I didn’t expect to travel through time as well as space when we first moved overseas. Yet that’s exactly what happened when I gave up my job moved overseas to Azerbaijan with my husband and 9-year-old son. Not only did I move almost 6,000 miles I also travelled back 30-odd years to a time when mothers stayed home, cooked from scratch and met their friends for coffee mornings and afternoon tea.
According to the oft-quoted Permits Foundation survey, of the women who follow their men overseas 90% work before they leave, but only 35% work while they’re on assignment. I willingly gave up working because at the time I was close to burn-out. My husband travelled internationally frequently and often for weeks at a time, I had a child who was usually the last to be picked up from daycare yet had reached an age when he needed a parent to support him with homework, I had a house and a large garden to care for and no extended family for support. So the chance for some time out was just as good an opportunity for me as the career move was for my husband.
I found myself in a place where convenience food didn’t exist, where people still shopped at the markets on a daily basis and no-one had heard of 24/7. In other words, I became my mother, circa 1960. It was a huge culture shock, quite apart from the fact that I was in another country. Thank goodness I had the sense to bring my mother’s edition of “Cookery Illustrated and Household Management “ 1936 edition. Although I’d often laughed at those instructions that began “Draw, singe and truss a medium-sized turkey . . . “ I now welcomed the detailed instructions for home-made soups, stews and baked goods.
So what did I learn other than sage & onion stuffing and macaroni and cheese don’t have to come from a box? Well I instantly noticed an improved quality of life for all 3 of us. My son went from reading at a grade 2 level to a grade 4 level in less than 6 months. My husband could enjoy 2 full days of relaxation at the weekends instead of running around with me doing chores. And I caught up on 9 years of sleep deprivation, worked out on a regular basis, had time to explore my new surroundings and developed a wide circle of friends.
Looking back, I can see that the volunteer work I threw myself into was an attempt to satisfy the professional working woman in me and I always cringed whenever I faced a form with the box every expatriate spouse dreads: “Occupation.” Yet it took a surprisingly long time for coffee mornings to wear thin and a genuine desire to return to the working world to surface.
I’ve just started a new job (my 3rd since repatriating 2 years ago). Since returning home I’ve travelled forward in time to a place where many of my contemporaries hold high level, professional positions and my struggle to find a niche in the working world has not been easy. My new position is part-time and not particularly well-paid or high status and yet I’m happy with it, for me, for now because it gives me the best of both worlds I’ve lived in. I’m very fortunate that living overseas and “time travel” gave me the opportunity to try out another way of living and the wherewithal to continue to do so now that I’m back.