Source: gem fountain
Not such a trailing spouse
Having the opportunity to experience life in so many countries and cultures is an amazing privilege. If someone had told me as a child growing up in a very small village (officially a hamlet) in Scotland that this would be my life, I’d never have believed it. I’ve done so many things that I never dreamed I would do, been to so many places that I’d only have read about and had the opportunity to explore interests that I’d never have time to pursue had I not moved. I’ve met so many amazing people with whom I’d never have otherwise crossed paths.
Living in other countries has changed me. I was shy as a child but there’s no room for shyness when you need to create a new life every few years. I’ve also discovered a passion for languages that would astound my high school French teacher. My husband would probably tell you that I am much more patient and tolerant of chaos than I used to be. Living in a culture that is not your own, speaking a language that you are just learning teaches those attributes. I’m not sure my children would concur.
In the HR Lexicon, I’m a “Trailing Spouse” but I’ve never really felt that term accurately reflected my role. In fact it really annoys me. The decision to relocate has always been a joint decision for us. Some moves have required more thought and discussion than others but I’ve always felt that I could find opportunity in the countries we’ve moved to – and, yes, we have turned down an assignment that really wouldn’t have worked for me. It’s clear to me that the role that I’ve played in relocating is key in making our assignments a success. If I hadn’t had the flexibility to manage our moves and ensure that our home is set up and our children are happy and settled in their new environments, there’s no way my husband would have been able to jump straight in to each of his assignments.
The transitions in expat life have not always been easy. Moving to a new country challenges your identity in so many ways, especially if you are making another transition in the process. I took a break from my career as an investment banker to spend time with our daughter when she was a baby, but during that time we moved. The further I moved geographically and emotionally from my old career, the harder it got to go back, so I didn’t. My career formed such a large part of my identity leaving it behind was a massive challenge to my sense of self and my confidence. Now my identity is woven around the skills I have as an expat and as a mother but it’s taken me years to work out a way to have a career that could accommodate the demands on me as a consequence of expat life.
I feel lucky to have discovered coaching; it’s a powerful, transformative process. Looking back at my own moves and transitions, I know that if I’d worked with a coach through each of them, I would have avoided a lot of angst over rebuilding my life and my identity. Once I understood how coaching works by experiencing the benefits of it myself, I wanted to learn those skills so I could use them to help other accompanying partners navigate through their own transitions and that’s what my business is all about.
Through coaching, blogging and social media, I have “met” some amazing expat women. The communities of expat women and of coaches online are incredibly supportive and generous in sharing experiences. I’ve now had the privilege of meeting a number of them in real life. It was online contact that got Louise Wiles and I working together on a careers and expat partners report. We’re working hard to get a report out within the next two weeks and we think that it will make interesting reading for accompanying partners and HR professionals alike. Louise and I are also joining forces to launch some other exciting projects in the autumn so watch this space.
For me that’s been the key to successful expat life - learning to focus not on what I’ve left behind but on the opportunities and challenges in each new place.
About the author
Evelyn Simpson is founder of The Smart Expat through which she helps the accompanying partners of expat manage the transitions that come with international relocations that are driven by their partners’ careers.