Monday, December 03, 2007

Overcoming the challenges facing accompanying spouses

Here's a great article Val Boyko wrote a few years ago. Interesting food for thought...

The Challenge

As part of my research into 'global solutions for international assignments' at the Families in Global Transition conference in 2004, I found the 3 biggest challenges that accompanying expat partners expressed in our interviews were:

1. Feeling unrecognized and unsupported.
2. Having expectations that aren't met because of inaccurate or irrelevant information.
3. Feeling isolated.

Imagine how much harder it is for an accompanying spouse who thinks they will be able to work, and then finds out it is practically impossible; or a partner who assumes that internet access is readily available to maintain their home business, but it takes 6 months to get connected; or someone who moves to a new country to be with the person they love and wonders what happened to their real life after the honeymoon is over; or a newcomer who does not have an expat community around them AND can't speak the language.

These are every day occurrences around the world!

The Solution

Everyone working together to understand and acknowledge the needs of partners and families; becoming informed and setting accurate expectations in order to make the best choices; offering support and help to build a community.

This is so simple - yet not so easy in practice. It takes a global team effort!

Val's Tips for Overcoming the Challenges Facing Accompanying Spouses

1. Employees or partners:

Find out about the issues that accompanying spouses face and recognize their new role. Your job may be exciting and a great opportunity, but not at the expense of your family falling apart. Be there for them, especially in the first crucial weeks.

2. Existing expats:

You may have forgotten what your own expatriation was like. Take a few minutes just now to recall your experience. Ask yourself what made a difference to you, or what you would have REALLY appreciated, then do the same for at least 3 new expats. If we all reached out, think of the impact around the world - WOW!

3. HR and support people:

Appreciate that the successful adjustment of the family is the number one factor for assignment success AND it takes time - it's more than arranging the move and handling procedures. Look into your heart in the midst of the red tape, pressure and delays, and reach out as you would want for yourself in the same position. Think of how to keep in touch with the family - not just the employee. Is there a way to introduce expats to each other? Offer additional support such as career and life coaching in the first year - even when it may not be your responsibility. This is a powerful and cost effective way to contribute to the overall success of the assignment.

4. New expats:

Educate yourself - there is so much information on the web, don't rely on others to give you what you may need, start exploring possibilities before you go. Make contact with people in the new country through groups and message boards. Don't assume it will be similar to your impressions - IT WON'T BE! Be curious and pro-active - it's great practice for when you get there too! Ask for help from those around you. Leave that stiff upper lip and pride behind and let others know what you need and want. It's more than okay - it can be a life saver and the start of true friendships and a great new life!

And finally...consider hiring your own coach to give a jumpstart to your overseas success!

Val Boyko is a Scot and an American, cross cultural consultant, facilitator and professional coach. In 1991 she gave up her management career to move to the Philadelphia area as a "trailing" spouse. As a consultant and coach, she has trained and supported hundreds of families moving around the world. She is a graduate of Coach University, a member of the Society of Intercultural Education Training And Research, and the International Coach Federation.


armstrongrice1 said...

I am working with Families in Global Transition, a non-profit that helps address family issues common among expats and repatriates. To learn more about this year's conference being held in Houston, visit

Anonymous said...

I am in Ancona, Italy, and have been here 3years...i came to be with my partner after leaving my job. We now have a 1yr old, however due to the nature of my work, i am unable to go back to work in that capacity as it requires being away for many months. Even though i can speak italian to a conversation level, i still am finding it hard to be part of any community...i dont have any friends that i go see, or have a coffee with etc, it seems a very hard culture to break into. People are very tight within their own networks.

I do not have much free time as i am with our baby all days, i wonder if there are any suggestions for me to be able to get back on my feet and find some independence.


admin said...

Thanks for your comment. I think Italy can be a harder place to build a social network than some other popular expat destinations (such as Spain, for example). It must be very difficult not having anyone to meet socially and I do sympathise. My best suggestion would be to do exactly what you're already doing and try to use the Internet to find others who might be in a similar situation locally or at least in a similar predicament with whom you can chat online. You could try posting to our Italy forum or our Left Behind? forum to see if there's anyone else out there (I must admit the Italy forum is quiet at the moment though). One other suggestion - if you'd like to put together a few hundred words about the challenges you're facing I could include it in an upcoming newsletter and ask anyone who can help with suggestions to contact you (feel free to contact me through the Expat Focus feedback form). Anyway, thanks again for posting and I hope things improve. Remember, you're not alone!