Expatriate Time Travel

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.


11 thoughts on “Expatriate Time Travel

  1. I understand your sentiments exactly, Judy. I didn’t work in England and Dubai cos by the time we settled down and I started looking, it was time to leave! I just taught painting all that time and continued doing so when we came to Kuwait. Four years ago I had an opportunity to try for a management position at my previous level. You can’t believe how excited I was! The company’s expansion plans got shelved and they stopped hiring! Now after almost 8 years in Kuwait I’m done with the idea of going back to work, the way we know it. You know what I mean? There are ppl out there who would give an arm and a leg to not have to work…so, except for teaching painting when I want to teach, I’m happily retired!

  2. Rohaizan, you are truly fortunate to have found a portable career which you like, as that really is the ideal solution for an expat spouse. For those that are curious – check out Rohaizan’s website. I still treasure the nameplate you gave me in Dubai! 🙂

    • Thanks for posting the link to my website Judy! I don’t teach or paint as much as I’d like to cos there’s too much for us retired expat wives to do! LOL

      But yes, its a portable business (can’t really call it a career cos its still pretty much a hobby kind of thing) and very ideal for me right now.

      • You’re welcome 😉 I disagree that painting/teaching is not, at least part of, your career. I think we accompanying spouses need to have a much broader definition of the word than we might have in our home countries. We are far too hung up on the notion that career=job=money. No wonder so many have low self-esteem.

  3. Judy after working for 30+ years it was really hard moving to Dubai& being a “kept homemaker” with no monthly income!I was so fortunate to find p/time work teaching adults and not children for the first time. It’s been a great experience& I know when I go home in June it’s going to be rather stressful being a full time homemaker again as I know that at my age I’m too marketable! Good luck with your new job.:<)

    • Maybe you can freelance Maureen. Teaching seems to be one career where age is less of a barrier. At least you won’t have to face issues of sponsorship once you’re in your home country. Hope you have a smooth transition.

  4. I like this post. Sounds like Azerbaijan was quite an experience! Deciding to stop working (or being forced to b/c of sponsorship issues) is definitely a life-changing move. I stopped working when I had kids and although I wouldn’t change it and feel very lucky that I don’t have to work, I still feel a little self-conscious when people ask me what I do.

  5. I think you did a great job capturing the challenges, benefits and drawbacks of living abroad when it comes to career/working. Sometimes chances abound, other times not so much. Or different education levels or other requirements impede progress. I was lucky to do my ‘career detox’ a few years before going abroad. It was difficult to adjust, but once you REALLY learn that what you do is not entirely who you are, you are the better for it.

    • Thanks 🙂 I agree that your job (job title) is not who you are, but I do think that expatriate women have to think of “what they do” aka their “career” in much broader terms. Many have carved themselves fascinating and interesting lives outside conventional corporate paths and yet tend to be very dismissive of it just because they don’t get paid, or don’t get paid very much for doing it.

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