Helle Fjord Hudson is a 53 year old Danish woman who recently moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to join forces with her husband, Joe who is a US citizen. Until the beginning of 2016, Helle has worked many years in international corporate companies and has been transferred to several international assignments through her various job positions. Before her recent move to the US in the beginning of 2019, Helle has had her own business as a sex and couples therapist in Denmark. She has a son of 22 years from previous marriage who lives in Denmark.
On January 17 of this year I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to join Joe whom I married a few weeks later, on March 2nd. I am a Danish national, 53 years old and I have a son of 22 years with my first husband. Our son lives in Denmark.
This is by far the first time I’ve lived abroad. In my younger years, I moved to Holland right after college to work as a hostess at one of the boats sailing on the canals throughout Holland with primarily Danish tourists. Later in life, I joined the Danish Foreign Service and over a span of approx. 10 years, I went to three different locations to work at Danish Embassies abroad. 1 year in Belgrade, the Republic of Serbia, 2 years in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a bit more than 4 years in Budapest, Hungary. On my first posting in Belgrade, I was stationed as a single person. In Riyadh, I was accompanied by my then husband and in Budapest, we were stationed as a family with a newborn baby.
Back in those years when I was transferred to foreign countries (1985-2002) there wasn’t a big focus on onboarding support or integration into host countries, soft landings or any such thing – least of all to accompanying spouses. I, and later my then husband, was basically left to our own imagination with anything that went beyond general registration into the public platforms of the host countries (tax, social security, immigration). Luckily, I’m a curious soul by nature and a ‘go getter’ when it comes to managing my own life, so networking and establishing contact to other foreigners on location usually gave me a kick-start on the local, cultural and national whereabouts. But it wasn’t a standard support on the employer’s end to take the more social, private and emotional elements of the landing into consideration.
Much has happened in the sense of attention towards the ‘need to’ and ‘nice to’ support of spouses transferring with their partners who have signed a contract working abroad. Having been employed in Siemens Denmark for almost a decade and building up an onboarding platform alongside with highly dedicated team players, I’ve experienced the rise of a new dedication to smoothen the transfers for the accompanying spouses who envisage long-term postings together with their partners, the employees.
We’ve come a long way – and I, for one, will not forget the huge leaps of progress we’ve made from when I started out living abroad as a young woman, back in 1985.
Yet, I still believe there are blind spots related to the spouses’ wellbeing in the host countries that must be addressed. Psychological and emotional elements that are not necessarily recognized by the spouses themselves nor included as an awareness in the sending and receiving companies’ support kit.
There are many layers in in the mindset process of each individual going, when working around an upcoming international move. The tuning into oneself and picturing “how is life going to be for me” sets in at a very early stage in time. Nevertheless, different immediate practicalities overshadow the reflections at a pure personal level based on e.g. time pressure and priorities towards the working partner who holds the leading role in why the transfer takes place at all.
There’s the process of closure in home country parallel to opening the platform of arrival in the host country, selection and shipment of personal belongings alongside the paperwork of deregistration and registration. This is a very rough summing up of the general preparations and I ask you to bear with me that I don’t unfold details.
When it comes to a much deeper and personal level of reflections of the spouses, I sense that this layer is hardly ever – or scarcely – reached into and thought about – at least until way after arrival and settling into the host county. Nevertheless, if these issues are not at least visited before leaving as an important part of self-awareness, they may blow out of proportion upon arrival, simply because nothing is familiar, everything visible is new and unrecognizable.
As a part of your preparation process, I can recommend that you reflect on the following:
- Your personal values in the ‘as is’ life: what is really important to you and where can you live with compromises in your new host country?
- Important routines of your daily life: what you really appreciate to do for yourself every day and how can you keep doing it after you’ve arrived in the host country?
- Maintenance of your mental, physical and emotional health such as nutrition, diet, homemade meals, physical exercise, meditation, spiritual input: which of these are must haves in your daily routines after arrival and how can you engage yourself in making that happen?
- How do you network (physically and/or through Social Media) and within which fields to you network? Is it work related only or socially as well? Who will you turn to if you don’t know how to get started once the initial settling in is in place? Will you only network with your country fellowmen/women after arrival or are you ok with reaching out to other foreigners?
