This site has now been live for a whole 41 days, and in that time, a disturbing trend is emerging. Your fascination with my personal disasters. You see, big sister is watching you from a little box on the work press dashboard: the ‘site stats’ box. And what it tells me is that when I post a well researched, erudite and informative article on relocation, it gets a mere flicker of interest. By contrast, when I post anything involving personal injury, parenting failures or me looking foolish, viewing figures skyrocket. And if I can manage all three at once, à la It Started with a Kick, boy, are you all happy bunnies.. You should be ashamed.
Luckily for you, I have inherited an obsessive need to please from my mother, so I am catering to your whims. But to add an element of excitement to the mix, I’m not limiting myself to my own parenting catastrophes. I’m sharing the love. After lengthy discussion with my sibling, here’s the first of what could be a very long line in Parenting Fails..
1. Homemade clothes
I may be about to sound ancient, but things were different in my youth. Jeans were hand-me-downs and had multiple rings in the ankle region where they had been let down repeatedly; shoe choices were: school shoes, sandals or wellies (rainboots), and the only nods to fashion were different colored legwarmers or something bought from Carew Market which lasted about 10 minutes before the seams unravelled. So when an invitation to something that involved a higher level of grooming plopped through the letterbox, panic stations ensued.
In our world, this meant the unearthing of the sewing machine. My mother had an incredibly heavy industrial one, capable of removing limbs. In these current enlightened times, it would be classified as a Weapon of Mass Destruction; any damage not inflicted by the machine itself was quickly remedied by the garments produced. Most notably, the outfit produced for my sister, for a long distant wedding.
Your teenage years are not necessarily a high point in terms of personal judgement – this is where your parents come in. So what possessed my mother to think that my sister could carry off orange trousers and an orange, green and white striped hoodie is beyond me. My only explanation is that my sister must have royally pissed her off in the run-up to the wedding, and that my mother is still enjoying the last laugh every time she looks at the wedding portrait on the mantlepiece. God only knows what offense my sister committed to deserve having her legs encased in pumpkin hued, steel wool textured fabric so abrasive that it required a lining just to allow the wearer to walk without third degree friction burns. Add the striped hoodie, an unruly mass of frizzy hair, glasses and orthodontic braces, and my sister looked like a reject from the Jackson Five.
One can only feel sympathy for the poor bride, whose photographic memento of the happiest day of her life looks like it has been invaded by the Muppets. Imagine the bile that rose to her throat when she realized that she not only had invited the blots on the landscape, but she was going to have to pay the photographer for the privilege of being reminded of her mistake in perpetuity.
The tragic news is that my mother has the only copy, and getting hold of it would entail owning up to this post. So I’m striking a blow for sibling solidarity, and posting this one instead. Explains a lot, doesn’t it??
This guest post comes from Ayesha, part of my Sanity Circle of friends in Kenya who kept the chaos in perspective. She kept me laughing constantly with her quiet but very well observed humor, and I am delighted that she has given in to my interminable nagging, and agreed to post on the site from Nairobi. Enjoy!!
My internet connection was cut off for the nth time today. And, here comes the best part, due to non-payment of my bill. Of course, it’s the same bill that I paid 20 days ago, two weeks before the due date. As this is not the first time this has happened to me (surprise! surprise!), I make sure that every time I pay my bill, I email the gentleman in charge and ask him if my payment has been received. I relax only when I receive his reply in the affirmative. Guess what? Of course, he replied that he had and that it would be credited to my account. Admittedly, the ‘immediately’ was implicit, and that may have been where I went wrong.
Alas, today my connection was terminated. Actually, that is what I am thinking of doing now: terminating my connection with this internet provider, but this will obviously involve me getting it reconnected first. I wanted to cry, but since the tears weren’t really there and fuming and fretting was, I splashed cold water on my face, texted my husband to finish all internet related work at his office and went to see how my kids were getting along with their homework. I was concerned that they may need to use the world wide web for some of their work. Fortunately, today was one of those rare days when they could accomplish their tasks technology free. There have been days when we have had to go either to my husband’s office or to a café with wireless internet access, despite my best efforts, repeated payments and email correspondence.
