Exactly a year ago, Peter lost his job. His European office closed a few weeks before Christmas. The whole family was in shock.
Back then, I wrote an article to share their concerns and offer support from the expat community.
Today we get the follow-up and learn the truths uncovered along the way.
Losing one’s job is stressful. To say the least.
But when you live abroad as an expat, it means losing so much more:
- Your visa (usually sponsored by the company)
- Your health care coverage for the whole family
- Your housing and car(s)
- Your international school fees
The whole family is thrown into chaos and uncertainty.
Life literally can stop. Often, brutally.
28 days (!) is how much time you have to pack up and leave the country under a business-sponsored visa in Australia when the working partner loses their position.
In the current economy situation, nobody’s job is safe.
And it’s a difficult topic to discuss because of all the emotional baggage attached to it.
You can feel guilty because you didn’t see it coming soon enough. Others may think you’re incompetent. You can be scared because the international school or your landlord may think you won’t be able to pay your bills any longer.
So how do you manage such a situation?
Today, Mary, Peter’s wife, gives us an update on what’s happened over the past year and the lessons they learned along the way.
Food for thought…
How to handle the news
“We told our children the second day my husband stayed at home. They had already heard some conversations and became immediately very suspicious. We explained the situation: Dad would have to find a new job. The children wanted to know if we’ d be able to stay here and I told them we couldn’t make promises. We assured them though that they would finish their current year at the same school. They also wanted to know how this new situation would affect their lives. We told them nothing would change except that we wouldn’t go to restaurants or on holidays for a while. My older son was happy: he prefers to stay at home on his computer!”
Children are experts at noticing changes — whether consciously or unconsciously. Telling them the truth helps them adapt to situations on a safe ground. After all, they prove to be very pragmatic!
“We never mentioned this unemployment situation at school. I only informed two other mums there who are my friends. They were very supportive during the almost seven months it lasted. The husband of one of them, who had been in the same situation the year before, gave my partner precious advice and a very useful contacts’ list.”
People who’ve been in the same situation and can relate to what you’re going through are priceless. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for their support.
“Our family and closest friends already knew there was a possibility that the international office would close, so it was easy to tell them – they were worried, but way too optimistic! We almost felt they weren’ t giving the full attention and value to our problem.”
Family and friends don’t want to make you feel badly about your situation. They may also be embarrassed and not know how to react. This may trigger fear, a fear that they don’t want to face themselves, making them shy away. Because they’re emotionally involved, you may not feel comfortable confiding in them: you don’t want to burden them with your worries or seem weak. Chances are you’ll have to cope without relying on them.
How to handle the transition period
“Peter and I talked a lot about what happened. It helped us ease our pain and accept the situation. We also established a daily routine and learned how to live together 24/7, a new experience for us. We’ d try to be positive and calm – but eventually, we started being more negative and losing our nerves. At around 6 months – it was really hard to stay positive…”
Searching for a job is a full-time task! In the current economy, you’d better prepare for a long distance race, rather than a sprint. It’s important to set your expectations right from the beginning and organize your life accordingly.
“After we had this initial talk with our children, they just went on with their normal life, with no noticeable worries. But about five months later, when they found out that there was a real and probable possibility of moving to Denmark, they became much more anxious.”
Being able to mitigate uncertainty with certainty (finishing the school year) helps. Being an expat family means also that the world is your playground. You don’t limit yourself to one country. With each potential job offer abroad, you’re thrown into a frenzy of researching all about housing, schooling, standard of living, health and safety factors in the new country. New hopes are raised… and dashed. Moving elsewhere potentially means further losses that may revive old wounds. It’s an extremely stressful period.
“What helped me most was talking to my friends, the ones here in Europe and the ones back in my home country. I always updated them with all the job interviews at recruitment agencies and companies. Peter went to around 50 interviews in 7 months!
My friends knew everything – the ones he lost, the ones that went on…
That gave me hope as there was always a real possibility of something happening. Peter had at least two job interviews in process at the same time, sometimes five or six!
What stressed me most: the uncertainty of the future: not knowing where the children would go to school next year, not knowing if I should inform the school we would leave in the summer, worrying about losing all our savings, worrying about my husband’s career being destroyed. My health started to deteriorate. Add to this the local health system is too laid back for me. Months number five and six were particularly difficult as I had to keep being strong to support my husband and at the same time was sick and weak.”
Stress takes a toll on the whole family as all the members depend on the job of the working partner. Taking care of oneself — physically and emotionally — is an absolute must in those conditions. Easier said than done. However, if you’re well prepared and you’re already practicing good habits, you should have a headstart on this.
The Ending – All’s well that ends well
“Peter answered a job offer at an English job website called Indeed, as so many times before – it was a position here in our city and although not exactly what he would like, he thought he had nothing to lose. So he applied.
It wasn’t tricky at all – it was strangely easy and quick – a few interviews at the company and they made him an offer!
He had just lost two fabulous opportunities, one in Denmark and one in Holland that had very long and exhausting processes, so this one felt completely surreal!
We were relieved. It was amazing that he found a job in the same city!
We went on holidays for a bit afterward and could finally relax.!
Even in the most difficult situations, there is hope. It’s important to bear it in mind. The solution can come from totally unexpected sources.
Cherry on the cake?
Peter is now much happier than he used to be in his previous job!
Losing a job abroad is an extremely stressful situation. Throw in some strong shame and guilt feelings and you end up with a topic that’s literally taboo. However when you realize that you’re not the first to walk down that path, it makes it easier for you to talk about it with others. And THAT brings great comfort and solace in such a difficult situation.
Now your turn, what’s your story about unemployment abroad? What did you learn?
To protect privacy, Peter and Mary are not the real names.