Getting settled requires time and energy

Expat partner Mireille Smallenburg, who went on multiple international postings when she was a diplomat, has discovered that life as an expat partner is a different kettle of fish.

Night and day

“Compared to having a job, when you’re the one on a posting, it’s so different being an expat partner,” says Mireille, a former diplomat who lived in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Iran and Afghanistan. “You have to build up your own life and that hasn’t been easy for me. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact – there have been less opportunities to meet people in person. For example, when my husband has been invited to a function, he has had to go alone due to social distancing measures.”

Tight knit community

In spite of these challenges, Mireille says the expat community in Nairobi has been very welcoming and supportive. “I have still managed to join various networks. Generally speaking, I’ve found that other expat partners here are very  patient with newcomers. I think you can have even the silliest questions answered, if you ask them! In Kenya, spouses are not allowed to work, with very few exceptions. Perhaps that’s one reason why expat partners are quite active within the foreign community.”

Personal outlets

As we discovered when we last caught up with Mireille, she is also proactive with networking. “I contacted other members of Global Connection, using the directory, and we arranged to meet up, which was great fun. I’ve also joined a pottery class and I volunteer once a week. The main focus of the mission is financing the education of kids from very poor backgrounds and I find it very fulfilling. Since moving to Nairobi, I have come to realise that, as an expat partner, it’s vital to find things just for you.”

Reality bites

“I knew the first phase would be challenging but I admit the realities of expat partner life still took me by surprise. You must dedicate a lot of time and energy to get your family settled. House hunting was my main occupation for a couple of months. I would spend whole days visiting five or six houses. But I knew it was very important to get to a place where everyone in my family would be happy. Now that my two sons and husband are quite settled, I will have more time to focus on my own pursuits.”

Photo: Mireille’s family home in Nairobi

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