Relocating Partners: Calculating ROI

By Gabriela O’Malley


Although changing in gender, women continue to lead in numbers the unpaid workforce of expatriate assignments as in domestic relocations in general.


In a place where language and culture are confounding, the spouse/partner kicks-off her role in between raising her children and directing all the minutiae of the relocation. She does so, unpredicting how leaving behind a big portion of what she’s built for herself over the years to figure out who’s the ME in the new life she’s crafting, will impact her overall experience.


Early stages in relocation are packed with things to do, learn and adapt to, it’s hard to impossible assessing in-depth, how certain critical challenges  affect the journey to figure out the ME.


Critical Challenges

A fragile social network, with continuous rotation of friends and only few family visits. Withdrawals from losing the identity and reassurance your career was feeding you with. Realizing that carrying the burden of the household - mostly as a single parent, with your partner gone traveling or working long hours, wasn’t what you planned in College. Last but not least, absorbing the impact of a career transition, going back to the start line, to figure out how to stand up from the crowd in a new market; going back to job searching and networking. Dealing with work permits and possibly learning a new language.


These realities for relocating partners are a big deal. What comes next, are the labels she’ll be identified with - unemployed, dependent, trailing spouse; and let’s not forget, the well-known, stay at home mom.


Labels hurt us. The paradox is, that in our global society, no one is nearly excited to be associated with any of them - relocating partner or not. They are disempowering and uninspiring. First, they put you in a box, then throw you to second-row.



Welcome Package

The disenchantment with their welcome package is enough to put anyone in bed for weeks or at the psychoanalyst chair. The problem is real. I hear it from my clients and it’s also a conversation women return to frequently in online expat forums. Sharing their discouragement and frustration.


I keep coming across a great number of posts of so many women - some writing anonymously; typing away their pain, venting about feeling lost, lonely, unachieved, unfulfilled, or burned out taken for granted by their partners. Annoyed by the labels they’re given - millennials and middle-age women, all yearning for answers. Hoping or praying perhaps, there’s someone ‘out there’ who can comfort them with -‘you’re not alone’.

The number of replies they get reassure them they’re not alone. Every time I read their posts, I understand their sadness because I’ve been where they are; but I also feel frustration that we’re wrestling with the same puzzle present-day. We can go back ten years in time, and find articles addressing the same issues.


This isn’t about gender equality. That’d require a summit to unravel that unpaid work – like caregiving, raising children, domestic work or volunteering; mostly gendered, have social value, but miss to grant the status that paid work has. That work is work - paid or not. That in the real world, recognition and money are not an option for those who have to care for their family and carry whatever they must.


It’s about cost of opportunity. Something so simple, yet missing.


The Guardian’s Identity

What’s interesting is, that while riding those years in the unpaid workforce, with young children in one hand and holding the fort at home in the other, as we bounce around from one territory to another, we’re not shy to place everyone ahead of us; so much, it goes without notice even by ourselves. Until one day, we’re at the cocktail party and someone asks - what do you do?


If that question has ever made you feel uncomfortable, then you’d agree with me, it sounds more like – how good enough are you, for doing what you do?. You’d agree, that the first thing that comes to mind is - geez, where would you want me to start?


But we don’t answer; we choke, fire back with another question to change the subject or fly the scene pretending someone is calling for us, would you excuse me? Yet, there you are, wearing your new labels like necklaces, surrounded by what seems to be an eclectic international group of people; clueless about your future and navigating the room hoping you won’t bump into the person with the what do you do question again.

It’s overwhelming and mentally exhausting.


Searching for a well-worth title that’d describe everything you do in a usual day inside a culture that appraises value via a transaction system - tagging a price to what you do, what you create, how you look, what ideas get you invited to the table, and what words validate you - where are you left and what are you left with?


What may seem a simple question, what do you do?, really is a big one that plays a weighty role in our heads. What we do, projects the value we bring to the table every single day.

It makes us feel uncomfortable, when we allow that value transaction system determine how we assess our self-worth.


The discomfort also signals we want a seat at the table; we want to experience expanding our value and strengths over relocation amenities, diapers, raising teenagers, or household chores everyone pretends to not see, but you.


