Tomorrow, June 30th 2020 is the first birthday of DDW. One year since I’ve created this character. I can’t believe how it evolved into what it is today! Like pretty much anything that I attempt, I was sure it would be a failure. My husband said to me: “Give it 6 months, and then you will evaluate”. I did it, (my previsions for 2020 seem very accurate…) and the blog passed the test.
Every month it kept growing and evolving into something more precise, more me, I guess. 4.000 readers from 120 countries in the world, it’s a good start, thank you for reading me! Photography came along the way, Networking and building connections too. Apparently, I’m good at that, we will see where this goes!
For the occasion, I battled hard with the website editing program and made a new design for the blog. IT is definitely NOT my thing, so this is the best you’ll get. I also opened a Facebook page, go follow it and you won’t miss any post!
What is more important is I found something I love to do, something for which I don’t count the hours, something that makes me smile! It’s hard to keep your identity when you leave your career (whether you love your job or not) to get the tag “wife of” or “the plus one”. Hence, it seems that I bloomed in this situation and you might wonder why or how I do it. It’s moving season and some of you might be leaving for the first time or be scared of what this new posting will bring. Let me share with you my tips, what worked for me to thrive in this situation. This might not be perfect for you, but it’s a starting point.
If you’re what internet calls “a trailing spouse”, the key for you when moving in another country is to build connections in the new country, to push yourself and not to find excuses! You just arrived in a city and you’re tired? No excuses! There is the Covid-19? No excuses! You have to start meeting people, doing things. Time flies and if the first year you haven’t done it, you might never find the courage to start again! Especially for those of us with an extremely short posting shift (1-2years). I know it’s hard and scary in the beginning and your new sofa is so comfy and secure, you don’t really want to go outside alone, but you have one big advantage: you are new, you are allowed to make mistakes!!! And if you want to learn something on the road, you have to put a little effort.
- Go to coffee (wine) meetings or organize them yourself. Even if you don’t want to, even if you’re shy, you never know, GO. Connecting will give you opportunities. Maybe not in the first year, maybe not in the exact field you’re looking for. Even if on the 50 people you will meet at the beginning, you will only like and connect deeply with 5, it doesn’t matter. It will offer you a choice, a life, a feeling that you belong to this city now. Also, you will build a life of your own. You won’t be fully dependant of your partner. Suddenly you’ll have activities and friends just for you. And trust me, your partner will be jealous of that network pretty fast because he’s working and doesn’t have half the time to build his own network.
How to do so?
- Check your neighbours, invite them for coffee or wine, depending on their nationality or religion.
- Look for Facebook groups of expats or moms in your city, and post questions on it, try to connect with people with similar interests. But be yourself, don’t join “Moms who run <Name of your town>” if you don’t, you will never feel comfortable amongst them, just saying.
- If you have kids, go pick them up after school (when there will be school again) and try to spot people with a good potential to be your friend. This one is tricky, if you get this wrong, you’ll be stuck to see them every day for the next 3 years, choose wisely who you give your number to, just saying. Suggest a global playdate at the park with parents of your kids’ class, the teacher can often help you with that. It’s at a neutral place and you’re not obliged to bond with anybody, but you might find one friend with a perfect advantage: your kids are already friends, so they aren’t bothering you while you’re having your coffee.
- Ask your husband for the contacts of partners of colleagues, go for lunch with them (try to put it on the husband’s credit card, after all it’s kind of “for” his job too), especially in the diplomatic world, they will understand you and you are going to see them a lot at the official receptions (or convince them to come), you need a friend there.
- Look for a club with your favourite hobby: Yoga, horse riding, book club, cooking, pole dancing. And go meet your pairs.
- Don’t forget to check also the associations of expats of your own country or language, like the French “Accueil”, you may not agree with their way of doing things but see this as a vehicle to meet people, you don’t have to show up at every museum visit or kayak weekend they organize. Pick and choose. And if you hate it… there might be another soul hating it just as much.
2. Try everything: new city, new you. You can start fresh, it’s easier to be abroad for that! Go to your first sculpture class, your first improvisation club or start new studies! See what you like. You changed, you moved, your tastes might have changed too. You get to discover new things, it’s a free pass because if you don’t like it, you stop, no problem! No one will judge you here. This kind of opportunity would never present itself at home. Here, nobody knows the old you, if you want to say “I’ve always wanted to be a carpenter” they won’t laugh, they will be happy to know someone who starts carpentry, might be handy to decorate your house. This part will be tricky though because when everything is on the table, finding your path is hard and it will take time (see third advice). If you network correctly, you will certainly get opportunities to start a job in your old sector too, and if you feel like doing it, go. Without even looking for it, I had some contacts for an economist job, would have been easy, but my hole body was rejecting it, I didn’t want to go back to that, so I didn’t. However, in a life where everything changes, you might want to have that aspect of your life kept fixed! I’m just saying you CAN use this opportunity to try something else.
3. Trial and error! The new you won’t be perfect the first try. It will take time for you to figure out if you wish to stay in the field you used to be in or completely change it. It will be hard, you will be in a lot of doubts and what you start might not be good at the first try, but you will always learn from it and get better! Don’t think you are losing your time, you failed at carpentry? Well, at least you know now for a fact that carpentry isn’t for you. You’re one step closer to knowing who you are. Knowing who you’re not is also a way of cornering who you are. And the road itself can be very fulfilling.
4. Finally, and most importantly Do not pressure yourself. You don’t HAVE to be somewhere or do something; you moved to a new place, you’re adapting and it’s already hard enough! You are only entitled to ensure your partner and/or kids happiness (and yours, don’t forget that one). I know this one is hard but, when you call back home friends or family and they ask you “What are you doing? Did you find a job yet? Aren’t you going to do anything?”, let it go. Don’t let it get to you. They ask to be nice, because they care and they are scared for you, they are worried you might change. They didn’t ask for a change while you’re looking forward to it. Most of them won’t understand so don’t start this battle, you will lose. Only you can understand what it is to be in your shoes. Look where you’re at, appreciate the moment and the life you already built! Not that I’m the best at that last one, just saying.
Voilà! That was my little piece of advice on connecting when moving to a new place. I don’t say it’s easy every day and of course when I’m having a downer I’m going to make a dramatical scene (Yes, I can be loud, I have Italian roots) and put it on the fact that I left my career to follow my husband and that’s the reason I’m down. But that’s the easy way, the drama queen in me knows it. I’m never really down because of that and I was way more often depressed in Belgium than I’m here (even during Corona lockdown). If you move, try to look at the big picture, see what this taught you, be proud of just being able to move your life, this is, in itself, a pretty dam big accomplishment.
I don’t know what the next DDW year will bring for us, I might stop this and start an office job, I might stay in photography or go to carpentry, I don’t think I will go into pole dancing but who knows (during lockdown I’ve grown the perfect body for belly dancing, so maybe…). I’m inspired by this expat community more than I can say and I have too many plans for one year. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!
Hand gloved wave and smile behind my mask (the new hugs and kisses),