So, this evening, I reminded myself how, when we had moved to Kenya six years ago, the only internet available to me was via pre-paid cards for dial-up access @ $10 per hour, or via an internet cafe. Uploading ten photos, like I had done last evening, was impossible then. All in all, my internet works pretty well most of the time. Now and then, about once in 2 months, they drive me crazy by (1) disconnecting my service, (2) not answering their phone when I call to get the problem fixed and (3) if someone does pick up, it’s after hours and the accounts office has closed for the day, but hey. I will start calling them early tomorrow morning, give them time to sort out this mess, and make sure I stay calm and remind myself:
Relax, this is Kenya!
courage does not always roar. sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.
mary anne radmacher
I always wonder whether she had experienced relocation firsthand. For me, her words sum up so many days of the first six months of relocation, especially the first time around. You spend such a lot of your time feeling utterly out of place; the proverbial fish out of water, that you begin to think that panic and desperation are a way of life.
The first relocation I underwent involved renting out our house, which we had just spent a not so small fortune and eight years of our life renovating. We were lucky – a prospective tenant arrived who was being relocated in exactly the same way that we were, only it was probably nearer to her tenth relocation. I liked her so much that I left the house exactly as we had lived in it: books, photographs, art, the whole nine yards. In return, she gave me the best relocation advice that I received.
“The first six months are the worst”.
Those of you who are still considering relocation must now be rolling your eyes in horror and resolving to stay put for the rest of your working life. But, she was right. The first six months were the steepest learning curve I have ever encountered; a blur of tedious tasks that seemed impossible, of wondering whether I was ever going to make any friends, of feeling lonely, isolated, and just plain scared. But you also discover your courage. The ability to get up and keep going when all you really want to do is go back to bed and never speak to another soul, the sheer force of will it takes to plaster a smile on your face and go and meet another roomful of strangers or try and get life’s basic necessities with barely a word of the language. It also taught me that people are kind, and that the world is not the crime ridden, corrupt place that is often portrayed in the media. Sure, there are those out there who delight in making you feel uncomfortable, but hey, we went to high school with plenty of those too. What I found when I finally ventured out of my hiding place was that there were plenty of people just like me, who were just doing their best, and feeling pretty stupid while doing it.
It reminded me of learning to surf. There are those that are only concerned with how fabulous they look on the board and will abuse anyone who interferes with that. And while they are good at what they do, in their quest for perfection, they’ve taken all the fun out of it. There are those that are out there for the sheer joy of the ride, and treat every moment as a challenge. And there are those of us who are still paddling about in the shallows, being buffeted by the breakers and beaten by the board, but are still paddling furiously and knowing that we look ridiculous. But also knowing, that if we stay in long enough, we’ll be out there riding out the rough stuff, and having the time of our lives doing it.
So here’s a picture of Jamie, who the day after losing half her tooth in our second surfing lesson, just got back in, paddled out, and did this..
Congratulations, Jamie – Henry is lucky to have such a fabulous Mom.
My vocal cords are shot. And whoever invented earbuds is going to get the medical bills.
My children both have iPads, mainly because large items of outdoor play equipment are rendered redundant whenever we move, so when I buy gifts, there is always a little voice in the back of my mind working out whether it will work on a different voltage, whether I can still get games for it wherever we are, if family members can contribute to future upgrades, whether it will grow with the kids and whether it will fit in a backpack.
Steve Jobs obviously had me in mind when he invented iTunes, the App store, and the iPad. The kids read books, listen to music, do homework, surf the internet and watch TV, all on a device the size of my old biology textbook cover. They even use them in school as textbooks, which has to be a step up from the 40lb book bags we used to trudge around school with. The iPad couldn’t be any more perfect, and it even comes with headphones so we get to have peace and quiet.