The good news is that in recent years, the growth of dual income families and increased awareness of the integral role of the spouse/partner are making enough noise, support is now critical and central for a lot of companies that today offer exceptional spouse assistance programs. Merging a pool of experts, strategies and tools to offer solutions for career development and transition support. Opening the window to opportunities and possibilities.


Not everyone will qualify for this benefit, and sadly, some will miss to take full advantage of it. Yet, finding a job is only one facet in relocation success. Integration, adaptability and many other elements are equally important.

Calculating your ROI

Better than dismantling the side-effects of wearing disempowering labels and of the arduous unpaid work battling challenges, is to focus on your cost of opportunity and ponder the questions - what is it for me in this assignment? and what return of investment would I like to get?


Taking ownership of the journey is always the first step. You’ve got to own it and go all the way. In between your choices for career, to relocate supporting your husband’s career advancement, or to raise a family - aligning those choices the best way to fit your goals, is the second step.


To get better answers, ask better questions.

  1. What are the personal and professional goals I’d like to work towards achieving?

  2. What do I need to be successful?

  3. How can I cultivate a greater understanding of my self-worth and recognition of my accomplishments while I become employed/professionally active again?

  4. What challenges do I foresee in this assignment? (i.e. language, personality, etc)

  5. What’s missing in my life right now?

  • A great place to find what’s missing in our life is, in the check and balance of all those parts of life that make us feel Empowered, Strong and Alive.


Keep It Real

Great art is not instant. We are a work in progress, this is only the beginning of mapping a new path in your journey. I say this, because not much is emphasized in how time and hard work are the top two components of achievement. Rather, we overwhelmingly get invited to buy quick-fixes and magic formulas wrapped to appeal our egos or fear-motivated triggers.


Comparing ourselves against the success of others is heading the wrong way and what you see is people falling into discouragement or self-pity behavior; dispirited their short-lived grand conceptions failed to turn into the next Apple. Others opt for meaningless jobs just to wear a different label; others disappeared in limbo where dreams and personal goals remain buried.


Broadway musical Hamilton was written over the course of six years. It took director Alan Barillaro three years to make the six-minute award-winning short film Piper. Nora Ephron said, “I had been working as a journalist for nearly eight years before I could easily write in the voice that I turned out to have”. Freddie Mercury first started developing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the late 1960s, with the album released for the first time in 1975.


Even genius take their time to create great art. Why be fooled buying to the outside noise of quick-fixes and magic formulas for success?


I’m a mother of two young girls who are well aware of their early global exposure; my first daughter was born in Texas and my youngest in Singapore. They already are talking about wanting to live in Europe before going to College. I don’t want to be an overprotective parent and make decisions for them. I want them to grow up and explore the world - owning their journey, assessing the cost of opportunity in the choices they make and calculating their return on investment.


There are many strategies to avoid falling in the shadows of unlived potential; all start with taking ourselves seriously enough to find ways to empower ourselves. Grounded on the facts that in the realm of value and success - it’s hard work, tenacity and a load of perseverance what we’ll find.


Meaningful relationships, enriching personal growth, a career aligned with what you do best, and a solid social network, are top resources in the ongoing pursue of fulfillment and success in our journeys.


Yes, we can help others build an awesome life, what we can’t do, is forget to continuously nourish ours.

Behind the Curtains of Relocation for First Timers and Seasoned Relocating Partners

By Gabriela O’Malley

Global relocations or simply relocating from one state to another can be an amazing experience - but it can also be scary, lonely, overwhelming and... complicated.

Regardless if this is your first move or your tenth, what’s involved in disrupting your personal space, social network, professional path, traditions and lifestyle, is both exciting and uncomfortable. Relocating is a big deal. In a very unforeseen and particular way, teaches us who we are and what we’re made of. Unapologetic in exposing our fragility and vulnerability, it also offers endless opportunities for us to step into our courageous self and taste resiliency.

It might perhaps start with being curious, open, adventurous and taking risks; but that seats on the surface. What you can’t see, is the world beneath you’re about to discover about yourself, relationships, friendships, diversity and culture. All that connects us as humans, and all that makes us unique.

In merging thru it all, we are transformed by all that we are experiencing in our new world. We are impacted not only by those experiences we are experimenting and absorbing, but also by their values and treasures. We choose to make ours what we love the most, and take it with us to our next new world.

