I was talking to a friend and fellow expat recently about life abroad as an accompanying partner — what the difficulties and rewards are. We agreed that the rewards are many, we wouldn’t be where we are otherwise. However, we both recognized that there are some real challenges as well — challenges that are often overlooked when first heading out, but that are big enough to impact one’s life to a great degree, for a long time. In particular, we were talking about an issue we came to call the “facilitator” problem.

Our train of thought started with the fact that, as an accompanying partner you typically leave behind the very things that make up your identity, such as your job and financial independence, your network of friends and family, as well as activities and engagements. Reclaiming all these aspects of life in your new location can take a long time. And in the meantime, it’s important to have something to build your existence around. Being the facilitator serves this purpose.

When first arriving abroad it’s all about making life work — finding an appropriate place to stay, getting utilities up and running, making sure that paperwork is in order, that the kids are ok, etc — there is an almost never-ending list of things to do. More often than not, the accompanying partner becomes the facilitator, the person making sure that everything and everyone is taken care of.

We take it upon ourselves to make sure the international transition goes smoothly, with all that that entails. However, deep diving into the facilitator role can be problematic in the long run. Because, in combination with known accompanying partner issues such as the uncertainty regarding getting a work permit, having job credentials and skills that don’t translate, and struggling to learn the networking and job-seeking culture, as well as language barriers, it can make for a situation where you don’t really look to be anything other than the facilitator.

This was the case for me. Being the facilitator was how I built my identity. It became a safe harbor. While it might have been great in the beginning, over time, it hampered me and held me back in how I approached life abroad.

I know we all have a responsibility to “make our own lives happen”. But when you are in a new environment, where the “rules of operation” are different, and where you are without your regular support system, that’s not always easy. It took me a long time to understand my own situation, and even longer to figure out how to change it. Finding a support network is important, as is connecting with people who know how life in your new location works. Other expats who have gone before are a great resource. A coach or a mentor can be extremely helpful. One thing is for sure — no one can do this on their own.

By: Felicia Shermis

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