We all need support sometimes and I’m not talking about the type of support offered by Spanx that makes you look super-svelte in your figure hugging cocktail dress. I’m talking about the emotional and practical support we get from our families, our communities and our friends.
As accompanying partners we often find ourselves in new countries with an overwhelming list of things to do and emotional issues to deal with but we are doing it all without any of our familiar sources of support. Sometimes we even feel that, because many of the tasks are should be simple (they would be if we were on familiar territory) or perhaps because we are no longer bringing in an income, we should be doing everything ourselves.So for many accompanying partners, before we even begin to worry about where to find help, we have to admit that we need it.
That might mean any or all of the following:
• acknowledging that we can’t do it all by ourselves
• acknowledging that, even if we can do it all ourselves, it’s going to make us miserable in the process
• allowing ourselves to feel that we are deserving of support and that it is not a sign of weakness or incompetence to ask for it (many people hold these beliefs without even realising that they do)
• allowing ourselves to be open to sources of help and support so that when one presents itself, we are open to receiving it.
Having opened the door to allowing ourselves to be supported, where do we look for the support we need.
1. Team up with other people in the same situation
Form alliances with other newcomers (usually identifiable by a “rabbit caught in the headlights expression) and suggest helping each other. Look after her children so that she can take delivery of her household goods without worrying that her youngest might be “helping” to unpack the crystal. She can return the favour when your shipment arrives. You may never be best friends but you can certainly support each other. This group can also provide essential emotional support. They are experiencing similar things at similar times so quite simply, they get it. They understand what you are feeling because they are feeling it too. They can make you feel heard.
2. Find a expat mentor
Most experienced expats in a location are very willing to share the wisdom that they have gained from years of living there, in fact many will be flattered that you asked, so don’t be afraid to ask them for information and advice. Why spend hours scouring websites to find a service you need when you can ask someone for a recommendation. This group can also help prepare you for some of the vagaries of expat life in your new country. They’ve been there done that and they’ve got a great story about it .
3. Join a women’s group
Women’s groups can be a great way to meet people and can be a great source of information about your new community, but before you sign up make sure its one that fits with your own profile. I joined a couple of women’s groups when I lived in Switzerland over 10 years ago and my first-born was a baby. I did very little with them because they were populated by empty nesters. I wasn’t interested in joining a bridge group and they certainly didn’t want to listen to a screaming baby over lunch. So before you join be clear on what you hope to get out of being a member (career networking, like minded friends, interesting activities?) and make sure your chosen group fits that profile.
4. Ask your partner
Your partner may not even know that you are struggling and may be horrified to discover that you need help, so don’t be afraid to ask. Use this resource judiciously though as your partner is probably experiencing his or her own challenges and may even feel guilty about uprooting the family in the first place. Using your partner as a crutch to solve all of your problems will only cause additional stress in an already stressful situation. Don’t forget too that your partner needs help and support too, so don’t forget to reciprocate.
5. Use all the services that have been provided by your sponsoring organisation.
Make sure that you are aware of all of the resources that are available to you and your family as part of your relocation package. Often additional help is available but companies, being companies, won’t volunteer the service. When I moved to the US for the second time, I knew I was eligible to apply for a work permit. I also knew that my husband’s employer offered assistance with the application process but it wasn’t automatically offered as part of our relocation assistance. I had to ask for it.
6. Pay for it
In an environment where your usual forms of support are absent, sometimes the only possible way to fill a support gap is to pay for the support you need. For some people, particularly those who have stopped working, paying for a service when you are not earning can seem like an extravagant luxury. Other expats get stuck in the mentality that their sponsoring organisation should pay for all additional costs that arise as a result of being overseas and that if the company doesn’t pay for something, they certainly won’t. Often however, denying yourself of a service that you need has long term consequences for you or your family. So if you need babysitting, coaching, career counselling, assistance navigating bureaucracy or another service and your company won’t pay for it, consider investing in yourself, your family and your happiness by paying for the service yourself.
Of course the internet can be a great source of support for expat and there is a wealth of information available about life in specific countries and expat life in general. But the internet can also be a great source of community for expats to share information, experiences and advice. You’ll find groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other forums which are all aimed at supporting expats. I was recently lucky to be a co-host of the first Expat Partner Online Coffee which brought a group of expats, all in their own homes around the world, together to talk live to each other about their expat experience.
Support can come from many different places if you’re ready to ask for it and receive it. What has held you back from asking for support? Where did you find support in expat life? Share your experiences (good and bad) in the comments below.
Evelyn Simpson is a personal development coach who works with the accompanying partners of expats helping them to transition to expat life and to find happiness and fulfilment in their lives overseas. Evelyn has spent almost all of her adult life living as an expat on 3 continents and in 5 countries. She’s been a working expat, an accompanying partner and has founded her own portable business, The Smart Expat, while overseas. Evelyn and her Australian husband have two children who have yet to live in either of their passport countries.
You can learn more about Evelyn and her work at www.thesmartexpat.com where she blogs regularly about expat life.