We are never the same. We are transformed now. We are a blend of different worlds and a new vision of life for ourselves is born.


It is perhaps this new version of ourselves, that fusion of different cultures and experiences that syncs us with people who have been transformed in a similar way. It has always been fascinating to me, the easiness of building friendships when living abroad. The unspoken connection I’ve felt with those who have spent years watching what happens behind the curtains of change and transitions. It’s also fascinating how my relationships and friendships with those who were also expats or simply the new ones in town (again), until this day, have stand incredibly strong.

Could it be perhaps because the depth of this transformation goes further than we can see?.


Last month, I spent an hour and a half on the phone with a dear friend of mine I haven’t seen in five years. We met when we both lived in Singapore, years later we bumped again in Northern California. She was among my best friends then, and she still is now.

I learned that, five years of not seeing each other had not shaken nor broken the bond that connected us many years ago in Asia. I feel the same with many other dear friends that are now spread all over the world. I know how close we are in our hearts. I know that some friendships are unbreakable.

The best part of blending into different worlds is how the whole experience transforms us forever.

Behind the curtains are a full set of events that will be amazing, scary, lonely, overwhelming and... complicated. You won’t know then as you will in the future, how much the experience will influence your perception, preferences, taste and way of life. How is the perfect life platform for skills building - to solve problems, to adapt, to push forward, to remain open, to become unattached to material things, and so many many more. One day, you’ll look back and breath it all in, and know how you’re not the same and you’ll never be. You’ll feel closer to the world. Because you’ll understand yourself and the world better.

What comes next? For some, a necessity - an addiction as some say. A life on the move is the only life they want to have. After two years in the same place, they’d start searching and planning their next destination. I’ve met a few people that fit in this category, not many, but the ones I know are genuinely happy and love to have a simple life.

Before I met them, I’d always claim to have a minimalist lifestyle. Wrong, they do.

For others, in sharing their experiences, they become a voice of hope, knowledge, warnings, and advocacy.

To me, is about rescuing the valuable lessons I’ve received throughout all those years surfing the waves of change and transition. Learn to use them wisely in my own life, and share them so that they can serve others. To never be forgotten - all of them, sweet and bitter. They are all my treasure.

This treasure of lessons continues to teach me that coming out from a crossroad, equals transformation. You come out with something new. A revelation, an action plan, a new beginning.

The Wisdom of Change and Transitions

By Gabriela O’Malley

Change is good. I like change; the one that invites me to stretch my abilities and spotlights my growing edge. There’s a world of categories and ranks with change. Good, bad, ugly, exciting or terrifying; undoubtedly impacts us and our lives. Sometimes, even transforming us forever.

I’ve been transformed by this force a few times when change arrived and alter it all. Invited, self-created and unexpected, these life-defining moments and chapters have put me thru long periods of transition so deep, it’s taken me years to bring the lessons learned back to the surface.

In this process of rescuing lessons, I’ve learned that introspection and reflection take practice as self-observers. Not only to bring out our unique voice through this overwhelming noisy world of ours, but as I recently learned from a woman I deeply admire — to separate the voice that speaks from our wounds from the one that speaks from our scars. That’s where the wisdom resides.

Time is the shepherd of our journeys.


In making sense of my life’s defining moments and understanding their emotional depth, I’ve observed how the emotional roots in shaking and transformative change are connected in their grade of intensity.

Some messy emotions that emerge when we deal with grief, loss or when we stand powerless next to incurable illnesses, are interlaced with the ones that emerge from uprooting a life and the adapting process to loads of news’s that comes with it — building a new life from ground up along with building yourself.

Losing loved ones carries the heaviest load in grieving. It’s radical, definite and final. It’s the beginning of a new forever. I remember the appalling feeling when I was told that my father was not traveling, as I had been told for years; but that he in fact, had passed away months after I was born. I was five years old, and this would be the first time I’d experience the beginning of a new forever.

Twenty-two years later was the second time, when my mother passed after losing her seven-year battle to breast cancer.

Grieving, isn’t only about missing our loved ones immensely, but is also about mourning the life we once had and all that was part of it. It is in this context, how separating one life from another, as it occurs in relocation, that we experience the heaviness of not having all we wish we could have taken with us to our new world.