I want to reassure you that whatever we go through emotionally and psychologically when moving ourselves into a new environment, is the same regardless of our nationality and cultural upbringing. It is in our imperfections that we are the most alike! So, don’t be afraid to mingle with people from other nations who are in the same situation as you.
- Do you consider yourself as an introvert or extrovert? Dig into yourself and be very honest. Whether you are one or the other, most likely it will grow once you arrive to your new home. Be aware that the world will not come to you, and that your success or the opposite is your responsibility. So, make a plan of how you can work around establishing contact to people in your new environment – even if it takes for you to get out of your comfort zone and from time to time to even enter red alert!
- How good are you already at staying in touch with your family and close friends who are important to you? I’m asking this question to bring your awareness to the fact that most often, the travelling spouses experience that once they’re out of sight, they are also out of heart. I’ve felt that myself every time I’ve been out of Denmark for a longer stretch of time. So, it takes a great effort to grow an extensive ability to communicate with family and friends at home, when you’re abroad. If you don’t hear from them as often as you had hoped and envisaged – don’t take it personally, because it isn’t meant to. Remember that you are the one experiencing a lot of new things and they love to get an insight into your learnings, whereabouts and impressions. Take this opportunity to grow your communication skills and honesty through writing and consider it as a great piece of diary that you share with your loved ones.
- How do you handle issues that create a conflict inside yourself? Check-in on yourself. How have you felt in most recent months when conflicts or challenges have occurred? How was your behavior around solving the conflicts? An important field to become more aware of, because you’re going to need problem solving before you even thought, after arrival to your new home. You might as well take pride in developing this skill as well. Take yourself seriously!
- What do you normally do when you feel alone or not important? Do you minimize yourself, do you drink/eat more, work more, blame others, become invisible? Do you seek likeminded people from your own neighborhood to talk to or do you get stressed? Perhaps you engage in more physical exercise? Take a moment to reflect. We have a certain behavior at home in our familiar surroundings and we know how to navigate it – whether our behavior is positive or negative. But when we’re taken out of safe context and well-known environment and located to a place where nothing is familiar and we know nobody other than ourselves and our partner, we may lose footing in ourselves for a moment – especially when we feel that we don’t really matter. It’s not dangerous, it’s just very uncomfortable at times and it’s very important that we know how to tune into ourselves and learn to navigate it to a larger extent
- Are there elements of your life that you would wish to change but don’t have the courage or energy to, because it will have too big consequences for you personally? Would it be feasible to change these elements in your new country of residence where nobody knows you? The beauty of getting a chance to change things radically when you settle down at a place where absolutely nobody knows you is, that you can start being somebody else. Every time I’ve lived abroad, I’ve enjoyed unfolding my character a bit more and become more self-confident in the expat life, stepping out of a shadow that I tended to retain myself in when I was back home
- Are you ok with communicating in other languages than your mother tongue or does it frighten you? Consider this as a golden opportunity to practice your English skills, German, Spanish, whatever. A cultural understanding happens best through language and joint food experience!
- How honest are you with yourself now and to which extent do you take responsibility for your own wellbeing in general, before leaving your home country?
This is a meant as a small guide to help you gain a deeper level of understanding for yourself and to honor your values, challenges and opportunities when you arrive at your new host country and start building up your life abroad. It has helped me a lot, in particular with my latest move to the US that I had a small manual where I wrote the things I promised to hold myself accountable for through tough times and remind myself that I’m a human being – not a robot.
There are many ways of networking with equals and many expats engage in new social media groups on location, business platforms, spouse groups recommended by spouses at home who have just returned to home country and much more. I am registered at Meet2Talk and I’m more than happy to chat with you at any point. So, feel free to reach out to me.
I welcome any constructive questions, comments, input and feedback. Furthermore, I hope that my article will encourage you to come forth with your stories and that you will share voice your experience, learnings, challenges, advice, recommendations and history with other spouses around the world so that we can keep connecting with one another and grow in the gift of living abroad.