Brave Stories from
All Around the World
I still remember how the news broke, my husband called in the middle of the night saying “I will be transferred to Australia.”. At that time, we were a long-distance marriage couple living on different islands in Indonesia. It had been 2 years of expensive flight tickets to meet every 2 weeks, so deep inside we knew this could be the opportunity to solve it.
“When? For how long?” I answered hesitantly. I thought it was just a short-term assignment. Nothing will change, right? I can still have my job in my city (which I love). I will visit him once in a while and we can have a few weeks traveling there. Australia? It seems like a nice place for a road trip.
“It is a short term assignment, 6 months.” He then explained the terms and conditions. The employment status will be the same but there will be some living allowance. The family will not be taken into consideration, which means I won’t get a residence visa. Now that’s the tricky part.
With a project-management background, I quickly overview all the major aspects: from a financial perspective, the combined income will not even cover the flight tickets and extra living cost, if I stayed in Indonesia.
There were so many scenarios in my head: comparison and benefits between staying here or moving with him. Can we both afford living there? What about my job security? What can I do if I don’t have a working and permanent living visa? What about our current apartment?
We had so many heated arguments in the following weeks, we needed to make a decision soon and the pressure was on. After rounds of meetings, we decided to take a leap of faith: it’s time to move.
And that’s when my life as a trailing spouse began.
Life as Expat Spouse: The World of Uncertainty
There is a preconceived notion of glamor attached to be an expat spouse. To live abroad (if you are lucky to live in a safe country and don’t have to work for it), people might think that it entails freedom. No need for a 9 to 5 job, enjoying picture-perfect landscapes with (if lucky) access to the best shops and restaurants. And with social media around, having a family trip or going to a park in a beautiful setting seems nice. When I told my colleagues that I’ll move because of my husband’s job, someone said to me “Oh, you will be one of those ladies who lunch.”
At first, I underestimated moving abroad as a family unit. I studied abroad before, I was getting used to cooking and managing a home. What can be more different than that?
I was totally wrong. Living abroad as a family unit is more like a jungle, jumping from one branch to another without knowing if this was the right way. Plenty of practical things to be arranged (visa, housing, tax, driving license). There is no fixed structure or deadlines. You can spend your whole day taking care of the family. You can spend hours being obsessed on house cleaning or perfecting a meal recipe. Trying to make the best of it, make friends, find a hobby, meet new people. The possibilities are plenty (and ironically can be limited as well).
For some abroad jobs with strong structure (such as jobs in the embassy, military), the support system for the family is good and you can pretty much live in an expat bubble. For others, it might be less than that. It feels like being an alien. You are there but you do not belong anywhere. You live there but you don’t know for how long (and thus questioning whether your planned activities will be worth the investment).
A Year Later
Our first year abroad passed by and it was a truly roller coaster. My Australian life (which I really enjoyed!) only lasted for less than half a year. My husband suddenly got transferred to the US. Here we are, in Texas. Learning to drive on the right side and restarting life again.
My six-month introduction as an expat wife in Australia got me a better grip on several things. I am more comfortable in introducing myself and pitching my story to new people. I become proficient in structuring my days and to find new activities in the neighborhood. I become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations (being the only outsider in an environment? Getting used to it).
But still it won’t be easy. And with Corona virus around, there are days when I feel like being in a limbo. There are days where I think ‘I got this!’ but there are moments where I badly miss the family or my old colleagues, or simply having the same routine. There are days when I want to put aside my role as a support system and concentrate on what I want (and can) do in my future. There will be those days when I feel lost and start questioning my identity and where I belong. And that’s okay.
I guess there is no manual in navigating the life of a trailing spouse. The story will highly depend on your financial status (more saving means you can afford doing more stuff), the status of your family (no child / young children/ grown-up children), the immigration restriction, and the available opportunities in the city itself.
One thing for sure, not even a day goes by without learning a new thing. When you move around and meet the extreme end of people, you realize how big the world is and how your perspectives might not always be true. And that is a truly humbling experience. To enjoy it while it lasts might be my only conclusion (and after 9 months in Texas, I’m moving again!).