A few months back I wrote about my personal experience as the trailing spouse and how it has left me feeling deflated about a return to work. I’ve lost confidence in my ability to be more than the care giver.. minding our son and ensuring that there’s shirts ironed and food in the fridge. You can see the original blogpost here….
For my own sanity I need to start getting back in the game and I’m putting on my big girl pants. I’m so afraid of putting myself out there to work again that I need to build up that confidence again. So I’ve started to make a plan…
First of all I’m starting a diploma in Digital Marketing. It will include social media marketing and SEO. I know most of this already but the refresher will do me the world of good. The changes in two years since I was in full time employment have been drastic too so I’m sure there’s something to be gained from this. It’s all distance online learning so it gives me the opportunity to work it around my schedule and Michael and still have time for the activities that we do here and my never ending battle in the gym to some day regain my pre mammy body!
Next on my list are online advanced courses in web and graphic design.. Again skills that I’ve used before but need a little updating. I’m hoping if I have time then before the summer that I may undertake something in photography and/or video editing.
Then when all this is done it will be time to put myself out there again and start using these skills. The plan will be to work from home and freelance but hopefully on long and short term projects. Essentially I would also like to produce a marketing toolkit – a how to guide with basic instructions and guidelines for small businesses. I don’t believe in social media experts and I see people being ripped off constantly so essentially I would like to make this guide available for training purposes and show people how they can do it themselves.
Lastly, I’ve always been passionate about volunteering and charity. I’m meeting with a volunteer from a local orphanage this week to discuss how I can get involved. I’ve committed to run a small fundraiser for them in the coming months as well as some other things in the pipeline. We already support a child in Uganda so I really want to be involved hands on as well as financially.
As scary as this is I need it for my sanity. I need to gain my personal and financial independence. I need to be more than the trailing spouse and I hope by the end of 2017 I will be a long way to doing this. And who said living in the sun was all about cocktails on the beach? Trust me… they’re nice too but I need to be more than just that!
So we have been in Puerto Rico for just over a year now. I can’t comprehend just how quickly that time has gone – particularly the last seven months since we were home in Ireland. It’s been a whirlwind and an adventure at the same time.
I think it’s normal with any expat journey to have some challenging experiences when trying to settle into a new country. I’m so settled here now that I think of Puerto Rico as our home. We have a routine and have adjusted to making life work here. And it’s wonderful. I have to pinch myself at times to remind me just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country. The beaches, the weather, the friends that we have made here. We have been so lucky to have so many great friends here for support and to have so many laughs with. To be honest without those people our experience would be a lot different and Puerto Rico would be more of a stop gap rather than our home for the next two years.
When thinking back over what we have been through to get to this point of our expat journey there is a number of things that I wish I had known before we started. So here’s my top 10 notes of advice for anyone considering an expat assignment in Puerto Rico but which I’m sure apply to all countries.
- Relocation companies suck. Do not rely on them for support or even to know the basics of what they’re doing. Google the hell our of where you’re going and have a back up plan for what you need to do if the company doesn’t deliver on their promises.
- Don’t go into any assignment with a set amount of time in your head. They always change. Just be open to the time frame and then there’s no disappointment if it’s shorter or longer.
- Make contact where possible with someone who has done a similar move and ask all the questions in the world – forewarned is forearmed.
- Do come on a reki – I didn’t and I really wish I had. I just got on a plane and moved and while that added to the excitement it also added to the stress. Take a week to visit and get your bearings. Particularly as a trailing spouse – most likely your partner goes to work after a day and you’re left at home. A week before to find your way around will ease the transition into calling your new location home.
- Don’t rush into your long term home or accommodation. We were stressing over not being able to find anywhere to live that we liked due to the incompetent and greedy realtors. The best move we made was booking a house rather than a hotel as our temporary accommodation that we could extend if needed. It allowed us time to get to know the area, seek advice and to find the house that we loved. Best thing we did. We love our house and area.