Each one of us own our one-of-a-kind journey of experiencing emotions. How you should or should not feel is not for public debate, but an intimate dialogue between your soul and your heart. Unmeasurable, unlabeled and too big to be trapped in the box of logic. Love and pain are forces that can only be measured by the depth of how we experience them with our fingerprints.


An incurable illness carries the heaviest load of adapting. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Offers no way out. It’s shocking, loaded with uncertainty, a pile of ignorance and so much hopelessness, anger, exhaustion and frustration. You can spend years in thorough research. Against time, try to absorb every piece of knowledge from the experts and do your best to prepare for what’s coming. Yet, the messy emotions while in the path to hell, to witnessing your loved one’s final hours, will hit you so hard, the whole preparation will blatantly fall far from reality.

Uprooting a life to places sometimes extremely different form your familiar world with different language, culture, lifestyle — even as standard as driving on the other side, dress code or public behavior, can pull messy emotional triggers you could not be prepared enough for.

Especially when you embrace them without a supportive network and many times partnerless, if your other half is gone most of the time traveling or working long hours.

All the research, interviews, books, onsite visits and everything else part of your preparation, may give you a glimpse through the future; yet, will feel far from what you’ll experience as you climb the period of shock, frustration, loneliness and many times uncertainty, that comes with launching a new life, in a new territory, where you don’t speak the official language or know anyone.

Time is the shepherd of our journeys.


I can never take away the enormous weight of pain losing someone or dealing with a terminal diagnosis have. As I can never take away the challenging sumit uprooting a life is. In my efforts to find the lessons thru understanding the depth of pain and tough challenges, I’ve found what they offer.

They offer a gift, an opportunity.


Somehow, life has allowed you to experience certain events that have alter your world. With your consent or not, still, as one of many life’s mysteries, they offer you the gift to transform them the way a craftsman transforms metal into art.

They offer the opportunity for us to learn with wisdom and become the craftsman of our journey. Turning adversity and challenges into a treasure; one, that would may one day serve for a greater purpose.

Does experience make us more resilients? It can. I would say that experience partners with wisdom, patience and endurance. Just knowing a little more than you did yesterday. Authenticity, when you speak from your wise well of lessons. Experience is the foundation to genuine empathy, understanding and connection with others.


Change is transformation. A beautiful opportunity filled with mystery and wisdom. Perhaps change is not the enemy, but our friend and allied. It exists to remind us that nothing is forever. That this precise moment is all we own and is up to you and me to seize it.

Change is our teacher. It crafts the seasons around us to reflect time and art. It’s Master of Itself. No matter how hard we try to submit, control or slow it down, change will move on with its own plans. The best we can do is to move along with it and adapt to what it brings.

There is no learning in resisting, but un-learning. You’ll be too occupied and preoccupied using your energy and time trying to control what you can’t, skipping the only thing you own — your present moment.

The building blocks you need to learn how to manage change and transitions are exactly there, in the ever-present moments of your existence. In paying attention to whatever they bring.

Replacing rushing our kids with ‘wrap up the story honey’, or ‘hurry up, it’s time to go to sleep’ with listening to them making eye contact and with all of ourselves; really listening to what they are so desperately and excited wanting to share with us. Perhaps in slowing down our internal clock of living in a rush; piling up way too many todo’s in our day we miss the simplicity of living. Or missing building blocks we need because we’re too busy looking thru other people’s windows.

Transitions are the lessons. They bring the material, tools and knowledge we’ll need to embrace or survive the force that turned our life upside down. We have to seat thru them, pay attention, listen, and step by step, apply what we’re learning.

Between failing and sprinting, life goes on and if we give it a chance, we might embrace or survive the beginning of our new forever being fully present.

Savor each moment wherever you are

What we Learn About Communication and Connection when we Relocate

By Gabriela O’Malley

Understanding. Empathy. Connection.  

Family and friends are a precious treasure. They give us sense of belonging. In their words and actions, they mirror what comes out from ourselves, acting as our compass for reassurance and acceptance. They stand by us in good times and bad times. They help us understand ourselves and the world better. Together, we embrace life’s ups and downs.

This liaison between us, travels with us and transforms with time and distance. Not all of our relationships survive, but those who do, set deep solid roots in ways we would have never imagined.

