It’s the “he” part of the blog team, writing this entry from a hotel in London. My job provides me with the opportunity to travel, which was an important consideration in my decision to accept the expat assignment. I viewed the job as a chance for me – and my wife – to see parts of the world we probably wouldn’t otherwise see. Unfortunately, on this two-week business trip, my spouse wasn’t able to come along.
I have found that there is a wide variation in how expats share their experience with spouses and family. In my company, we have a number of people from other countries who are assigned to Japan, typically for two to five years. Some, like me, share the assignment with a spouse. One colleague has included his children, who are learning about the world through international school and living in a foreign land.
Several colleagues, however, participate in their assignments while their spouse remains at home. Perhaps they didn’t want to uproot children from their schools, or the spouse has a job that couldn’t be abandoned, or the spouse just didn’t want to leave “home” for such a long time. For these colleagues, sharing the expat experience with their spouse consists primarily of video calls, and periodic visits.
For me, the “long distance” relationship was never an option. Had my spouse not been able to move to Japan with me, I would not have accepted the assignment. It has turned out to be an amazing opportunity to share our lives and our experiences. We’ve become closer as a couple, and the assignment has been a rewarding one for us both.
Anyone considering an expat assignment should think very carefully about what’s best for their personal relationships. For a spouse, life in Japan can be challenging. It is often not practical for a spouse to work, due to visa requirements. Being a spouse in a foreign land can be isolating, with language and cultural differences making social interactions more difficult. Although Tokyo has a large expat community, it isn’t always easy to make close or lasting relationships with other expats. Being a spouse in a foreign city can sometimes be a lonely experience.
The point, I think, is that being an expat couple is a complicated situation, and not one to be entered into without much thought and discussion. Our experience has been that the positives significantly outweigh the drawbacks.