No more arguing over who had to get up and change the channel / twiddle the aerial / move the set round a bit when the sun shone on the screen and rendered Dr Who invisible. No more fighting over which of the three channels to watch (remember our excitement to be getting a fourth channel, only to discover that half of it was in Welsh?). No more having to lose one of the comfy chairs from the lounge so that we could fit the new TV in.. And no more getting up on the roof in a howling gale because the antenna had turned just as we were about to find out who killed Dirty Den in Eastenders.. Nope. Just charge it up, switch it on, and enjoy, in glorious technicolor.
But there is one slight flaw in the whole iPad story. The earbuds. So fascinated are my offspring by Angry Birds, Farmville and Hulu that there could be a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings in the front room, and they still would be none the wiser. As for summoning them to do chores or eat the odd meal, you’ve got to be kidding. I’m fast losing my voice, losing my patience, and losing my marbles. And when they do finally surface, it’s with disapproving frowns at my raised voice. Which is why the cartoon that I was sent recently placed a warm glow in my heart. Good to know that it’s not just me..
I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. The dictionary describes the term beholden as ‘owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T..
As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.
Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone. It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you don’t have an independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income. And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.
Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in
the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.
Earlier this year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income.” This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar, July 7, 2011)
Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.
The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it. We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model..
The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening you own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed.. However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.
And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.
So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.
Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already..
In the first guest post of the series, Andrea Elliot examines the issues involved in securing work for the accompanying spouses in dual-career households. She also describes pre-assignment activities that can reduce the stress of dealing with visas, lists countries that are accompanying spouse-friendly, and offers work alternatives if a job cannot be legally obtained.
We all have read articles and attended seminars and conferences urging international human resource (HR) managers and global relocation professionals to heed a warning concerning international assignments—ignore the “trailing spouse” at your own financial peril.
Even the European Commission, in its 2005 report titled “Community Incentive Measures in the field of Employment,” recognized that the difficulty of finding employment for spouses of mobile workers is one of the major obstacles for occupational and geographic mobility in Europe.
However, our practical and daily experience in the legal and global immigration field reveals that despite the warnings of the GMAC Global Relocation Services, Woodridge, Illinois, 11th annual “Global Relocation Trends Survey,” conducted in conjunction with the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), Washington, DC, spouses very rarely are invited to participate in any of the immigration planning and hardly ever offered any pre-departure support from a work permit perspective.
Trailing spouses are just not on the “to-do” list when it comes to international assignment planning. The question of obtaining work authorization for the trailing spouse largely is downplayed or ignored.
The result—the “honeymoon glow” of a foreign assignment fades into cold reality when the trailing spouse learns that there are major difficulties in working legally in the new foreign country.
The moniker “trailing spouse” conjures images of a frazzled, meek person, bumbling along behind the assignee. This is why we refer to him or her as an “accompanying spouse” because, for the most part, he or she is educated, speaks more than one language, has had his or her own career, and is the glue that keeps the family together.
Sadly, the vast majority of immigration laws around the world prevent the spouse from working by not offering derivative work status. These laws largely are a legacy from a time when most assignees were men and many women did not work and, to a lesser degree, the result of protectionism for local labor markets. Government and business have not kept pace with each other. The business world has moved forward, and the dual-career couple is a reality; the law has stayed behind, penalizing spouses who want to work in the host location but are not permitted to do so.
Fortunately, there are organizations that actively lobby foreign governments for change to this archaic status quo. One of the best known and effective of these organizations, the Permits Foundation, is based in The Hague, the Netherlands. As a non-profit organization, its key goal is to encourage foreign governments to liberalize their business-related work permit legislation to allow accompanying expatriate spouses to participate freely in local employment markets.
Because of the committed efforts of organizations such as the Permits Foundation, as well as the forces of economic activity demanding more local labor, governments are starting to recognize that they have a valuable skilled pool of labor in the “already present in country” accompanying spouse population.
Kathleen Van der Wilk Carlton, secretary and board member of the Permits Foundation, stated recently in an interview withForeign Direct Investment (fDi) magazine that “providing open work authorization for accompanying partners is very important in attracting the highly qualified staff and talent that goes hand in hand with international trade and investment.”