Our family and friends are also great teachers; and can sometimes feel abandoned or hurt when we move away. Grieving our departure from their daily lives is an obstacle that stops them from joining us in our new endeavor. Imagine how hard it is for those whom never experienced a relocation, to understand, or have a clear idea of what this move means to you, and how it’s impacting your life.

“Hi, honey, how’s life in Okinawa?! Are you making new friends? I was surprised to hear Will is traveling again; sounds like he’s gone a lot. What did you and the kids do this weekend? How do you feel?” How candid can we be, so we don’t worry others - and how often? “It’s been brutal. I feel so isolated from the world. Overwhelmed with all the new things I’m rushing to adapt to. Learning Japanese has been harder than I thought it would be. Sometimes I wonder I might be depressed and feel so stupid for not being able to cope with the whole thing.”

How about the challenges your teenagers go through, merging as new students during their last year in middle school? As if adolescence wasn’t enough transitional stage.

I have a friend living in Zurich, who’d spend hours in bundling up routines with her 3 year old son and 11 months baby just to bike to the supermarket. God forbid she ever forgets something. Managing her toddler and stroller together, she weighs her fruits and veggies, to then packing the groceries herself at the same time her son is taking all the sweets from the shelves - to find help or nannies isn’t that easy in many parts of the world.

Or like this lady I met a few years ago. She had just arrived from London, after two previous relocations to Geneva and New York. Like many of us have, she landed with two kids under ten, no home, no car, no schools, no network. The same week she moved to her new home, gets a call from customs, letting her know her shipment had been randomly selected for a second inspection, and she should expect to receive it in about three more weeks.  Excuse me sir, did you say three more weeks?


Someone once told me – “That’s her job.  Do the research about the new place she’s going to, the culture, cost of living, everything! There are plenty of resources out there. She’ll be fine.” Agree, and most probably. However...

We had just bought a beautiful house and a few pieces of furniture. Baby was home and I was learning to be a mother and figuring out the whole feeding schedule operation, when my husband announced a job opportunity initially in Tokyo. Tokyo?! Now?  Days after, it turned out to be Singapore. A new world we would call home for the next four years, and the birthplace of our second daughter.  

My husband’s company sent us for a ten-day visit to explore the Island. That trip was the first of many over 19hr flights I’d take crossing the Pacific Ocean. Those trips alone are brutal when flying with children under five - carry-on, stroller, toddler... pregnant.  We came back to pack and put our beautiful new home on the market. Three weeks later we were gone.

We kick-off navigating thru these hazards with no local girlfriends to vent with, husbands gone traveling or when home, either mind-absent exhausted or bonding with the kids. I remember how talking to friends and family was so much trouble with the major hour difference. How do you explain all that you’re going thru without absorbing the oxygen in the conversation? I had all of these emotions bottled inside, that were neither resentment or anger, but the need of acknowledgement and validation to all that was happening in my life.  How candid can we be, so we don’t worry others - and how often?

These complexities in relocation will be best understood by those who have experienced them. This is your new life and your new reality. You could be loving a lot of things in this new life you’ve started crafting for you and your family, it’s the emotional complexities you’re experiencing that create the abyss between you and your loved ones.


Of course, we have social media. You might enjoy keeping people in the loop of your new life thru different channels, but let’s not forget that not only does social media connect us, it also serves as a carefully curated display of crafted lifestyles and partial/one-sided stories, that mostly portray the best, most exciting version of our life.

Social connections like these might help us feel involved with our network and the world, but lack depth and fall short to show the real-life zigzags that happens in our daily lives.

In Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz talks about “The Truth about Your Facebook Friends,” he says - “This book is about big data, in general. But this chapter has mostly emphasized Google searches, which I have argued reveal a hidden world very different from the one we think we see. So, are other Big Data sources digital truth serum, as well? The fact is, many Big Data sources (such as Facebook) are often the opposite of digital truth serum. On social media, as in surveys, you have no incentive to tell the truth. On social media, much more so than in surveys, you have a large incentive to make yourself look good. Your online presence is not anonymous, after all. You are courting an audience and telling your friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers who you are.”

No man is an island. Staying connected is important for most people and we all benefit from having healthy relationships. A Harvard study revealed having good connections can improve health and increase longevity. “One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity. People who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.” - Harvard Health Publishing

My two grains of advice?

