I've worked overseas during the entire length of my professional career. Life as an expat has its rewards, like the opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture, and the chance to assume bigger roles and greater responsibilities in your job.
Expat life also has its challenges, one of the biggest of which is centered around your partner, and their ability to adjust to a radically new life in a foreign country. While there are certainly instances of couples who move overseas and land new roles or entirely new jobs at the same time, these are generally exceptions to the rule.
In most cases, couples move because one half finds a job overseas. The other half, however, moves with their partner, often without lining up a job of their own. They're often referred to as the "trailing spouse," a term that bears a slightly negative connotation, as if they are the reluctant followers to their partner.
I've known many expats over the course of my life abroad, and I've seen them deal with a range of issues. And as a married expat, I've dealt with many of these challenges myself. Here are four of the challenges expat couples most commonly face, and some suggestions for dealing with them:
1. Giving up a cherished job (and a major source of income).
Some of the spouses of expat couples I've known have had to quit careers they've invested enormous amounts of time, money, and passion into. While some managed to successfully continue or rebuild their careers overseas, many couldn't, or tried to but failed and eventually gave up.
A partner who hasn't lined up a job before moving but wants to continue working will need to fire up their networking skills. Tapping into professional and personal networks in your new country will become your most important source of job leads. Don't overlook or dismiss anyone -- you never know who they know that could give you the warm introduction you need to the company you're interested in.
2. Adjusting to a radically different culture and language.
I have enormous sympathy for expat spouses who are suddenly dropped into countries where the language and culture are radically different from theirs. But making an effort to read about the history and the culture of your host country can go a long way toward building an appreciation for it. Learning the language of your host country might be difficult, but make an effort to at least learn some of the most basic elements of daily conversation.
I've seen too many expats fail to make an earnest attempt at learning the language. Language is the key to understanding culture; without trying to develop a basic ability to converse in the local language, your ability to engage with people effectively will be severely limited.
3. Moving far away from family support networks.
The ability to reach family members thousands of miles away through a few taps of your instant messaging and video apps is something that didn't exist -- or at least didn't work smoothly enough -- just a few years ago.
Yet such powerful technology can never replace the warmth of a hug or kiss from someone you love, or the familiar scents and sounds at home that you grew up with. Visiting home regularly, or inviting family to visit you, will be key to maintaining your ties back home. Trips can be enormously expensive, so book early, track and redeem your airline points, and time your trips to avoid peak travel seasons whenever possible.
4. Finding suitable educational choices for your children.
One of the biggest sources of headaches for expat couples is finding suitable schools for their children. Schools in expat communities are often expensive, and space is limited.
Some couples I know have intentionally placed their children in local school systems so they can get a fully immersive experience in the culture and language of their host country, while enjoying substantial cost savings.
A small number of couples decide to home school their children. With the ability to access tutors on just about any subject through the internet, this is certainly a viable option. My children and I have taken private lessons on a variety of subjects with tutors around the world through Skype, for instance.