As such, a few forward-thinking countries have begun to shift their focus from protecting their job markets to work authorization for accompanying spouses, resulting in a tremendous economic advantage for those countries. Hong Kong is a prime example of this recent trend. In May 2006, in an effort to generate economic activity with the existing population of spouses who could not work, the Hong Kong immigration regulations were amended to permit accompanying spouses and dependents the right to work.
In a recent article by Maureen Minehan, “Spousal Work Permits Could Gain Favor in Competitive Global Economy,” featured in the January 2006 edition of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Global HR News, she noted that the “additional liberalization of work permit laws is likely as countries strive for greater foreign investment and search for solutions to impending labor shortages.”
Minehan also wrote that, “In the United States, for example, the most recent National Study of the Changing Workforce by the Families and Work Institute found that 78 percent of married wage and salaried employees were part of a dual-earning couple today, up from 66 percent in 1977.”
Dual-career Couples Are the Reality
When offered an international assignment, these couples are reluctant to give up their dual-income lives and consequently turn down international assignments when the accompanying spouse cannot work as a result of immigration barriers in the host country. The opportunities for an employee resulting from an international assignment can be outweighed by the detrimental effect of a career dislocation for the partner, according to Ashleigh Lezard in her article “Family Values,” featured in the June 2004 issue of fDi.
Despite an increasingly global society, the problem of career dislocation of the expatriate spouse still exists and continues to frustrate international human resource (IHR) departments. Increasingly, companies are recognizing the need to address the problem in pre-assignment strategy planning and now devote a fair budget toward finding solutions.
Practically speaking, what can an IHR professional or relocation consultant do to assist the accompanying spouse before the assignment commences to ensure that his or her needs are met?
The solution, from a legal perspective, lies in pre-assignment planning for the spouse, candidate country suitability selection, and effective strategic support.
Tips for Pre-assignment Assistance for the Accompanying Spouse
The following are a few suggestions to add to your “to-do” list when planning your international assignment.
- The first step should be to identify all the locations in which your company or client operates. Make a list of the countries either from the company website or annual report.
- Using that list as your foundation, your next step should be to establish which of those countries you have global assignees in or will be sending assignees to in the future.
- Then, review the candidate selection by establishing the gender of the principal expatriate. In the article “Supporting the Male Accompanying Spouse,” by Peggy Greenwood and Laura Herring, SCRP, GMS, featured in the June 2003 issue of MOBILITY, the authors found that a male is the accompanying spouse in more than 15 percent of cross-border relocations.
- You should then review the gender of the accompanying spouse. Saudi Arabia, for example, does not recognize the possibility that a man could be the accompanying spouse of a female expatriate.
- Establish whether the couple is married or in a de facto relationship. Muslim countries only permit accompaniment by married spouses and do not recognize de facto relationships.
- Identify assignees in a same-sex relationship. Knowing that South Africa, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands recognize the validity of same-sex relationships for work permit purposes can prevent any potentially incorrect country assignments.
- For certain Middle Eastern countries, you will have to review the religious affiliation of the accompanying spouse, as there may be immigration discrimination against non-Muslim females. For example, the religious laws of Saudi Arabia prohibit non-Muslims from entering Mecca (see De Yoreo v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 785 F.2d 1282 (5th Cir. 1986)).
- Check the nationality of the accompanying spouse and ascertain if she or he has more than one passport, as often a dual national has better options with his or her “other” nationality. For example, if the spouse is a United States citizen but also holds an EU passport, he or she would be entitled to work anywhere in the EU without having to obtain separate work authorization.
- Verify that the spouse was born in the country of the passport in which she or he is a national. For example, if the spouse is currently a national of the United Kingdom but was in fact born in Pakistan, an assignment to India may result in lengthy delays of visa processing because of the nature of diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan. The fact that the spouse currently has a UK passport is irrelevant because Indian authorities require declaration of past nationalities and decisions are made based on that information.
- Review the country immigration regulations on dependents’ right to employment.
