Expat partners – are you ready for the Settlement Curve?
Info on the author: Jenny Smith is an expat living in Auckland and is the founder of the blog, MoveToNewZealand, which provides free and independent advice on how to move to New Zealand. Jenny has been featured on leading publications including MarketWatch, Reader's Digest, TravelAwaits, MSN.com, AirHelp, Orbitz and many others.
If you are moving overseas with your partner or spouse, you may face quite specific challenges when you first arrive. Here is some practical information about getting you and your family set up in your newly adopted country so you can get settled and start enjoying life there.
“Success depends upon previous preparation” – Confucius.
These are wise words which have stood the test of time and are worth keeping in mind, leading up to the big move. Of course, your working partner will be preparing in his/her own way – briefing meetings, job familiarization, focus on employer expectations, etc. But what about you, the support team?
Have you given consideration to what lies ahead for you personally? Setting up your new home, checking out the surroundings, maybe organizing schooling - and all this with very little or no outside contact. No office buddies for you; no morning coffee discussions or working lunches. Just you, on your own.
It’s good to talk
Your move needs to be thought about and discussed in depth, well before you get on that flight. You will both need support and encouragement from each other. Try and anticipate what’s likely to be ahead – potential loneliness for you, and perhaps self-doubt for your partner in the new job. By doing this, you’ll both be more understanding and sympathetic towards each other and be able to work through those “down” times together.
As much as anything, this could be viewed as “emotional preparation” and it is just as important as all the practicalities you need to consider.
Getting a visa
Another top preparation priority is applying for a partner visa. Check out which visa you may qualify for and how to apply for it. You should also check what visas your children need.
Scaling the “Settlement Curve”
On arrival, you will find there is a pattern to the highs, lows and stresses you will go through. It is called the ‘Settlement curve’. It is something everyone in your family should be aware of. The settling in process takes time and it is normal to feel unsettled for a while – but here are a few areas that you might want to think about to get over that ‘curve’ as smoothly as possible.
Experience shows that finding work often helps people to settle into life in a new country more quickly. It’s a great way to meet locals and make friends.
Most partners of skilled migrants do not have a job when they arrive. You may be planning to focus on your family and getting set up or you may plan to study or start a new business or career path.
However, it is likely that at some point you will also want to work. The job market may be quite different to what you are used to, so it is worth researching what jobs are available and how to apply for them. This is definitely best to do beforehand, even if you’re not planning to look for work immediately after your arrival.
Even if you are well-prepared, finding a job could take longer than you expect. It may depend on the job market, whether your qualifications are recognized, and how well you are tailoring your job applications for potential employers. If you are on a temporary work visa, some employers might be reluctant to employ you because of your inability to stay in the country long term.
Think about all the things you can do to increase your chances of success and try and find a local support network beforehand.
Doing voluntary work is a very good way to meet people and build up work experience. Volunteering can also lead to references, which can be a real asset in your job search. By volunteering, you can keep up your skills while you search for work. You may also learn new skills in an area you’d like to move into.
There are lots of opportunities for volunteer work in all countries. For instance, many community groups and not-for-profit organizations need qualified people for specific work which they’d otherwise have to spend their funding money on.
You can find volunteering opportunities online, or you can check the community boards at your local hall, community centre, library or shopping centre.
Getting established socially is central to making your move a success. It can be hard to feel settled if you do not know anyone and have nothing to do.
It took me much longer to feel settled than my husband, who started work as soon as we arrived. I had to step outside my comfort zone and try new things to meet people and find a job.
Settling children into education
If you have children, getting them settled into education and learning how the local education system works will be a learning experience for you as well as them.
Education is about giving children the knowledge, skills and values to be successful. Parent involvement is so important throughout the pre-school and school system. It will also help you establish new friendships through meeting other parents, especially if your child/children are attending an expat school.
Looking after your relationship
Moving to a new country can be stressful on your relationship.
Even if moving is a joint decision, there can be tensions if one partner feels they are following the other at the expense of their own career or lifestyle. One of you may feel homesick, while the other may be enjoying the new experience.
Enjoy the unexpected!
No matter how thoroughly you prepare, moving to a new country will most likely throw up unexpected challenges. While it is important to prepare, and to check out what support services are available locally that can help you, the right mindset is critical. Try and see the positives, of which there will be many – and prepare for the rollercoaster ride ahead. It is all worth it in the end!