“How will I cope once the going gets tough?”
Personal experience, conversations with other expat spouses, and research have identified six steps to transition through the expat cycle and thrive in an expat assignment.
Step 1: Build Awareness
The first step is to understand how moving to a foreign country has affected you by considering all dimensions of your situation as dispassionately as possible. Use this example to prompt your own thinking.
Step 2: Accept Need to Change
Because so much has changed, an expat spouse needs to face the reality of reinventing herself. She does this by acknowledging that she is the one who has to adapt. Spend time looking through your personalized version of the example in Step 1 as you consider where and how you will change.
Step 3: Discover Possibilities
With awareness and acceptance it is now time to take charge of your life again. Each individual has a blend of roles that forms part of her identity (e.g. mother, professional, mentor, wife, friend, care giver, and so on), a personal set of interests, strengths and skills, and a range of motivating activities.
During Step 3, an expat spouse brainstorms possibilities for using or exploring her interests, strengths, and skills in light of each role, in light of changed circumstances and personal motivators. Listing possibilities opens the way to new beginnings.
Step 4: Establish Your Focus
After working through Step 3, the challenge is not whether there are possibilities, the challenge is where to focus. During Step 4 an expat spouse sets priorities and makes choices based on her personal goals, motivators, and constraints.
Step 5: Plan Your Steps
Dreams are seldom fulfilled without a plan. In Step 5 an expat spouse creates a structured, realistic plan to move ahead. Such a plan enables real change and a feeling of accomplishment.
Step 6: Work Your Plan
The final step is to work the plan. It is exhilarating and energizing to have a realistic plan and to commit to actions, one step at a time, against the plan. With imagination, commitment, and a sound plan almost anything is possible.
With an open mind and deliberate effort, opportunities abound for an expat spouse: to develop latent talents, to do something you have never had time for, to take a different career direction, to build new skills, to return to school, to travel, to learn a new language or refresh one that is rusty, to get involved in community work, to learn about a new culture and traditions.
Working through each step, an expat spouse/partner will gain personal insights, develop a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities of an expat assignment and use techniques that will help at other times of change. She will learn that by developing a personal plan with a long term perspective, she just might open herself to a whole new approach to life.