How To Not Lose Your Mind When You Lose Your Job Abroad

This article is inspired by a true story that happened two weeks ago to someone from our community, here at Expatriate Connection. Legal issues are still being discussed and real names can’t be disclosed. Nevertheless, we can all support this expat family and learn from this experience.

Fired abroad? Not only a job less...

Fired abroad: Not only a job less…

While most of us are preparing ourselves for the holidays, life doesn’t stop.

“Peter” knew his company was struggling.

However, he didn’t expect the brutal news.

Last Monday his boss gathered the staff – 15 people in total – and gravely announced:

“I have bad news. It’s over. The headquarters decided to shut down our office. As from today, all activity is cancelled. I’ll hand to each of you the legal documents in a minute. Then I’d like you to take your belongings and to go back home.”

Peter felt as if the ground fell away beneath his feet.
A shockwave ran through his body.
One word resonated in his mind: jobless.
The dreaded situation was now a fact.

Peter’s mind raced. Not only was he losing his job…

The shocking truth about losing your job abroad

Because he is an expatriate, Peter would also lose his visa (sponsored by the company), the rent of his apartment, the car, the tuition fees of the international school for his children, and the healthcare coverage for his whole family.

How was his wife going to react? She resigned from her job to follow him abroad. She was already struggling in the last few months, grieving the loss of her professional identity, the loss of her financial independence, the imbalance in the couple.

Without job abroad, Peter felt like his whole life had collapsed.

Great uncertainty is now hanging over his future and the future of the whole family.

Uncertainty is extremely stressful

Will the family get a visa extension to leave Peter some time to find another job in the same city?

Are the kids going to finish their school year here? Will they have to relocate back in the home country? The economical situation over there is even worse than where they currently are. Moreover, they have nowhere to go. They sold their house when they moved. What if Peter can’t find another job?

Is he entitled to unemployment benefits?

Without being able to plan anything, Peter’s wife felt extremely unsettled.

She was struggling to manage her mixed feelings. She acknowledged she’d never enjoyed so much spending quality time with the kids. She was proud of  them speaking another language. She widened her horizon, discovering a new culture, new traditions. She met lots of people from all over the world and managed to make two very close friends. She was grateful for all this new experience.

But she was resenting her husband for changing jobs all the time (even if for once, he didn’t want to!), resenting herself for not having a paid job, feeling so powerless in spite of her PhD. She was angry at the company throwing whole families in chaos, playing with them as if they were pawns on a chessboard. She was anxious to tell the truth to the kids. Should they know? Should the school know? Should their friends know?

To the complexity of the situation, she was afraid of getting negative reactions or embarrassing questions. She still had to “digest” the news for herself.

How to take charge of your stress

Ambiguity is scary. In our Western culture, we’ve been taught to take control of our life, set goals, reach objectives. We’re used to plan, organize, make decisions. When we lose this ability, we feel disoriented.

This situation is extremely stressful. Add to ambiguity the multiple losses as well. Peter will have to grieve his job, the closure of the office, the loss of the daily interactions with his colleagues. All the other family members will also suffer from the loss of their sense of safety, protection and care provided by the company and the revenue Peter used to earn.

Inspired by the work of Pauline Boss (therapist who dedicated her career to study ambiguity and ambiguous loss) together with my own experience, here are 5 suggestions to cope with this tricky situation.

1. Control what you can – Let go of everything else

Peter can do his best to negotiate a more favorable termination agreement. He can gather information and spend time with a lawyer looking at his options. He can ask for the necessary documents and file for unemployment benefits.

He can’t control however whether his employer will grant him a favor.

By working on accomplishing tasks within your reach, you regain a sense of control in your life.  You can’t predict the outcome but you can quiet your mind. You did your best.

Some people find ambiguity so uncomfortable that they come to deny reality. They make arbitrary choices to get out of the limbo. They act either as if nothing had happened or as if everything was already finished. This is dangerous of course.

Embrace ambiguity instead of resisting it. How hard this may sound, this is what will lower your stress level.

2. Trust your fate

When you’ve done everything you could possibly think of, when you’ve tried your best, you can only have faith. Faith that the odds – God – Allah will be with you.

Faith in your fate: not everything will go wrong, there is somewhere a light at the end of the tunnel. And what if this scary situation proved to be a major opportunity in your life? Of course now, you can’t conceive it but in a few months or years, you might be surprised…

3. Don’t neglect your body

Get enough sleep, eat healthy.

