Expat Experience Link-Up: The Reason I Left & 3 Tips To Help You Do It Too!
This is the second installment of our March Expat Experience/Travel Link-up where we are sharing, along with other bloggers, what expat life has been like and offer some top tips along the way. (Thanks for the initiative Molly)!
There is a theme to write about each week and if you’d like to find out more, or join in, click here for all the information you need.
The theme this week ‘The Reason I Left’ – share why you became an expat. What made you choose a particular place or the travelling lifestyle? Has it been what you expected? What did you consider/wish you had considered before you moved? End with three tips that may help people figure out if a big move is for them.
So here is my story, in short form… thankfully!
I had been working with a major oil & gas company in Houston, Texas when we started a project with Azerbaijan’s Academy of Science. A team of geologists was sent to Houston for a couple of months to work out the details of an exploration deal. During that time, I worked with the team and got to know about their country (Azerbaijan) and what life was like after the collapse of the former Soviet Union which had happened just about a year before.
It was amazing to see history unfolding, using regular people to make events happen. They talked about the protests in the main square, estimated at nearly a million strong. Now they had independence, but little else. As I spoke with these new friends, I learned how hard life was. I watched them as they earned their daily per diem payments (more in 2 days than their chief earned each month), figuring out what they should do with so much hard currency.
At home my family had a German foreign exchange student who was soon returning to her home. We decided to request another exchange student, but this time from Azerbaijan. I managed to find host families for nearly a dozen students, so they had quite a strong community and I learned how confusing the situation was for them and much these young people lacked. It was a great learning experience for my 15-year-old daughter as well.
The time seemed right to develop my rough business idea for teaching young people the skills to work for western companies and talk with my husband. My company was sending me to open the office in Baku, and it allowed my husband and daughter to come along for a eye-opening visit. I came home convinced this was a real need and a great opportunity. My husband thought the timing could work since his bank was being bought out and he was unsure of his next steps…this would be a huge one for him.
Because I had worked with the team for many months, I had a good idea of what to expect. I had taught myself Russian and was comfortable with the culture- a combination of Russian communism and Muslim beliefs. The short visit with my family helped them know what life was going to look like. (My daughter would be going to university so the move would just be my husband and I.) Once it was time, I went on ahead to set things up in Azerbaijan and my husband would sell our home and get finances in order.
I later found out my husband wasn’t totally comfortable with the move, and ultimately after “stalling” for 3 full years, he finally told me he wasn’t coming. I offered to come home but he had other plans. A divorce was part of the plan.
That’s where this blog came from … “Life Lessons” – I certainly learned some good ones!
My three tips?
1. Say the words out loud. I thought we were on the same page, but I was living this idea all day at work, and all evening at home, working on details in my head. I think my husband got swept up in the planning without ever really knowing what to expect. He had never lived over seas; I had, many times as a military kid. If I had actually stopped to say, “This is what I think, what does that mean to you?” and really listened, we might have saved ourselves some tough times.
2. Whoever goes also plans. Once the decision to go abroad has been made, whoever goes also plans. I was the type A planner in our family, always had been. But on a decision this big, it’s not like planning a dinner party that you can relax and clean-up after. This is permanent for a couple of years or so (or, in my case, 10 years…) Even non-planners have opinions, include them. Even those who tell you “It doesn’t matter,” have thoughts that do matter.
3. Excitement makes you look forward, compassion helps you look back. In my excitement to fulfill a long-held dream of teaching, I ran full steam making plans, making sure all our contacts and arrangements were perfect. I felt sure things would be fine, but, I didn’t think to look back with compassion for my husband who was not as comfortable (dread would be a better word, I think).
If I had been more compassionate, more concerned about his feelings and well-being, beyond just accepting his ‘yes, we’ll go,’ I could have seen that he had a great front but inside all was not well. I failed in that area, and we paid for it later.
The end of the story? I survived, had a very satisfying career over that 10 years. My ex-husband remarried 6 months later; I remarried 11 years later. Everyone is happier, so all’s well that ends well? Our daughter finished university, got her PhD in neuropsychology and is practicing to make us well.
Would I do it again? Yes, I believe I would. I have learned to be more compassionate through all the hard lessons, so maybe it would be different today, but the outcome was worth it in the end. (I would do better in planning to come home, however.)
Let me know if this was helpful to you, or if you have any questions about how to start yourself down the expat experience path. I’d love to hear from you!