- Identify which countries view the accompanying spouse as a dependent without a right to work, and which countries will permit work authorization for the spouse without him or her having to apply independently and face the same administrative challenges as the principal expatriate. On your list of “accompanying spouse-friendly” countries should be Australia, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the Netherlands (in certain categories), Sweden, and, in a few visa categories, the United States (See sidebar.).
- Develop an internal policy to ensure that the organization is complying with immigration law in every country in which you have a corporate entity.
- Strongly consider the development of a policy outlining how the work permits and visa application process is to be handled in countries where the accompanying spouse cannot work. One option may be to offer the spouse a lump-sum allowance to obtain legal counsel locally if he or she finds a job in the host country.
- Reminders about the policy and how to use it can be distributed through corporate intranet sites, e-mail blasts to managers, leaflets, and other media.
The Accompanying Spouse-friendly Countries
Australia. If your client’s organization has locations in Australia and a standard business sponsorship in place, you will be able to advise the business unit managers that Australia is an excellent location to send dual-career couples. Australia offers working privileges to both the principal assignee and the spouse under, for example, the subclass 457 visa. This means that the accompanying spouse does not have to apply separately for a work permit—they are authorized to work by virtue of the assignee’s approval.
United Kingdom. Accomp anying spouses and common law partners are afforded the same benefits as the work permit holder, provided their passports have not been endorsed stating they may not work.
The Netherlands. In April 2005, largely because of the efforts of the Permits Foundation, accompanying spouses and partners no longer need to apply for a separate work permit if they are spouses within a specific category of foreign worker. The category is limited to partners of foreign workers who earn more than €45,000 per annum. To qualify for the new conditions, companies apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for “knowledge-migrant” status for the expatriate employee. This process enables the partner to apply for a residence permit that allows him or her to work during the assignment.
Hong Kong. As of May 1, 2006, the Hong Kong Immigration Department changed its regulations to ensure that dependents of professional workers or capital-investment entrants admitted into Hong Kong no longer need prior permission before taking up employment.
Germany. Under new regulations passed in 2005, if the duration of an international assignment is to last for more than one year, the accompanying spouse is granted the same working permit as the employee.
United States. There are three categories of non-immigrant visas—“E,” “L,” and “J”— that offer the accompanying spouse employment authorization without a separate filing of work permit. Thus, when a business need emerges that requires a foreign national to enter the United States, one of the primary considerations should be strategizing with the provider to review steps one through 14 outlined in this article. If there is a need for the accompanying spouse to work, then using the correct approach to obtain work authorization to facilitate both spouses is applied for before arrival in the United States.
Canada. Spouses of highly skilled temporary workers entering Canada are allowed to apply for an “open” (i.e., non-employer-specific) work permit. Please note that the term “spouse” includes both common-law and same-sex partners who have been cohabiting with the principal applicant in a conjugal relationship for at least one year prior to the application (see www.canada.org.uk/ visa-info/worker/e_spouse.htm).
New Zealand. Spouses and de facto partners of people issued work visas and work permits (including long-term business visas and permits) allowing a stay in New Zealand of more than six months may apply for and be granted a multiple-entry work visa and work permit under this policy. Domestic partners (same-sex and opposite-sex) also are eligible for unrestricted work authorization if evidence of a common law relationship exists (seewww.immigration.govt.nz/NZIS/operations_manual/4729.htm).
Alternatives for the Accompanying Spouse
If the IHR professional or in-house counsel who is tasked with managing the process is faced with the situation that the couple is going to a country where only the assignee will be able to work, there are alternate solutions that are available to the spouse. While not perfect solutions, they do permit the spouse to overcome the isolation of not working at all.
Work independently as a self-employed professional. In Belgium, for example, an alternative many spouses take to overcome the work permit problem is to practice a trade or occupation as an “independent.” Independent, self-employed workers must have a Belgian professional card, which is the equivalent of a work permit for self-employed persons. Professional assistance always should be sought in the planning stages of the visa strategy, as an incorrect initial approach to the authorities or an incorrectly completed application form may not be salvageable.