Be Realistic, about your demands and hopes for empathy or support from your family and friends. It’s not absence of love, more so an unrealistic expectation. It really takes one to understand one. Acknowledging this will help you feel less ‘abandoned’ or misunderstood and take off pressure from your relationships back home.

The type of reassurance, empathy, and understanding that you need, will come from those who understand your situation, because he or she have walked a similar path.

Taking a realistic approach helps us recognize that nourishing relationships demands investing time in them; and for you, the demands will be met with a mobile lifestyle, having to manage different time zones and trips back home of perhaps once a year.

Create meaningful connections, make a conscious effort to nourish relationships from your past as you welcome and nourish the new ones in your present. Quality over quantity. Depth over superficial. Reap the benefits of having real connections.

As you continue in your mobile journey, some relationships will fade away, but those who survive time and distance, will set solid deep roots in ways you would have never imagined.

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller

Where Is Home?

By Adriana Brea

A simple question such as “where’s home?” can stir different sensations when the answer today is different from the one two years ago, or the one two years from now.  That’s the common denominator for trailing spouses who follow their partners’ career paths all over the world.

How do we make a foreign place home? Different culture, sometimes even different language and certainly lifestyle. Is not always easy. Although there is not a perfect formula, if something I’ve learned - the hard way, was to look for the good wherever you go.   

My journey started 18 years ago when I moved to Barcelona, Spain. My husband and I immersed in this beautiful city that provided endless opportunities to enjoy ourselves and discover the European culture.

Five years passed and we left the city of Gaudi with a new family member, to embark in the most extraordinary journey: Singapore. For the next five years, we’d move houses every two years as it’s customary to do lease contracts for that short time. For us, was the lease terms and the fact that we added a new family member with each move.

There is always something that you are going to miss from a place and love about the other.  When I left Spain, my husband and I both missed the weather, walks on pebble stones, the food, our scooter motorcycles and the extraordinary beautiful road trips within Spain and quick and inexpensive escapes to Paris, London, Prague and other major cities in Europe.

In Singapore, I found a welcoming expat community and a country that never stops developing and growing. Also, an Asian hub for traveling. The weather is horribly humid, but the easiness of life and safety makes up for it. In our case in particular, the 12-hour time difference with our home countries and long trips for our family to come visit made it difficult to stay connected.

When I moved from Singapore to California with 4 children - ages 7,6, 3 and 3 months, I went from having a full-time helper to being the full-time helper, to this day. Although I miss having help at home, I’ve found other amazing things in California; the weather, the outdoor lifestyle, the openness of the people, the organic and environmentally conscious trends and friends that have become family over five years in the Bay Area, similar to Spain and Singapore.

Even though there is no secret recipe to make a home wherever you are, I have experienced that the following tips have helped me adjust smoothly wherever I go:

  • Find at least 3 good things about your new place and be thankful for them

  • Learn about the new culture and lifestyle. If it doesn’t resonate with you, go to its history. You’ll be surprised!

  • Visit local art museums and markets

  • Tourist the city or town where you live as if you were there only for a few days.  If the town has nothing to offer, go to the nearest city

  • When you are in the process of making friends and your weekends are still available, plan fun nights with your family: game night, movie night or a homemade dinner will do.

  • Join a gym, club, volunteer at school or at an organization that resonates with you.

  • Study something you’re always wanted to learn.

  • Embrace their traditions without losing yours.  

  • Be certain that you are not alone. People need to socialize and feel part of a community. Be open to make new friends, instead of constantly missing the ones you left behind.

It’s all about perception. Home is also a state of mind and as everything else, the story you tell yourself is crucial to your happiness and those around you.

Adriana is an Indoor Cycling Instructor at Uforia Studios in the Bay Area. Mother of four and seasoned expat.

Is Your Self-Image Jetlagged? It’s Time to Adjust Yourself To Your New Timezone

By Margot Stroeken

Jetlag. We’ve all suffered from it. Waking up in the middle of the night or in the early morning, after flying across time zones to go “home,” our home away from our passport country. But is your self-image jetlagged too?

