpful way to find people to spend time with. Similarly, expat clubs and professional networking groups offer the opportunity to meet people within a structured environment. Tracking these opportunities down can be challenging and it is worth exploring with the expatriating organisation if they provide Social Integration Coaching. Having a local coach is not only a useful way to tap into local knowledge but also invaluable support at a time when setting up a new life might feel a bit daunting.
For expat partners who want to work, preparation is the key. There are a number of steps that can be taken pre-departure in terms of researching opportunities and identifying equivalency needs, depending on the professional field. At this stage it is also worth exploring what you might want to do abroad – the same as in your home country? Something totally different? Part-time or full time? On arrival in the host country, the next steps are to tailor your CV to the local market, identify potential roles and prepare for interviews. Should you go through a recruitment agency or apply directly to companies? And how are interviews run in this local culture? Again, explore with the expatriating company if they are able to provide Job Search Coaching as having a coach to help you with CV writing, networking and interview practice is essential as there are so many subtle cultural differences in the way we present and market ourselves. Not only will a local coach have a useful network of contacts but they will also be able to support you through the process, at a time when having someone dedicated to your individual needs can be extremely important.
Aside from having a limited network, not understanding the local culture can also slow down both the job search process and also the integration process for non-working spouses. Having access to a cross-cultural psychometric tool to not only understand the local culture but increase self-awareness may help with this.
And of course, sometimes partners may want to work but not be legally able to and in this situation it is helpful to explore how they can use their time abroad to support their career longer term. Perhaps by studying or volunteering in a charity or organisation. Thanks to the internet many partners now study long distance and increasingly steps are being made by constantly moving partners to create a portfolio career that can be moved from country to country. This may involve running a business via a website or working purely via email.
What’s clear is that the role of the accompanying partner is an extremely important one and essential for making the expatriation a success. Yet it is not always easy and it is imperative that partner’s feel they can ask for help. Organisations are increasingly realising this and most now provide some form of partner support. After all, it takes two to tango!
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