Position within the expat’s company. Another solution could be to find the spouse a position within your company abroad.
Find a position with another company abroad. If the spouse is unable to work freely, then she or he also can look for a position with another company in the foreign country. This may force the couples to move abroad at different times. Therefore, the process for obtaining the spouse’s authorization usually would need to be completed prior to entry for most countries.
Use existing online resources. There are websites that are available to assist the spouse find positions, thus enhancing the assignee’s global mobility. For example, www.partnerjob.com was launched by corporations that found that their employees’ mobility was being limited by the lack of opportunities for their spouses. Another resource iswww.expatspouse.com, which offers tips about expat living. There also is www.expatclic.com, which was formed by two women who have lived abroad as expat spouses and offers an online network of support.
Volunteer. While it is not considered employment, finding a volunteer organization where the accompanying spouse can feel part of an entity and assimilate local culture is a possibility. Be sure to verify with your immigration professional in a pre-departure consultation whether volunteer work in the host country requires a separate visa, as there are certain countries, particularly in Africa, where volunteer work requires a visa over and above the dependent visa. If you choose to volunteer, your personal contributions can have a huge effect because the need is so great.
Student visa. There are “student” visa options, where the spouse can enroll for language skills training at a local college if that option is not covered under the ambit of the dependent visa.
Join a support group. If there is no local support group, then form one yourself. Follow the example of a male support group that was established in Belgium in 1994. It has the acronym STUDS (Spouses Trailing Under Duress Successfully).
Create your own weblog chronicling your time abroad. According to Nancy Case, who is an accompanying spouse currently on assignment with her husband in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (see nancycase.blogspot.com), the job description, if there were one for an accompanying spouse, would look like this:
- Must be a creative problem-solver ready for a variety of new challenges.
- Must be able to quickly assemble your own large network of on-the-ground contacts through informal means.
- Must have a strong sense of inwardly-focused self-esteem.
- Experience in logistics, foreign languages, and travel planning a plus.
- Must be flexible.
- Must possess a positive outlook.
- Benefits: foreign travel and a luxury lifestyle.
- Overall, nice work if you can get it.
Being the accompanying spouse opens up a brave new world of cultures to be explored, languages to be learned, strangers to be turned into friends, and a lifetime of rich memories for those willing to take the risk.
When you are a relocating trailing spouse, cultural orientation comes in many forms. I had a British driving moment yesterday, which bearing in mind I’m in the US, is not such a good thing. I was turning out of a petrol (gas) station, and without thinking, ended up on the left side, much to the alarm of the guy in the truck coming towards me..
It’s one of the many curses of the expatriate life. No sooner do you get a valid driving license, than you are relocated to parts unknown where the rules are completely different, the steering wheel is on the wrong side, and the potential for disaster is immense.
Take Britain, for instance. Much to my driving instructor’s exasperation, it took me four years and five attempts to pass my driving test, and not before I could juggle, had a degree, and could legally inject people with controlled substances. My first car was an ancient Volkswagen Golf, which had a steering wheel on the right, a gear stick in the middle, and a cassette player that gradually ate its way through my music collection.
The rules of the road in Wales are simple and mainly involve staying on your own side of the road and taking your foot off the accelerator when the word “ARAF” appears in large white letters on the tarmac. While the correct translation is “slow”, it usually signals impending doom, anything from a single lane blind bend to a large combine harvester blocking the road.
Other potential obstacles include large dairy herds (twice daily for milking), errant sheep (for every one you can see in the road, there’s three more waiting to jump out of the hedge), tractors with large blades attached, and the fact that every piece of relevant highway information is in Welsh.
Oh, and most of the roads are single track back roads with 12 ft high banks of granite cunningly camouflaged by primroses, designed in ancient times to lure the unwary tourists of the future to lose their wing mirrors, passenger door paintwork, and no claims bonuses..
Suddenly, keeping your eyes on the road is made impossible by the sight of a small person behind you sticking foreign objects up a nostril, rubbing banana into the upholstery, or (my personal favorite) opening the door while passing the Swindon exit at 70 mph on the M4.
