Increasingly for many, the adventure of packing up an everyday life, moving countries and resettling in an exotic location is becoming a reality due to growing globalization of employment.
International schools, expat real estate and relocation services, language institutes, nationality specific sport and social clubs can be found in most major cities around the world, attesting to the existence of expatriates living and spending in the host country.
To the uninitiated, it may seem that it is all mansions, maids, tennis clubs and gin and tonics. To the experienced, moving countries alone, with a partner, or with a family can be isolating, exhausting and frustrating.
Linda A. Janssen is a seasoned expat having lived with her husband and children in the US, Mexico and the Netherlands. Her new book The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures exposes the reality of being an expat accompanying partner (the condescendingly ‘trailing spouse’), a role that requires considerable emotional, psychological and mental stamina and intelligence. Furthermore, Janssen proposes that for expat survival, maintaining an adequate level of emotional resilience is paramount.
The book is presented in four parts, segmented into fifteen chapters. Part One covers cross-cultural living and issues relevant to expats, global nomads and third culture kids (TCKs), including loss of identity, isolation, relationship stress, uncertainty about the future, loss of career, and the effects on children.
Part Two tackles the importance of emotional, social and culture intelligence and intercultural competence in negotiating a satisfactory life in a host country. The third section focuses on methods to enhance emotional resilience, referring to familiar topics like mindfulness, communication, visualization and optimism.
Finally, Part Four concentrates specifically on emotional resilience in expats: what happens when emotional resilience levels drop, and how to protect and maintain adequate levels to buffer against the inevitable knocks and struggles of everyday life in a foreign setting.
At 400 pages, The Emotionally Resilient Expat is long, yet the reader remains engaged with numerous anecdotes contributed by expat partners living around the world. The stories tell of fantastic experiences of growth and discovery. They also talk about loss, grief, depression, loneliness, and dissatisfaction – all stemming from this lifestyle choice. Well researched, written in an easily accessible style similar to a self-help guide, the book ends with a comprehensive list of references and resources.
As a veteran expat of seven cities on four continents in just fifteen years, moving country is an endeavour that is beginning to lose its glow. My baggage includes the usual: husband working long hours either in or out of the country; four kids always ready to say a permanent goodbye to their friends; a menagerie of pets needing adoption when we move country; sudden death of my own career; stress caused by aging parents; and a house filled with unmatched treasures collected around the world.
I have great photos, precious memories, multicultural friends, kids who refuse bread because it is boring, and an immovable love of being in cultures and countries that are unfamiliar. There is no maid, no mansion, no sexy tennis coach, and most days, no gin and tonic. Some days are excruciating in the level of discomfort and frustration felt at attempting something basic - like engaging a plumber to come and fix the leaking dishwasher.
Paranoia takes over occasionally following a school drop-off when I feel berated by other parents, who surely consider the foreigner an alien unable to understand the simple instructions, like where my bike should be parked. And sometimes, I just want to stay in bed with memories of the times and people who understand my value as an intelligent, social, fun, career woman – as it stood before the international moving company arrived.
The Emotionally Resilient Expat gave me the assurance that my experiences were not unique and related to flaws in my own character. Reading the stories of other expat partners left me with that same supportive warmth that comes from being with others who know and understand the strange predicament you find yourself standing in.
Learning more about emotional resilience in myself, my partner and my children – and how our mobile lifestyle can and does affect our identity, self-confidence, health and happiness – will be a crucial tool to ensuring our present survival and future satisfaction in our decision to become global citizens.