2014 – A Year in Expatland

End of last year, I took you on a journey: the story of an expat family through a compilation of all the articles published on the blog.

The suspense was at its peak: we left this family in disarray after Peter had lost his job abroad.

Here’s what happened in 2014.

Disclaimer: Not all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. In fact, they’re all either clearly identified or aggregated parts of several real expats where the author took some liberties to change location, names and chronology. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is not purely coincidental.

It’s my aim that you’ll recognize yourself somehow in this adventure and that you’ll benefit from this experience 🙂

Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

Mary followed her husband Peter when he got a promotion abroad.

At the time, she had no idea she was a so-called trailing spouse. She was thrilled to discover a new country and couldn’t wait to start a new life.

She left behind all that she had (house, car, job, colleagues, family and friends) to throw herself into this adventure. She really didn’t know what to expect.

Ten months later, Peter lost his job.

The whole family went through a terrible time.

The situation was so nerve-wracking.

It was just a few weeks before Christmas, so needless to say that they weren’t in the mood for shopping and making gifts.

Peter and Mary had bigger worries in mind:

How should they tell the kids? Should they warn the school?

Would they lose their visa? Their healthcare coverage?

Would Peter be able to find another job? Would they need to move to another country? How long would this last?

In the current economy, they’d better prepare for an endurance race than a sprint!

Mary had a hard time coping. She needed to stay positive to support her husband, but she felt powerless.

Time was ticking away and their savings were decreasing quickly.

Mary racked her brain all day long to find a solution. Maybe she should try to find a job. After all, she was highly qualified (in her home country), she had enjoyed 7 years of successful professional experience and she was allowed to work in her host country. She was very flexible, extremely curious and talented. No wonder, she was a multipotentialite!

When Mary spoke to Peter about her idea, he wasn’t as enthusiastic.

He dreaded becoming a male trailing spouse.

He remembered his female colleague Ashley telling him about her husband who struggled quite a lot. On top of occupying a high position in the company, Ashley had to support him, too.

Workload combined with emotional turmoil caused burnout and depression in her family. Luckily, Ashley shared with him four lessons she had learned so he wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

This recollection boosted Peter’s motivation to find a job at all costs. He didn’t limit himself to his current city. He applied for positions located all around the world: Brazil, Denmark, China and  Singapore. Thanks to job hunting tips from an expert, he landed multiple interviews.

Each time, Mary found herself skimming the Internet to look for standards of living, international schools, health and safety information.

Each time, her hopes would raise… and dash.

In order to deal with the stress of this uncertainty, she desperately needed to vent. But she also found herself quite isolated: she didn’t know who she could rely on. She didn’t want people to gossip. Loneliness made her sick!

So she took a bold stance and decided to join a peer support group — one that proved to be an invaluable help. There, she made a new friend, Sally. She was astonished at how quickly they became so close. Sally was living in another continent and had moved three years ago. She understood exactly what she was going through!

When Mary confided in her about her worries, Sally warned her: she should take good care of herself. But Mary came up with 9 excuses to avoid self-care. She believed 3 myths that made her gamble with her life. She hadn’t build up good habits and it was hard to stay focused. Learning to take care of herself in such a stressful time was not easy.

Mary also wondered: how would they manage the situation with the children?

She couldn’t ask her parents for advice. They had lived their whole lives in the same city and worked with the same employer.

Peter and Mary realized they were a different kind of parents: they were Third Culture Parents.

They had particular challenges of their own and they needed to invent their own parenting style. They learned the hard way that there were 6 things their Third Culture Kids didn’t want to hear.

So they didn’t fiddle around trying to smooth over or stifle their children’s reactions. They gave them a milestone they knew they could stick to: the children would finish the current school year. Mary was surprised at how well the kids handled the situation!

After seven months of intense searching, Peter landed a job: not only was it in the same city, but — cherry on the cake — he managed to get an even better position! 

Mary couldn’t wait to share with Sally the 7 truths she learned along the way to survive her partner’s job loss.

She was so happy.

They could finally relax and celebrate.

What a relief!

While excited to report to her friend the progress they had made, she heard in Sally’s voice that she wasn’t feeling well.

What was going on? Sally was struggling. She was exhausted.  And her parents were chasing her to spend Christmas back “home”.

When Sally thought of the stress involved in dragging along her grumpy teenagers — who only seemed to be passionate about their computer — and her tired husband — who never particularly enjoyed her parents — she didn’t have the strength to negotiate another holiday.

Especially since her couple relationship was out of balance. She wanted to save her marriage first before it was too late.

Mary told Sally that she needed to have some difficult conversations. But Sally was reluctant. She was scared. She felt guilty. She had such mixed feelings: was she now a bad daughter because she wasn’t motivated enough to visit her parents who missed their grandchildren so much?

Luckily, Mary could help. She recommended 12 tips for staying close with grandchildren that Sally could provide to her mum. Sure, this required hard work but worth a try.

Mary also reminded Sally of her own advice: she should take care of herself. And Mary gave her four laws to do exactly that while taking care of her parents. That came in handy!

But wait. The phone is ringing. It’s Sally’s mother-in-law. She wants to come for New Year’s Eve.

Help!

What’s going to happen in Sally’s life in 2015? What about Peter, Mary and the children?

Life is like riding a bicycle.

To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

said Albert Einstein

Thanks for your support.

It’s a blessing to share this journey with you.

Best of 2014

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Comments

  1. What a great story to feel comfortable! Shows there are many obstacles to prevent you reach your goal or make your ride slower but there are always good things waiting somewhere for you! So let’s don’t stop being positive and having hopes.. Thank you for this great article with links, it’s a perfect summary.. I’m starting my week with a great energy 🙂
    Happy new year!

    • Delighted you liked the story and you feel energized. That’s awesome 🙂 Thank you for the feedback. Wishing you a wonderful 2015 as well.

  2. Cara Anne,
    thank you for your passion, work and most of all LOVE!
    Have a super time with your family!
    Happy, happy 2015 from Canberra
    Elena & Family

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