Car manufacturers fail to allow for multiples of children, of different ages and developmental abilities, ‘helping’ you by making sure the child lock is on for their little sister while you are loading the car. I invented the term “Rodeo driving’ – the art of hanging on to the steering wheel with one hand, while swiping furiously at the rear seat with the other in an attempt to stave off the latest catastrophe, usually involving sibling near death experiences.
There needs to be a “Highway Code for Parents” which outlines just what driving actions are to be taken when Offspring No.1 decides to feed large lumps of banana to (newborn and now somewhat purple) Offspring No.2, and the nearest motorway service station is 14 miles away.
Lest you think there are no advantages to having children in the car, however, I must confess that the only speeding ticket I never received was when I had my 8 day old son in the car with me, and was stopped for doing 37mph in a 30 mph zone. Inexplicably, I was on my way to the Other Half’s office with an enormous batch of homemade profiteroles, which were wedged firmly in the lap of my newborn. The policeman took one look at my red-rimmed eyes, my hormonal state, and my infant son buried under dessert for 30, and obviously decided that this was one he didn’t want to have to try and explain in court.
Accidents in Wales were greeted with little drama. Most of the vehicles on the road already bore the scars of the stone banks, the narrow bridges and the supermarket shopping trolleys, so minor scuffs were no cause for alarm.
More serious accidents involved calling the police, who rather enjoyed the chance to drive really, really fast to the only interesting thing that had happened that week, and then make sure they got a very detailed family history so that they could tell on you to your mother, your boss, and all their mates down the pub.
Fast forward eight years, and the Other Half relocates to Kenya. Despite his many and varied promises for help, support and gifts, what he really meant was “I’m going back to work on Tuesday, so here’s a 4WD vehicle, a very out of date map, and a sticker to get through the security gate. Have a magical day”. Although the road signs were all familiar, the interpretations were very, very different, and can be summed as ” avoid the potholes; only stop when there is a policeman watching”.
The roads were appalling, with the tarmac laid over red soil, so that every rainy season, the supporting earth was washed away from underneath, and huge, axle-breaking chasms appeared. New ones could be easily identified by the white toyota corollas stranded at strange angles, or upended matatus (13 seater minibuses which are the main public transport) with amused commuters watching while the driver and conductor valiantly attempt to restore it to its wheels.
Accidents in Kenya are commonplace – rarely did a day go by without seeing a bus on its roof, having veered too close to the steep sides of the road. And yet not once did I see anger on display, either on the road or off it. Horns blared constantly, driving was an extreme sport, and yet apologies were standard, and the worst insult I ever heard our driver, Gerishom, offer, when witnessing a particularly disastrous piece of speeding, was ‘You see, this man? He is not very good at his job.”
Enter Los Angeles, where they drove on the wrong side of the road, turned right on red lights, and never, ever used their indicators. The vehicles were huge and covered with tribal decals(everything from satanic symbols to Girl Scout logos), people passed you at high speed on both sides, horns blared constantly, and the anger was palpable.
Especially on the school run. I have never seen such aggression, and from women who were on their way to explain how “Character Counts” to eight year olds. The size of the vehicle was inversely proportional to the number and age of the children, and woe betide you if you paused a nanosecond to long at a stop sign en route to school. These women may only be a size zero, but they were fueled by days at the gym, caffeine and hunger. They were the maternal version of napalm.
Accidents in LA can only be resolved with the help of lawyers, three months of physical therapy and an astronomical insurance premium. Million dollar ‘umbrella’ insurance provides the liability version of the airbag, and the focus was less on actual injury and damage and far more on emotional distress and potential future incapacity. And never, ever say sorry. It said so on your insurance documents..
