Its expat transition time. You’ve arrived in a new country, and have got part-way established. Now, what’s missing? Would getting a job make this queasy feeling settle down?
- Firstly, comparisons are futile.
Your situation is different from that of your friend, partner or anyone else. They may have jobs, may have sorted things out easily from afar. But careers are individual. Different factors make a massive difference. It is easier – in general – if you are moving from one office of an organisation to another in the same organisation, or within one sector to a country where your contacts may overlap – if some factors remain stable.
- Acknowledge where you are at, and what you are struggling with.
Outside you may well need to put a brave face on it. As a newly arrived expat you can’t cry full strength over the first friendly faces on the playground without risking putting them off, – though they too will have been through this stage. Find a safe place or person with whom to be honest, even if its only your diary. Shaking your fist at the universe in your diary makes a difference.
- Seek peers in transition.
Like Freshers Weeks, antenatal classes or expeditions to Everest Base Camp, some transitions are easier ventured together.
I was immeasurably grateful to three newly arrived women friends, with whom I would retreat for cocktails on a Friday afternoon. We’d sit in a near deserted restaurant, howling with laughter at this week’s tales of woe and misunderstandings. Having mates who you know are on your side, who will listen in confidence, with whom to laugh down disappointment, mishaps and painful transition made all the difference.
- Acknowledge to yourself those hard-won identities you are losing and gaining.
A move to Kenya meant for me, the loss of my work identity as a university careers adviser, and just as importantly, my social network and unofficial advisors as a mother in the long-term closeknit huddle of mums on the playground of our children’s village primary school.I came to realise I was missing the quick hits of students seen and related to, of workshops developed and delivered, replaced by a role I would never have applied for, as unofficial works coordinator failing to tick off interminable jobs outside my control, like the endless attempts to unblock airlocks in our water system. I moved from driver of a tiny micra on ordered roads, to driver of two tonne prado with dodgy brakes tussling with Kenyan drivers and stuck in hours of traffic each day. The losses are worst if hidden and unnoticed. Take time to acknowledge them.
- Allow yourself protective space
You may feel on show at a time of vulnerable transition. You may be competing for the next post against people in your office, or uncertain what comes next. It can be a time of feeling vulnerable as nothing since the major acne outburst of adolescence. It is particularly difficult if you have made the decision to move on, given two terms notice, and can’t find the opening. Caterpillars retreat to a chrysallis for good reason. Consider where your people are who are wholly on your side. It could be a counsellor or a career guidance practitioner, an online forum or a regular phonecall with a friend, but find someone who can remind you of your strengths and who you are at your best.
Taking a positive action helps. You won’t feel ready, but jump nonetheless. Volunteering with a community group gets us into a new setting. You start to build new networks. You remember that you are competent. You start to gain experiences to chat about in more formal settings. Of course you don’t want big scale commitments at this stage. You want the freedom to pick and choose. Give yourself a get out clause ‘I’d love to help while I get established’.
What helped you develop a new work identity in a new country?