There is a special place in my heart reserved for the trailing spouse, regardless of the duration of the stay, whether they work inside or outside the house, their nationality, gender, or if they have children or not.
To uproot your life and follow your partner, whose education, career or even family brings you to a foreign land for a known or unknown duration of time, takes a lot of guts, patience and creativity.
If you arrive in your new homand are lucky, you will be able to follow in some of thfootprints left behind by other imaginative trailing spouses who came before you, while creating some new footprints of your own. In our region, you may want to explore groups on Facebook or sites like Angloinfo,frenchentree.com, or even you country’s online embassy site ayou begin your new journey.
In my own experience, my family and I had been racing afull tilt in preparation for our new life. On arrival, we opted for a temporary furnished apartment rental while completing our housing search and awaiting the transatlantic arrival of our belongings and car. The sense of being on a prolonged and exhilarating vacation had worn off, and I wfaced with the reality of being in a foreign country. My husbawould leave for work on the local public transport system, while I remained at "home" wiour two-year-old son. In those moments, I remember being hyperaware of our isolation anthe gravity of our decision. ThONLY other adult known to me in the entire country had walkout the door, and my inner timwas counting down his return.
It didn’t help matters that he was also my language and cultural translator.
During the planning stages, simple tasks were a cakewalk... in my head. However, once arrived and dealing with reality, even the simplest of tasks were daunting. Without speaking the language, I still needed to navigate daily tasks such as grocery shopping, ﬁnding the neighbourhood playgrounds, scoping out playgroups and just connecting to local resources.
Something as simple and rudimentary as grocery shopping became an exercise in patience, requiring a sense of humour. It was inconceivable to me that a store might be closed for lunch or even a good part of the weekend. The only grocery store of substance involved an hour- long bus ride each way, with a toddler AND said groceries. Going to the store became a dreaded journey. If we didn’t get enough milk by Saturday morning, we would have to wait until Monday morning to replenish the supply. I learned the hard way to plan around all the constraints, and now appreciate being able to reclaim the specialness of spending the weekend en famille — something I enjoyed as a child, but which had got lost in the busyness of our adult lives.
Bit by bit, new routines began to form the contours of our new lives. While my husband navigated his new work environment, I became adept at discovering where the bilingual preschools were located, forging new friendships and discovering what would eventually become our favourite hangouts. I knew I had cracked some language code when I insisted on getting the correct change from an unscrupulous market seller — and won the battle.
Our last major frontier was ﬁnding a home before our belongings arrived. Who knew an unfurnished apartment could also mean the kitchen might be COMPLETELY bare (lacking cabinets, a refrigerator, and maybe even a sink). Without a car in our immediate future, we knew we needed to ﬁnd an apartment in a village offering convenient public transportation options. Having a child made us motivated to ﬁnd an aesthetically pleasing village with child-friendly amenities. Using our newfound resourcefulness (bred out of necessity), we did what we were previously told was impossible, and found an affordable apartment in a much sought- after historic district.
While the tapestries of our new lives became increasingly more patterned and vibrant, I then began to look at ways to increase my own sense of purpose beside caring for my family.
Those of us who choose this life know the work of the trailing spouse is varied and largely under-appreciated. While those outside my immediate circle — whether from my culture of origin or my host home — think I live a rather glamorous life, they have no clue about the amount of work and stress involved with transplanting your family and work life. If I’m honest with myself, neither did I prior to this adventure, since the reality is hard to understand unless you’ve actually lived it.
When the dust settles, if you feel the need, know there are options available to carve out your niche, even if you have to create it yourself. The trailing spouse can certainly still join clubs, teach English and volunteer, but you can equally continue your education (traditionally or on-line), have your qualiﬁcations recognised or work from home. Whatever you choose to do, you have transferable skills you can take with you wherever you go.
FIND MORE ENGLISH-SPEAKING FRIENDS ON FACEBOOK
- LIL Anglophone Ladies In The Languedoc. Questions about topics as diverse as schooling in France to where to buy English sausages, as well as to buy, sell, exchange... To join LIL you need to be female, an English-speaker, living or intending to live in Languedoc (or with strong ties to the region).
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