Jetlag hits after life transitions

Say, you’ve lived abroad for a few years. You moved without kids and were super-active, exploring your new town every day and looking for jobs. Or you moved with little kids and had a reason to be more at home. You were this ambitious lady back home, holding a high powered job and dreaming of becoming a CEO one day. But now the explorer finds herself at home with a crying baby. The stay-at-home mum finds herself in an empty house, kids almost off to university. Miss Ambition is a secretary at the embassy as that was the only job she could get without a work permit- a very low salary and only a few days off per year.

Their confidence has taken a blow. Who is this person they see in the mirror? What is her value now the standards with which she rated herself belong in another time zone?

From Ambitious Newbie to Disappointed Leaver

Take my friend Susan* for example. Before moving to China with the love of her life, she had a successful international management career with Fortune 500 companies. Susan was eager to find consulting clients in China and started networking even before jetting off. Around the time of moving to China, she found out she was pregnant, finally, at nearly 40. She was overjoyed and couldn’t wait for her new life to start.

But when I talked to her recently on the phone, she sounded far from happy. About to leave China after 2,5 years, she felt she had achieved very little. While she is super grateful for her gorgeous son and the time she got to spend with him, she feels she has not been able to achieve any professional goals and has not had the China experience she had in mind when arriving. She felt she was “just” a stay-at-home mum, something she had never intended to become. It seemed my vibrant, confident friend had disappeared into a thick layer of Beijing smog.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought she’d be more confident now than when she arrived, instead of less.

Developing different qualities abroad

Susan’s self image has jetlag. She is still evaluating herself on the corporate career ladder that she was on before leaving her home country. But instead of falling off the ladder, Susan has shown her remarkable strength in Beijing. She has so many reasons to be proud of herself. She had a problematic pregnancy, preventing her from straying more than 30 minutes from the hospital and thus seriously impacting her freedom. Still she managed to cope, be optimistic and deliver a healthy baby boy: Great Mother. She was a frontline parent while her husband often stuck in the office until midnight due to a huge crisis at work- being there for him when he got home: Loving Wife. She spent quality time with her mother while taking her son out of the Beijing smog: Fabulous Daughter. She made new friends and flew halfway across the world to attend the wedding of old friends: Dear Friend. She did a leadership course to improve her skills and knowledge and continued Chinese classes despite travel interruptions: Determined Self Developer. She worked across time zones, fielding calls late at night, with a consulting client who is always impressed with her work: True Professional.

Abroad she showed fierce courage, determination, perseverance and above all, Love. There is no gap in her CV but jetlag in her self-image. She has so much to be proud of- not just of her son, but of herself.

Is your self-image jetlagged?

Take stock of all you have achieved in your new country, all the little things like being able to find your way to the supermarket, take the metro, find new friends. Without family and friends nearby. And all the big things. How you’ve taken on a new role as a partner, mother, a professional working in the home or in an office. How you’ve made an impact by volunteering, by working, by being there for other people, and for yourself.

Living abroad takes guts, flexibility and determination. Living abroad changes us, as a person and a professional.

Acknowledge yourself for what you have achieved abroad, rather than beat yourself up for what you think you should be and should do and should have. You have so much to be proud of in this new time zone. Now open your eyes and truly see yourself for what you are- a fabulous, courageous woman. The jetlag is over, welcome to your new time zone- the here and now.**

Margot Stroeken is a coach, trainer and mother of 2 global nomads. She has worked with clients from 9 different nationalities that lived in 11 different countries. Originally from The Netherlands, she is now based in Brunei, a country on the beautiful island of Borneo. To learm more visit

The Ups and Downs of Expat Life

By Lisa Webb

I love my life abroad; but no matter how great things are now, I’ll never forget that moving to a foreign country was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

It wasn’t the country itself that was difficult.  As far as foreign countries go, France was a pretty easy one to live in; I had traveled enough to know that.  It was the act of leaving the security I’d created in my life back home that was the challenging part.  It was the unknown that scared the pants off me.

I was in a time of my life that I was really comfortable in my own shoes.  My days as a starving student were over.  My career was successful and climbing.  I had family nearby and a great group of friends that I’d see often.  Girls nights out and weekly family dinners were my favourite things to do.  The new house my husband and I purchased was the icing on the cake of our very comfortable life.

And then the curve ball arrived.

The call to be expats.

Take away all those things I loved: my job, my friends, my family, our house, my security.  What was left?  It left like not much.

