Monday, September 19, 2011

Expat spouses and social issues

Case Study: The Expat Dilemma - Boris Groysberg, Nitin Nohria, and Kerry Herman - Harvard Business Review

I really enjoyed reading this case study. Not only did it show the difficulties one might have in retaining international staff, it might just give you, the would-be expat, some idea of just how emotionally difficult the expat life can be, particularly for expat spouses.

Lonely under the clouds
Don't underestimate the dangers of loneliness
Photo by Kazi Hirok Al-Arafat
I should write more about the latter. I've spoken to so many people who want to move abroad, were it not for their spouse. And for those who do so anyway, it can be very difficult. Many people forget that the spouse is often not legally able to work, or if he or she is, they often can't find work. Who wants to hire a foreigner who doesn't speak the language or might leave in a couple of months? Even if they don't want to work, they certainly want to have friends and a social life. They'll start with neither and their spouse is often working long hours, compounding the problem.

My wife and I have solved the latter problem by the simple expediency of yelling across our garden to neighboring balconies, inviting confused strangers to dinner. It's an unconventional strategy, but it's been successful. We've had fine dinners with new people and are slowly rebuilding a social network.

Becoming expats is a great start on a divorce if you're not careful. The homesickness which often grips the expat can be doubly difficult for them as they may not even have the distraction of work to help them adjust. You need to work hard to overcome this and if you don't take it seriously, you'll regret it. So try inviting your neighbor for dinner. Heck, how many of you know your neighbors even in your home country?


  1. As someone who's experienced moving away from home to be with a partner, I can say in all honesty that it has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It has put strain on our relationship. It's been a difficult adjustment in all aspects. I miss being familiar with my surroundings, being independent and having a source of income of my own, I miss my friends and family. To sum it all up, I miss having a life. I love my boyfriend with all my heart, and I hope he has the patience and love to deal with me during this difficult time.

  2. I'm not in a different country, but I am in a very different state within the US and nearly 1,000 miles away from family. That includes, for the last seven months, my wife. We see each other about one weekend a month at our own expense, flying her into town. It is certainly a challenge, and I'm sure national borders and oceans only make things more difficult.