accidental expat

“Accidental expats” often struggle with re-entry after visiting their home country.

Trailing spouses are dependents; that is quite a hard word to swallow for someone who has a thriving career at home and gives it up for their family or their spouse’s career. It may be you, suddenly staring at your visa and reading the word dependent on it. You’ve gone from being a self-sufficient, hard-working person to someone who needs a partner to survive.

That’s you – out there in a foreign country – alone, unemployed, facing culture shock, depending on your partner’s income. All the while you have to smile and teach your children what a wonderful opportunity it is to be living abroad.

You may be referred to as an “accidental expat”, someone who – by no choice of their own – finds themselves abroad, leaving everything they knew and were comfortable with behind. At first, it may seem adventurous, exciting and new; but soon, you find yourself sitting at home, flipping through the TV channels in a foreign language and wondering why you encouraged your spouse to take that job halfway across the world.

The worst part is feeling guilty about not jumping up with excitement over your new expat home. Western culture tends to glamourise the whole expat experience, although in reality, things can be quite different. Toss that guilt aside; nobody ever said expatriate life was all fun and games.

The holiday blues and expat re-entry

The holiday season is especially hard for an accidental expat or trailing spouse. You are so excited to be home, busy seeing your family and engaging in your usual holiday festivities when suddenly, it’s time to pack up and hop on a plane back to the place where you are out of your element. The first three days are a nightmare. The recent trip back home has made you miss everything and everyone more than you already did and it makes you question your loyalty to your spouse and family.

It is completely normal, that for a 72-hour period, you mope about the house, washing clothes, or curling up in bed not motivated by anything. However, by the third or fourth day it’s time to take back the reins of your life. Go outside, meet up with friends for coffee, go shopping and slowly acclimatise back into your expat life once more. It’s important to know that comparing home and your host country just as you’ve returned from a trip can be quite nauseating. You’ll be thinking of all the good things you have at home and make every little thing that annoys you about your new home into a huge and irrepressible monster. Stop.

Making decisions soon after landing is one of the biggest mistakes trailing spouses make – they are angered by the fact that they love home and hate living abroad. That irrepressible monster slowly starts to morph into antisocial behaviour, anxiety, depression and more, and we all know that expats are quite vulnerable to mental disorder. It’s of utmost importance to reconnect with your new home and to put the small annoyances aside.

Reconsider the way you are looking at your re-entry: your family is there with you, your children are happy and learning new experiences, the pay is most certainly better than back home, and you have the chance to explore and be fascinated by an array of new cultural experiences.

Embrace your situation and make the most of it. There is no need to say that your “country-of-non-origin” is great, or that you love it when you don’t, but hey, you’re there, so enjoy the ride. Once it’s over and you’re back home, you’ll realise how much you miss those little annoyances that once drove you crazy.

[Image: The Presier Project]