Searching for a Sense of Purpose while Abroad
It is very common for expat spouses to lose part of their identity when sent abroad, following their partners. While expat employees have a decent level of certainty of what they will do or which job position they will occupy as part of their international assignment, trailing partners have no idea if they will be able to advance their career or continue with any other professional (or even personal) activity in the new destination.
Unfortunately, many expat partners found difficult to continue their professional development while living abroad because of a variety of reasons that include visa limitations, logistical or language barriers, lack of knowledge of the local job market, need to focus on children or home tasks, fear of not fitting in or understanding the home culture, among others. In this context, it is expected to have very qualified expat spouses that lose their purpose while abroad and that feel lost or disoriented. They have not only interrupted their professional life and personal routine, but they have also lost the support system they had at home.
For expat spouses to succeed and find happiness during the expatriation journey they need to look for that purpose. As difficult as this may sound, it is not so if expat spouses do not focus solely on following the same path they were following at home. Finding the same job or having the same career, although not impossible, might be complicated. But finding a new career path or a professional or personal activity that make expat spouses fill productive and useful could be key for their development abroad. Some expat partners start their own business, others join charitable organizations, others extend their studies or learned something new, others dedicate time helping people in need, and the list goes on and on.
Expat spouses are responsible for finding their identity outside of their home country if they want to reach their personal and professional goals and if they are looking to extract the maximum out of their international journey. Undoubtedly this will pose numerous challenges, especially when operating in a new and unknown environment with potentially a very different culture and rules; but that is why the satisfaction will be greater at the end. It is key for them to keep clear objectives, to find the right support, to get informed/trained on local culture and issues, to keep their motivation high and to feel productive.