- Relax – it took me a long time to get this one. I was stressed over finding somewhere to live, setting up home, buying everything we needed. Particularly here in Puerto Rico where it’s difficult to get anything done fast. Everything takes time but you’ll get there in the end and guess what? You’ll grow and learn so much about yourself in the process.
- Routine – this is the most important one. Short term assignment or long term expat you need to make this new strange location your home. Routine is the only way to do that. Get out there, make plans, particularly if you have kids. All those play dates and coffee dates are now your access to the community around you. For me routine involves working out and having part time childcare in the form of a nanny. Without either of these things I wouldn’t be as happy as I am here. I’m often approached by ladies in the gym looking for a chat – its a great resource for meeting people and the exercise helps with stress relief.
- Ship what you can. We decided to just basically come with our suitcases and I miss having our personal belongings and all my own kitchen items. Making your house feel like your home is an important part of settling into life here.
- Take some time out as a couple – plan a night away or date nights after your first month. Most likely your spouse will have been adjusting to a new job and possibly new culture and language and you will have been trying to adjust your entire family and keep it all together. You’ll have been so busy that you won’t have had time to catch your breathe and take stock of where you’re at. Lean on one another for support and talk about what you can do to help the transition for the other one.
- Last but not least – Travel. You’re here because you wanted to see more of the world. Because you wanted your kids to experience something new, to see something different. You can’t do that if you stay in one place. Here in Puerto Rico, and especially in Dorado it’s so easy to just stay in our little gated communities where everyone speaks English. That’s a great convenience for every day life but it’s not what you came here to do. Get out, go on day trips, visit other islands. See everything that your new home has to offer. Your time will go quickly once you establish a routine and before you know where you are you’ll be planning your move home or your next assignment. Make sure that you’ll really experienced the place that you’ve been living in.
I had never heard the expression trailing spouse until this time last year. It’s a phrase I’ve heard over and over again. It refers to the non expat spouse – the one who trails behind with the kids while the expat is one who works. I’ve learnt that trailing means you’re the one that’s usually left to pick up the bits and pieces and organise your lives in both countries – the one you’ve left behind and the one you’re trying to make home.
In most cases and which was true in ours there isn’t really a transition period to settle in before the working spouse starts their new job. In Ireland both of us finished work on a Friday, flew out the Saturday morning, arrived in the middle of the night and Rob started his new job on the Monday. I unpacked the suitcases and boxes and looked after the child. I do understand that this is my role in this journey, to be the home maker per say – but I feel there isn’t enough consideration given to this role when people talk about expat life in general.
The working spouse usually works long hours and this has at times left me lonely with a child and missing my husband. I miss having a purpose outside the home and my own career. I do get to spend so much precious time with our son and we have been unbelievably blessed with the friends that we have made here that it is easier than if we were secluded but being the trailing spouse has also made me an irrational human being.
I read a piece on this recently where it described the trailing spouse as a character ready to blow at the minute. It was a comedy piece but it’s scarily accurate also. Consistency isn’t Puerto Rico’s strong point and at times it can be excruciatingly difficult to do simple things. The irrational trailing spouse blames the working spouse; it’s their fault as they’re the reason that you’re here in the first place. You’ve given up your friends, family and job for them and in that moment of complete despair where you’re thinking how much easier this would be at home you blame them. My poor hubby has been on the recieving end of irrational trailing spouse more than once and I’m surprised at times that he hasn’t booked me a one way ticket home just to shut me up!
I have to keep reminding myself that this is a beautiful island, that my role in our lives here is appreciated, that this is time with my son that money simply can’t buy and that eventually when I go back to work that my career will fall into place and I won’t have to start at the bottom of the ladder again. The irrational trailing spouse in me then counter offers with the fact that we don’t know how long we will be here or where we may possibly end up next and who knows when it will be possible for me to go back to work. And that whenever the move does happen that I will probably be organising it with very little help. I’ll never regret this time.. I know that for sure…. But it’s not always fun in the sun.