And now for the “she” perspective on the topic of “Sharing the Expat Experience“…
My husband is right in that the decision to accept an expat assignment should not be taken lightly and should be thoroughly discussed and considered. And we did just that prior to accepting. We had actually thought about doing this sort of assignment for several years — even while our children were still at home with us — but the right opportunity never came along until this job in Tokyo. And, we approached this job as an opportunity not just for “him” and his career, but as an opportunity for “us” as a couple and a family.
I believe we have grown closer as a couple through this experience. We have done a lot of traveling together, and seen a lot of places we would never have had the chance to see otherwise. We have lived in a culture and country very different from our own. And, we have always viewed this expat life as an adventure for us to experience together. But it is certainly not without difficulties and some sacrifice.
We both gave up — at least temporarily — our home, our cars, our pets (who are being well cared for by family members, I want to add.) My husband gave up his position at his company in ATL, and though they promise he will have a position to go back to, he has no guarantee of what that job will be. I gave up my job — permanently. When we go back, I will have to find another job.
He has a place here. A job to go to everyday, people to work with who he can interact with. People who depend on him and respect him for the job that he is doing. I have an apartment… lol. I do the household jobs… the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking, the shopping. I did those things back home as well, but here I have no outside job to go to (visa requirements make a job more difficult, and language is an added complication), and I don’t have a very large social circle. I have made friends with other expat spouses in the company, but we only see each other a few times per month.
The language differences can be isolating. I am learning Japanese, but I am still a long way from being effectively conversant. Aside from simple polite exchanges at the stores and restaurants — konnichiwa, ohayo, onegaishimasu, arigato gozaimasu — my interaction is limited. Even at the spouses’ luncheons, I am the only American, and one of few native English speakers.
I don’t say these things in complaint — far from it. But just to emphasize the difficulties attached to this kind of an assignment. And… maybe… to also suggest that it takes a certain type of personality to be able to do this. My husband and I are both introverts who don’t mind having a little bit of “alone time.” We do quite well spending time with each other, and don’t really need a large social circle. Just my opinion.
One of the other expat spouses I have met, lives most of the time at her home in Mumbai, and only comes a few times a year to visit her husband here in Tokyo. She told me last year that as soon as she retired from her job in India, she would move permanently to be with her husband. But since then, she has reconsidered. Though she has retired, she now says that she just can’t give up her social group and her friends in India. She says that she wouldn’t have anyone to talk to here. So, she and her husband will continue as a long-distance couple.
It certainly is a trade-off, and I understand her point of view completely. We all have to do what works best for ourselves and our relationships. Everyone is different. But for me — for us — it works better to be together. Even with occasional feelings of isolation. And even with that occasional two-week business trip when I must stay behind by myself… lol.