Things were a bit bleak at first.  There was definitely an adjustment period.  Sure I was living in France, and yes, they made great wine.  But without a job, or any friends; staying home and drinking wine all day didn’t seem to me like a good path to go down.

It took me awhile to find my happy place in my new life and I now know why.   I was looking for a straight across switch with my old life; the same job, the same kind of friends, the same routine.  I was trying to make something fit that wasn’t meant to be.  Instead of embracing the new, I was trying to replace the old.

Now that I’m not the new kid on the block anymore, when I see new expats arriving, I realise what a long way I’ve come since I left my home country.

If I could Marty McFly myself back to pre-expat life, here’s a few things I’d tell myself to ease my worries.

The Cloud

You will miss your family.

The Silver Lining

There’s no sugar coating the distance.  There’s literally an ocean between you and your people.  But the good news is, family will always be there when you need them.  They will love you no matter what your postal code is; even if you are crap at remembering your nieces and nephews birthdays.  It sucks being so far away, but it makes the homecoming that much more of a celebration.  And thanks to things like Facetime, Skype, and WhatsApp the distance doesn’t seem so bad.  Heck, you can even park your computer on the table and have your family over for dinner.  I’ve done it too many times to count!

The Cloud

Each time you return home the sea of distance between your friends feels greater.

The Silver Lining

It’s not all your friends.  Old friends are the best kind.  There’s no better feeling than picking up right where you left off with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, like no time has passed.  It’s one of the best parts of going home, where ever home might be.

Some of the friends you spent time with before you moved won’t be in the same place when you return.  Things might be different and that’s okay; you’ve been gone a long time and people change.  But the ones that want to stay in your life will, because they’ll make an effort and so will you.

Plus, being part of an expat community, you will make fast friends from all over the world.  These expat friends are a special kind, they become so much more than friends and they come from walks of life that you may never have otherwise come across.  Embrace your new friendships and cherish the old.  You can never have too many friends.  Ever.

The Cloud

I can’t get _______ where I live.

The Silver Lining

Sorry, you can’t.  There comes a time in every expats life that you will pay an obscene amount of money to have comfort food from home.  Whether you find it in the international aisle of the grocery store by fluke and clear the shelf, or you order it online and get charged an extortionate amount for shipping.  It’s going to happen.

Five years later I have finally stopped smuggling my favourite cheese, toothpaste and salad dressing into the country.  I’ve broadened my horizons and finally switched my Crest for Aquafresh, and traded my love of cheddar for an array of stinky French cheeses that I now love.  One of my favourite things about going home is still hitting the grocery store with my Mom and indulging in all of the foods I miss.  And yes, even though I’ve found new favourites where I live, when I go home, I still see what I can squeeze into my suitcase.  I don’t think that will ever change.


The Cloud

You’re a long way from home!  Good luck with that.

The Silver Lining

Once kids come into the picture getting back home becomes a far more difficult task.  I used to search my flights by the cheapest price.  I now search by the shortest travel time.  International flights with young children is hard work and much more costly than flying solo.

This one is more of a trade off than a silver lining.  You miss out on a lot by living so far away.    You might get to do exciting things like shopping in Dubai, sipping cocktails at fancy hotels in Hong Kong or filling your belly with amazingly fresh pasta in Italy; there’s no denying that being able to travel the world is an unbelievable opportunity.  It’s not to be taken for granted.   But there are also days you’d trade all that to have your brothers wrestle with your kids at an overcrowded and noisy family dinner at your parents’ house.

Living your life away from ‘home’ has its good points and bad.  It’s surprising what you can get used to and what can become your new normal.  There are sacrifices made, and life experiences gained.  Sometimes you’re the one missing out and sometimes you’re the lucky one.  It all depends on the day, and who’s defining lucky.

Lisa Webb holds a Canadian passport, but being an expat for the greater part of a decade has made her feel like a global citizen, calling a number of countries ‘home’. She spent five years in France, where her daughters were born; has since lived in Indonesia, and currently, Congo. When Lisa isn’t globetrotting with her family, she can be found writing the bestselling children’s book series, The Kids Who Travel the World, where each book explores a new country and culture. Lisa is also the editor of the anthology Once Upon an Expat, which has been called a ‘must-read’ for those thinking of moving abroad. You can find Lisa on her blog, Canadian Expat Mom, as well as Instagram and Facebook.