… who don’t help other expats.*
When I first moved to Azerbaijan in 1996, the online world was in its infancy, and although the company provided us with practical help (housing, school, shipping, etc) there was no orientation or cultural training. I was on my own. The first expat women I met were wives of my husband’s colleagues working for his company. Another mother of two of the western children at my son’s school was working at her embassy. I frequented the handful of stores catering to westerners and never saw another western woman. In the end I assumed there probably weren’t many non-working expat women like me. Many afternoons were spent staring out of my apartment window, happy my husband had a good job, happy my son was settling in school, happy to be having the adventure of a lifetime, but desperately lonely.
When I learned that an expat neighbour (also working) belonged to an international women’s club I asked her how to join. She said she’d enquire but came back and told me they weren’t accepting new members at that time. I was devastated. Later I learned that the club had a byelaw about maintaining a balance between local vs expatriate members and that for a while they suspended taking new members. To this day I don’t know which is worse, that a club for expats should ever close its doors to new members, or that my neighbour didn’t at least offer to introduce me to some of the women outside of club meetings.
Five years and two countries later, I found myself in Egypt. By then, I was a much more experienced and self-confident expat wife. I thought I knew the ropes. I joined a thriving expat community centre, took language classes, joined craft and bridge groups, volunteered at my son’s school, did everything to put myself out there and meet people. And while I certainly met lots of people and had a busy life, in the year I was there I never found a group I really wanted to hang out with, or someone I could truthfully call a friend.
Four months after arriving in Azerbaijan a new child arrived at the tiny international school. His mom, a veteran expat wife, quickly sussed out where the other women were getting together and soon I had a circle of not just expat but also local friends, some of whom remain friends to this day.
After a year in Egypt we were transferred to the UAE and a kind company wife immediately phoned and invited me to join a craft group, which became a springboard to all kinds of friendships and opportunities. I never looked back.
These experiences, good and bad have left me forever aware of the importance of support for expat spouses. It needn’t be complex or expensive and sometimes it’s best left to the spouses themselves. Back home now in Canada and working, I have less time to devote to real-world expat groups and yet I’m finding new ways to connect online. Next example of successful online support groups, coming up ….
*Adapted from Madeleine K. Albright’s quote “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”