Sleep deprivation and erratic diet patterns are detrimental for your morale. You don’t need to be put down but to be lifted up.

On the same note, don’t self medicate with alcohol or other drugs.

4. Immediate family, assemble!

In stressful times, people tend to withdraw from each other. And this makes it a burden much more difficult to bear for each family member. But if you chose to pay closer attention to your partner and your children, you’ll have a great ooportunity to strengthen your family ties and find comfort in supporting one another.

To that end, make sure you establish a daily ritual with your family to check in on each other.

One suggestion could be to gather at 7 pm around the dinner table. No mobile phone, no TV, no tablet.

Each family member can talk for 10 minutes – set the timer – about what they want without being interrupted. Finish by an uplifting song, an inspiring quote, your family motto or an action plan. Conclude by holding hands or hugging each other.

5. Connect with the wider community

As Aristotle once said: “Man is a social animal.”

When things go wrong however, we tend to hide. But it’s time to see who your real friends are.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed” as the saying goes. Are your friends here for you? Can you rely on them? This is when a blend of online and local connections comes in handy.

We have a real opportunity to help a family struggling at the moment. A family who will celebrate Christmas with lots of question marks on their mind. Here and now we can prove what human connection means and show them our support.

Have you ever been in such a situation? Do you have any good tip to share? Do you have a friend who could provide useful advice? You can make a difference by writing a comment below. Today. Thank you!

 

Credit music Piano Society Credit picture @Wikimedia Commons 

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have been in this situation several times and it is not easy at all. I believe, however, and this is what I teach and Coach – there IS a blessing in every crisis. It may not be “seen” initially. It is, there, however if the right questions are asked. If you see this situation as “on the way” rather than “in the way” it helps. When other family members don’t see it, however, that too can be stressful. There IS a way out of it however.

    • Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, Susan. Really much appreciated 🙂

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      • Thank you too, Anne for posting this. Very interesting topic and at the moment, very relevant for quite a few.

        Best regards
        Susan (Dellanzo)

        • Great article. Very similar situation happened to us. We had two weeks to pack up after living in a place for four years with people we loved. Eventually, you find your feet again, adapt to the new normal, and you are stronger. These situations also remind us how important it is to enjoy the present, as who knows what tomorrow brings.

          • Thank you Jo-Ann. Love what you say about reminding ourselves to enjoy the PRESENT. So very true.

          • Oh my goodness, Jo-Ann, two weeks to pack up: that’s really tough! Agree: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger but still…Happy to see you thriving now 🙂 And thanks again for sharing this experience.

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  2. Judy Rickatson says:

    We too have been through this several times as expats. It is a devastating blow as essentially you’ve not just lost an income you’ve also lost a way of life. The first thing you need to do is give everyone time to grieve, particularly the employee, as inevitably they will feel “responsible” even though the situation was out of their control. It is important for expat families to know that this situation can happen to anyone and they should have a “Plan B” going into an assignment for dealing with a sudden termination (for whatever reason).

    • Thanks so much, Judy for sharing your experience with us. I hear you: allowing time to grieve but this might be tricky when there are so many other things to pay attention to (relocation of the family, schools, paperwork for unemployment benefit if relevant..). Any advice here? Thanks again!

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  3. Aspennglobal says:

    It is not easy, I know some families going through this experience right now. The thing is that we tend to let go, unknowingly, ties with friends back home and cultivate new ones in our new environment, this too changes us. I agree that it helps to socialize than to keep oneself away from friends and to share with a peer who is trained in peer counselling. That friend will give useful advice.

    Thanks for sharing this very important topic.

    • My heart goes out to those families…You’re right: ties with friends back home easily get loose as we juggle with time zone difference, life busy-ness and work issues. Yes, it’s important to keep in mind the importance of cultivating a good support network 🙂 Thanks a lot!

