For most newly arriving families in Holland, whether it be as expat or immigrant, a frequent dynamic is that only one parent is employed. This could be the situation for the first several months or even extend into years. Many accompanying partners often struggle with with getting a work permit and decide instead to focus on taking care of the family and making that their first priority.
Such situations can lead to myths which characterize the accompanying partner as spoiled, superficial or unapproachable, which most of the time is far from the truth. These partners find themselves thrown into Dutch culture, in a foreign country where they are without close friends, having to tread water until they slowly learn how to navigate this new life in ‘the lowlands.’
Studies to understand what makes for a successful expatriate experience have shown that intercultural trainings and coachings are key for achieving ‘success’ abroad.
Some companies and organizations which employ internationals offer at least a minimal amount of such in-house cultural training for their employees, but not necessarily for the accompanying partner. Other expats may end up working for a non-international company which doesn’t provide any kind of support, making it even more difficult for the family to adapt.
For the unemployed accompanying partner, their early days are often spent trying to manage normal daily activities such as getting the kids off to school or finding shops whol sell the most basic household items to learning at least some basic Dutch and adapting to local norms.
This is where an Expat Training comes in. The word “expat,” by the way, coming from ex (out of) and patriam (the passport country).
Knowing what to expect and how to cope with difficult situations during the various stages of international life and having an outlet to discuss challenging issues with other people in the same situation will help reduce feelings of isolation, alienation and loneliness.
Additionally, advanced insight to Dutch culture, habits and values will go a long way in maintaining open-mindedness and keeping one optimistic. Learning what it takes to build a successful life abroad, from hearing the experiences of others in likely situations, will aid in developing personal strategies to settle in easier and sooner. The aim of every international should be to thrive during their life abroad.
When children are involved, attention will inevitably become more focused on their needs; helping them to settle in, find new friends, feel comfortable in their new environment in order to fully embrace their international childhood. The awareness of what is necessary to support our children to develop a sense of belonging and form a strong identity will help families to feel at home abroad.
When people move abroad, they often associate the experience with learning new languages. Will we learn the Dutch language? Will learning the language be important for the family? Is there support of other family members, school and surroundings to help in the process? How can we help our children to maintain and improve their native language while also wanting them to become balanced bilinguals – which is undoubtedly a valuable asset in today’s global society?
For many expats, the journey abroad begins with an intent to embrace and enjoy their international experience as much as they can. For many, the exact amount of time living abroad is known from the start. For others, it may end up being more open-ended. When the time does come to repatriate, it is not always a smooth transition. Many internationals have cited the challenges of repatriation as being greater than those relating to the initial move. What needs to be considered when repatriating? When is it advisable to take this step? How can we prepare our family for this change? The right strategies and support will undoubtedly be required to insure the repatriation process goes smoothly.
After the initial stages of settling in, many accompanying partners start to consider their own needs by exploring job options, coming up with business ideas which can may ultimately prove beneficial for their career, broadening their social network or even focusing on new hobbies or interests. Learning to find meaning in our new living situation abroad can take a while and having support can save time and energy.
Successful expat life abroad means being able to constantly adopt and adapt. This applies whether your international life is here in Holland or hundreds of other countries around the world. Do research, ask questions and be open to new new experiences. Developing successful coping strategies is always a key ingredient for thriving and making the most of your international expat experience.