Ironically, the only time I have ever been hit by a car was in LA. Heavy traffic, stop lights every 200 metres, and a driver behind who was changing radio station, all combined to insert the front of his car into the rear of mine. We both pulled into a side street, where the offending driver jumped out and, ignoring all insurance guidelines, proceeded to apologize profusely, and check my somewhat battered Volvo for (additional) damage. In true British fashion, I politely told him that all was well, I had sustained no injuries, the car was fine, and thanked him for actually stopping to check on my welfare. He looked at me like I had grown an extra head, got back in his car and sped off into the dense traffic, with me waving gaily behind.
I tried to write my résumé last night, and I’m beginning to think I’m unemployable. Seriously. And I have only myself to blame.
The Global Relocation world has finally noticed that the accompanying spouses on most assignments are overwhelmingly well educated, highly motivated and usually professionally qualified people, rather than the servile 1950’s caricatures which seem to have been the previous assumption. And if there is such a thing as fashion within the Relocation Services community, the current trend is for recommendations and strategies for supporting the long term careers of both relocating adults, whether employed by the corporation or not.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I think I have spotted a glitch in this shiny new interest in our well-being. Take me, for example. Four years of obtaining my degree in Nursing, another two getting my Higher Education teaching credential, and then 10 years of working at a college. Then we moved to Kenya, supposedly for a year, only to discover that spouses were not permitted to work (even voluntarily) without a work permit, which took nine months to get.
Fast forward 3 years later, and we actually leave Kenya for the US. The first 6 months is lost in bureaucratic red tape, and by the time I finally surface and contemplate re-entering the workforce, I discover that while I am legally entitled to work, I must first get official permission in the form of an Employment Authorization Document, and a Social Security number. Two months later, I am finally in a position to seek work, but am faced with the unwelcome realization that neither my nursing nor my teaching credentials are valid in California, and should I move again, even to another state, I may have to repeat the revalidation process..
I have been avidly reading the relocation journals for details on how they intend to support the multitude of spouses out there in finding work in foreign climes, but most take an alarmingly superficial approach;
“As her résumé was not appropriate for the local market, the process of transforming, re-packaging, and re-positioning her to potential employers was started’. (Seng, E. 2008)
Which doesn’t really help me much, because no amount of resume rebranding will give me the ability to legally do what I spent the first half of my life doing.
So why aren’t we looking at why the partners agreed to relocate in the first place. I am willing to bet that for a great many of us, it was the challenge, the adventure, and the desire to move forward, not because we imagined it would benefit our career. Once we acknowledge that we want to use our skills and find meaningful use of our time, the possibilities are endless and the scope for personal development is unlimited. And no relocation policy in the world will be able to accommodate this little voyage of reinvention and self discovery, so we’d better just get on with it ourselves.
With this in mind, let me introduce you to Jennifer Bradley PhD. She is
a career and work life consultant and coach. She draws on her personal and professional experience to help mid-career professionals and expatriate accompanying partners to navigate challenging work life transitions with less stress.
To help you get started, she has put together her top 6 questions to ask, both of yourself, your relocation service provider, or one of the many expat forums out there, this one included. Because if I have to do it, so do you… See how supportive I am?
Suzanne (of Nairobi Police Station fame) emailed me this, and it’s too good not to share. Although apparently I am one of the last to receive it, but still..
To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In light of your increasing obsession with shows such as ‘Jersey Shore’, ‘Desperate Housewives of New York’ and ‘The Kardashians’ which President Obama kindly gifted to Her Royal Highness in US DVD format, and also in recent years your tendency to place greater importance on the activities of Sarah Palin than those of your own elected officials, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up revocation in the Oxford English Dictionary, not that Webster’s imposter).
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).
To aid the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect.
1. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in word such as ‘colour’ ‘favour’ ‘labour’ and ‘neighbour’. Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘ize’ will be replaced with the suffix ‘ise’.
2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ‘like’ and ‘you know’ is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no longer such a thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of ‘ize’.
3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you are now ready to be independent. Guns should be used only for shooting grouse. If you can’t sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you are not ready to shoot grouse.
5. Therefore, you will no longer be able to carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required should you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
6. All intersections will be replaced by roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth – see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.
11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of wimps.
12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.
14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.
God Save the Queen!
(And boy, did this post drive my spellchecker crazy..)