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  4. Adventures says:

    Good article Anne, sadly this sort of thing happens more often than we’d like to think and it rarely comes at an opportune time. I agree wholeheartedly with your suggestions, and would add another. As much as we’d like to think sequentially at a time like this (i.e.,grieve for 3-4 days, see what unemployment package can be negotiated, take some time to think about possible opportunities and weigh options, job search, etc.), the truth is we often have to do these simultaneously. To avoid emotional/physical overwhelm, I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s a complex situation which warrants time, thought, action and effort. You can send out feelers with your network – and you ALWAYS need a network, whether you’re the employee or the spouse/partner in this situation – about possible job leads, update your resume/CV, set up a couple local job interviews or information interviews if considering a career shift. Pick 2-3 things you want to accomplish daily, on top of self-care, family time and fitness. These little items add up and start filling in the puzzle of finding work where you want to be. I’d also add that it’s important to help your children not feel powerless or out of control, even if it’s to say ‘you’re going to finish the semester here, even if we’re not sure about the entire school year.’ You may find in those family conversations that there is a consensus to stay, move back or move on.

    • Thank you VERY much for the extra tip. Reminding us of the importance of the network, and outlining practical steps when we have to manage a situation where eveything comes simultanously. Much appreciated 🙂

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  5. I’ve been in a few precarious situations in my life, but my experience of this type of situation has been extremely emotional (read über-stressful).
    My hubby’s company left the country overnight leaving us in total shock and disbelief. We were never given the opportunity to negotiate or discuss. A court case could not be made either as once you make a case your travel documents must be handed in. Our first response:… how dare they! second response:….we protest!…followed by anger & bitterness. To make matters more ‘interesting’, our child was about to start the very important final year of school at the (naturally) very expensive international school.
    My first thought after the shock had settled down, was whether or not I would to tell my expat friends. Everyone was having the time of their lives and your attempt to share something like this would shatter the expat dream back to reality. So I confided in my best friend and left it there. (I couldn’t face telling my elderly mother or brother back home believing we’ll get through this without them needing to know. Strange this. It was not our fault, but we could not help feeling embarrassed. I eventually had to tell them but only a year after it had happened – no choice).
    But now I found myself in situations where I had to invent excuses for not going to events, fundraisers, parties etc. Hubby received only a third of his last salary and was owed quite a substantial sum (which he never received). We could not afford to waste a penny.
    Schooling became the first issue. If we were forced to leave the country, should our child stay behind and finish school? Pride certainly needed to be swallowed! The process of getting to actually ASK someone whether my child could board with them for a period of time was more complicated. Again you ask so many questions…what would people think…how would this affect our child. But then you reach the ‘to hell with this’ stage. You ask. Surprisingly this was the easy bit and without much fuss, it was all organised in the eventuality of us having to leave the country.
    Now how do we manage to stay on in a country where you are dependent on sponsors. By the Grace of God! To this day I’m not sure how we managed to fly under the radar and avoid questions from banks, government institutions, hospitals etc, but we did. Eventually things started catching up with us, like the end of health insurance cover etc. but we survived for another year. By survived, I mean that we had to sell our house in our home country and use the savings that we had, to pay school fees and cover rental, medical issues and daily living.
    During this time, hubby applied for jobs left right and centre while we were making plans to get out of the country. My child had finished his schooling now and was planning to go to university, but we could’t afford his original choice. The last of our monies were spent on leaving the country, settling in another country and paying a part of university fees.
    The ‘acceptance and moving on’ part of this scenario didn’t happen overnight. Almost five years on and my husband still doesn’t have a job. At 52 he is seen as too old. I managed to secure a job only recently – almost 6 years after my last job. We rent a one bedroom apartment and have no savings. Our child is studying in another country where university fees are affordable and we only see each other every 6 months.
    What have I learned? I have learned to be thankful for what I have. I have been blessed by a great opportunity to see and experience the world. I had worked all my life and needed those 4 years in a foreign country which I thoroughly enjoyed. But now I live a real life and my eyes have opened to the suffering of other people. I have learned to adapt.
    My advice to expat wives is to use opportunities to stay in the work force for as long as you can. Use the time to study further or get a part time job. You never know when you will be put in a situation that you did not expect or want. Be prepared.

    • Thank you SO much for sharing with us your very moving story. I’m so grateful you took the time to describe your situation so thoroughly. You’ve gone a long way. We can feel the weight of this hardship and the wisdom it brought you. Thanks a lot for your precious advice. Accompanying partners suffer a lot from the difficulty of finding a job. Sometimes, they’re not even allowed to work and they get discouraged. Your testimonial reminds us how important it is to persevere and pursue a professional endeavor. May your husband find a meaningful job – 52 years old is the prime of life – and may your family be reunited very soon. Very warm wishes and thanks again.

