That is a question I asked a large group of “experienced spouses”. Herewith some of the many answers I got.
· Be adaptable, open minded and curious. Always look for what is good about the country. Do not look back and compare. Do not forget to enjoy yourself.
· Be prepared – settling in can take a while and longer than you might expect. Allow yourself at least 6 months or longer. This is normal. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Prioritize self-care.
· Make a decision together with your partner. And be explicit about why you want to do this. And formulate a why for yourself which is separate from that of your partner. Make a list of things you want to do or achieve during the posting. Discuss this often during your posting together.
· You can never be prepared enough so do not beat yourself up if things seem overwhelming. Take it as a learning experience.
· You are not losing your identity, you are adding to it.
· Keep your long term interests in mind. Identify what is important to you in your life. Such as family, friends, career, security, what makes you happy. Remember what you are worth and ask for it.
· Really plan ahead. Learn about culture shock. This is real. Even for a seasoned traveler. Do not start thinking about how to settle and what to do after you arrived. Do not hesitate to ask. Learn about the culture and language of the country. Join FB groups in the country before arriving.
· Be aware of the expat trap and bubble. Try to get out of that and connect to the local culture and people too. Do not only make friends in diplomatic circles. That is very limiting.
· Diplomacy can give you a false feeling of status and importance. It is a huge trap. Do not fall into this trap. Stay with two feet on the ground!
· Have serious and detailed conversations with your partner about expectations (roles at home), choices, sacrifices, finances. Once you are there these conversations become much more difficult! Openly discuss the financial side as in many cases you will become fully financially dependent on your partner. Think about your pension.
· Be prepared for loneliness and feelings of unproductiveness and self-doubt. For instance if you see your friends of pre expat life grow in their careers. Be mindful of your own purpose and how you define your purpose. Do not become an appendix.
· There is good and there is bad. But make deliberate choices and make them together. You are responsible for your own happiness.
· Keep your professional skills current.
· Utilize the posting time to reinvent yourself, explore new places and friendships and options. Do not resist the change, accept it.
I am sure some of the advice will resonate, some will resonate less. Ask yourself what that tells you, why does it resonate? Does it mean there is something you are not doing yet and could be doing or is it something which you very much recognize.
There are ways to better prepare, learning form experiences of others is an important one. If you want to learn more and explore other ways, just drop me a message and I will get in touch with you.