Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Murphy’s Law of Expatriation

Prior to our first international move, I did a lot of research into what it meant to be an expat, and what living in India would be like. The local bookstore and the Internet were my best friends during our months of pre-move studies. According to all the books I read one of the best first steps you can take upon arrival in a new locale is to find other newbies and newbie-friendly organistaions.

Having done so much homework myself, I am always astounded when I hear from newly arrived expat wives that they had no idea that there were support groups, wife groups, and supportive wife groups out there to join once they became settled. If it weren’t for the local chapters of the Association in both Delhi and Nairobi, I probably would have gone insane from boredom and loneliness. Groups like the Association and others I found during the last three years have kept me happy and introduced me to some of the coolest women on the planet.

I recently read Robin Pascoe’s book “A Moveable Marriage” and found myself nodding and randomly calling out, “You tell it, girl!” The entire time I read this book, Hubby was rolling his eyes and accusing me of finding new ways to make “everything” his fault. Quite the contrary, I countered, the book goes into great detail about how both parties in the marriage must take equal responsibility for keeping it healthy despite the innate stresses of moving abroad. The truth of the matter is that, despite all the preparation I did prior to India, I wish I had read this particular book two moves ago instead of freshly arrived from my third.

One thing that has remained the same no matter where we called home is that Hubby and I enjoy an initial “honeymoon” phase where we move in, nest, and imagine that life is great. Then about three to six months after our plane touches down, I have a breakdown and realize that I’m living in a developing country where I don’t speak the language, have no access to my funds I can call my own, and am considered a 5th class citizen. Reading this book helped me realize that I’m not crazy (when it comes to this aspect of my life). Everything I have gone through during our moves, according to Pascoe, is completely normal and to be expected.

Inspired by a survey of expats that Pascoe recently completed, I decided to write my own tips for couples getting ready to make the leap into living abroad. About two pages in, I realized that I am a very bitter person. By page three I realized I was still on the same subject and had moved from sage advisor to bitter wife and finally onto a whole new level of crazy. Yet despite my now deleted diatribe, I eventually came to a better understanding of the wonderful relationship that Hubby and I share. I take him for granted far more often than not but at the end of the day moving abroad has brought us closer together. (It helped that I read him my rant prior to its deletion. Does it still count as open communication if you write out your grievances ahead of time?)

Don’t get me wrong, moving abroad is no more a panacea for marriage than is having a child. In other words, on its own, the move will no more kill your marriage than save it. When all is said and done, the best advice I can give you is this: you’ll survive your new expat life if you’re properly prepared ahead of time, willing to change everything at a moment’s notice, and most of all realize that Murphy was not only an optimist – he was an expat.


Connie said...

Murphy was a soldier in his early life, but upon finishing that first career, changed to a civilian lifestyle, and yes, he is MOST definitely an expat!

It is very important to look for resources and expat community associations. It's NOT about 'only hanging out with your own kind' - as some claim, it's about getting help from your peers who have already learned how your new lifestyle works.

RG said...


Just found your blog but did not see an email address for you. Keep an eye out for someone who may have fled America to Egypt and may be driving a taxi in Cairo.

Thanks :-)

Information on Yaser Said here:

Tamara said...

Well I'm not an expat, but I know plenty and I think your description of the hineymoon phase is something I've seen them all go through. I suppose you can never be 100% prepared, but it's good to try, right?