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  6. We are an expat family for 9 years now…and unfortunately my husband expat contract will finish this coming April! The company already informed him that they will not renew his contract and he need to find another job….my husband start looking for other opportunity but so far he couldn’t find any job. How we can prepare ourself to be jobless! Any advice please. I know it gonna be very though with 3 kids all of them studying in very expensive international schools and I’m a staying home mom. Never worked before. Thanks Nicole

    • Dear Nicole,
      Thanks so much for reaching out. I understand your concerns. How can you best prepare yourself as a family if your husband doesn’t find a new paid job before April? There are 2 different roles in your question. Your husband looking for a new position and the rest of the family. Beside all the practical issues (money compensation, school fees and eventually visa constraints) that need to be dealt with, the strength lies in your state of mind. Your husband might become unemployed but he’ll have a lot to do: compiling his experience in a relevant resume, writing compelling application letters, researching companies, networking… Looking for a job IS a job in itself. Key is to keep self-confidence and self esteem. Your value is not attached to your job position or the amount of money you earn (even if you feel a strong pressure to think so!). Depending on the country you’re in and the current economic situation, be prepared for a long race not a sprint. When I got laid off back in 1993, it took me 6 months to find a job. This advice back then helped me to keep persevering. As for the people supporting the one looking for a job, anything that reinforces confidence and sense of self-worth in the unemployed seems essential to me. Hope this helps. Should you wish to exchange more, I’m always available for a Skype chat. Anne

  7. Hi just came across this discussion. Having been working overseas in SE Asia and in multiple countries for 9 years and I’ve recently been terminated 6 weeks ago now with no job as a result of the company restructuring.

    In s foreign country with no job and wondering what to do is extremely unsettling and stressful as not experienced this before.

    Having worked in the same company for 17 years and now unemployed is totally new. Applying for a few jobs hasn’t been positive and working permit downgraded to a tourist visa. I gather this period I’m going through could take time to find a job.

    I just turned 60 and age is probably against me as well. I did read a good book “Tge Gift of Job Loss” and suggested to not rushing in to another job but taking time out to refocus and try to take advantage of this time if possible.

    I’m considering moving back to Malaysia to find work as worked there before but I’m not MY so language and age could restrict me. Originally from Australia the cost of living back there scares me also as don’t have a home so to speak anymore and divorced some time ago. SE Asia could be a short term low cost option to rent and survive this period in my life

    Any advice?

    • Dear Paul, thanks for joining the conversation and for sharing your personal experience. I hear your concern and I see that you’re pondering a few options for the near future. Would it help to join a peer support group to gain clarity? If you find the idea appealing, let’s talk.

      • Hi thanks for replying to my email. Be open to joining a peer group as currently just trying to remain positive and not panic but take time out
        Cheers

  8. Hello, just came into this thread. I was hired by an international school for a management position and first time overseas. Before arrival, I was promoted to a different position. Since arriving and starting this new position, I was terminated after only 17 days on the job. I was assured by the company that it was not anything specific I had done wrong, and that they mishandled my “promotion” before my arrival. I am networking and applying for positions but preparing to go home and work at temporary employment while continuing the search. I am subscribing to all of the mindsets that I truly believe, such as this being an opportunity in disguise and about finding the positives to my experience and journey here. Also, it is challenging to keep the faith in my own abilities and to combat the natural feelings of being embarrassed and reluctant for my friends back home to know what has happened. Thanks all to sharing your stories. It is comforting to know this has happened to other good people.

    • Dear Susan, thanks so much for sharing your experience in this vulnerable moment. Any job search is challenging in the current economical conditions wherever you’re located in the world but in another country, another language, another culture, cut off from your regular support networks, it makes this undoubtedly much more arduous. Sending you lots of warm thoughts.

Trackbacks

  1. […] are confronted with: raising 4 children without support of extended family, severe health issues, unemployment and now living far away from her […]

  2. […] This was short lived for 3 weeks ago, Peter got bad news. Due to adverse economic condition, his office had to close down. One month before Christmas, Peter lost his job abroad. […]

  3. […] when you don’t know the culture, the language and you can’t rely on any support network is a daunting task. No wonder that one of the major reasons employees refuse an assignment abroad is because of their […]

  4. […] case in point is if the main bread-earner loses his/her job. The family may have visa issues to remain in the country or financial difficulty to continue […]

  5. […] then, I wrote an article to share their concerns and offer support from the expat […]

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