unhappy expat wife

To the Unhappy Expat Wife

Dear Unhappy Expat Wife,

You may not think anyone notices you, but that’s not true. I spotted your article in the Guardian – What I’m Really Thinking: The Expat Wife – and read it to see if your experience mirrors my own.

I learned you followed your husband to some foreign land, and you aren’t too pleased with her life. Even though, at first you were excited by the opportunity:

I’d pick up where I’d left off and have an exciting new job in no time; this would be an adventure.

But it didn’t go according to plan. Hundreds of applications later, and you’re feeling alone and isolated in her new country.

But although I’m experienced and highly qualified in my field, it seems the tag of “expat wife” makes me almost invisible. I feel as if my previous life happened to somebody else.

I thought the whole piece is worth a read, but what jumped out of your story was this paragraph:

I’ve been invited to join a group for expat women, which initially looked like a good way to meet people, until I read the group rules: “strictly no feminism and no politics”. The undertone being “a group for good, obedient wives”. So far the only activities have been “yoga outs” and health-food picnics; I wonder what they talk about.

I can’t speak for that expat women’s group, but at Expatladies, nothing’s officially off the table. We’ve talked about religion and money and the role of women (no one’s taken off their bra to burn it… yet). We’ve leant each other books, supported one another through difficult times, and recommended activities and adventures. No yoga, but a picnic sounds great.

Some of the comments on this piece gave pretty sound advice, not just for you, but for any unhappy expat wife. Did you read them, I wonder? I’m not sure if I would have, in your place, so here’s a few of my favourites:

Find a mentor or a recruitment agency if you wish to work. There are secrets in the country about finding a job that you may not know about. Alternatively, consider being a freelance consultant and finding a co-working space. Finally, if no job comes along, try redefining yourself in a way that is comfortable within the relationship. The “Expat Wife” is your label, so stop being one if you don’t like it, and call yourself something else with your own clearly defined job within the relationship and community. Bon courage.

Wifey, you are not an appendage of your partner. You made a choice to support him, but you can’t each pull in two different directions. 4 years of expat life taught me that a marriage needs to very resilient to cope with this lifestyle. It’s life in a privileged bubble, comfortable, sanitised and aimless. Work out if that’s what you really want.

Life in the expat bubble

I can only focus on what I have. I became a girl about town or a lady who lunches. I get to whizz round town in a fabulous mainland city, totally freely. I do stuff that engages me like learn the language, teach and build property. These do build value over time – suddenly you reap the gain. When the area you built in gentrifies and you sell for a heap, rest assured “expat” circles definitely notice. When you land a cool sinecure as you have multiple languages, then people notice that too.

So what to do? Perhaps it is time to stop valuing yourself just by the work you do/did and find other ways to value yourself. And while you’re at it, set some big goals for yourself and do everything you canto achieve them? Get fluent in another language, start a company, get new qualifications… There are so many things you can do and this time could be a massive gift for you. But only you can work out what that gift is for you. There’s more to this life if yours than a major moan in a newspaper. Good luck.

Dear unhappy expat wife, no one ever said this was going to be easy. If you think back, they probably said just the opposite. But this is a choice you have made. And since it’s made, why not embrace it? Sure, you may have had more work opportunities at home. But would you have had the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture? Learn a new language? Make an entirely new set of friends?

Good luck, unhappy expat wife. And if you ever find yourself in Switzerland, come for coffee.

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