Expat partners who have chosen not to seek paid employment can still feel awkward when trying to explain their decision to others. But there’s no shame in not working. It can be the smart choice, one that liberates the expat partner.
‘What do you actually do all day?!’ In the mind of the inquisitor, this question might sound innocent enough. A friend or family member back home just wants to know how the wilfully unemployed expat partner fills their days. But the expat partner might feel instantly judged. ‘They think I’m spurning my career opportunities…’, ‘They think I’m sitting by the pool all day…’
When work isn’t the answer
But sometimes not working is the smart choice. Expat partners can spend hundreds of hours searching for work only to realise that conditions (salary, hours, holidays, etc) are unsatisfactory. They might start a job only to feel unfulfilled (or worse). Or there might be another reason why they realise paid employment is not the answer. And if you don’t need the extra income, why devote your expat life to the grind?
Is this what you really want?
“When an expat partner says they want to find paid employment, part of what we do at Global Connection is make sure this is what they really want and they’re doing it for the right reasons. We also need to check that it’s achievable,” says Global Connection consultant Ines Ahrens, who adds that many expat partners feel they must look for work due to societal or even cultural pressures.
Why not wait and see?
“Even before an assignment begins, friends and family might begin asking an expat partner: ‘What are you going to do?’ The expat partner might feel they need to have an answer that demonstrates their ambitions, especially when relocating without kids. But it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know yet. I’m looking forward to moving there, exploring some options and seeing what fits…’,” says Ines.
A momentous decision
“It’s interesting that we’re starting to hear from expat partners in our community who have chosen not to pursue paid employment and claim this was a momentous decision in their expat lives,” says Ines. “In doing so, they no longer felt this societal pressure or weight of expectation. Instead, they recognised ‘this is my life’ and got to the heart of what it is they wanted to do while living with their partner on assignment.”