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Finding Happiness as an Expat Wife

Quite a few women don’t relocate for their own career, but follow a husband or partner on an assignment. As a "trailing spouse", you take care of the family while putting your own plans on the backburner – not always an easy or rewarding job. Find out what it entails and how to keep your cool as an expat wife.
Losing their career and becoming a homemaker puts a strain on many women.

Getting a Job

Fortunately, adjusting to her new life was comparatively easy for Rosanne (43), who became an expat wife and followed her husband Marco (50) from Valletta to Copenhagen. Since English is one of Malta’s official languages, it was no problem for Rosanne to prove sufficient foreign language skills for her CV.

Moreover, as both countries are member states of the EU, she didn’t have to fight the local bureaucracy for a work permit, either. It was "just" a matter of finding the right job.

"It did take me a while," she admits. "When I didn’t have to act like the perfect expat wife and do the chores or manage the family finances, I was on the lookout for a suitable position. I tried nearly everything: newspapers, a local employment agency, and uploading my CV to recruitment databases. In the end, it was attending a job fair that did the trick. "

Rosanne finally found a rewarding middle-management job with an international tour operator. "Tourism is big business in Malta, and I have worked in the field since getting my bachelor’s," Rosanne says. "It certainly didn’t hurt that I’m fluent in Maltese, English, and Italian, and that I’ve started picking up some Danish, too."

Coping with an Identity Crisis

Expat women who may not be able to do paid work and are thus "limited" to the status of expat wife may experience a huge loss of identity. Social changes notwithstanding, it is often easier for women than for men to avoid defining themselves by their career and the resulting prestige. However, a lot of their self-esteem is indeed connected to professional skills and financial independence.

It was a shock for Margarita (36) from the United States when her husband was sent to Bangkok as a foreign correspondent for an international news magazine. "I quickly discovered that my visa for Thailand classified me as a dependent, who wasn’t even allowed to work. Unfortunately, Thailand has some tight restrictions on foreign employees. So that’s what I was now – a dependent. I was concerned about my career and even more about what I was supposed to do all day long."

Margarita’s husband saw her new role as an expat wife without kids in a far more positive light than she did. "He kept going on and on how grateful I should be for having all this free time and the chance to explore another culture," she recalls. "I mainly felt lonely when he was at the office, in one editorial meeting after the other. Whenever I met his colleagues from work, I noticed that I’d suddenly become ‘Rick’s wife’. Not Margarita, the copywriter, or Margarita, the martial arts fan. Just Margarita, Rick’s expat wife."

The Meltdown

The realization that as an expat wife, she was disappearing behind her husband, as well as the frustrations of daily life, caught up with this woman.

"One day, I spent five hours wandering through Bangkok, trying to shop for groceries and cleaning stuff. When Rick came home, full of news about the amazing feedback his latest political commentary had received, I completely lost it. I think I screamed my head off for hours – the neighbors must have gotten quite an earful."

Margarita and Rick were able to overcome their frustration and their resulting marital troubles. Although looking for work in Thailand turned out to be almost impossible, the Internet helped Margarita overcome her personal crisis.

A New Career

Thanks to the work opportunities provided online, Margarita developed a whole new career "portfolio". First, she started as a part-time "virtual assistant" providing services to US companies. Due to the time difference, she couldn’t "telecommute", but she took over parts of their administrative tasks and correspondence.

However, as her new job failed to provide her with any creative tasks, Margarita became a tutor for a long-distance course in creative writing. In addition, she composed several articles for travel mags and tourism websites.

"I had to do a lot of networking to become a free-lancer," Margarita remembers, "but it was worth it. As soon as I had some tasks to intellectually challenge me, I was much happier as an expat wife. Plus, it felt really reassuring to start paying into my private pension plan again."

Other women report having similar experiences when they became an expat wife. If you cannot find a job in your new country of residence, possible alternatives include freelancing, self-employment, volunteering for an NPO, or obtaining further skills and qualifications. Even if you have a family to look after, a certain routine will hopefully settle in sooner or later, and you might run the risk of getting a bad case of "cabin fever" after a while.

Further Reading

3 Types of Support Relocating Spouses Need

The Expat Insider Business Edition indicates that relocating spouses have a strong need to interact, engage, and be supported by others. These desired types of support for relocating spouses are important for employers to consider when offering spouse support.