Moveable Roots

In the nearly four and a half years since I returned to the U.S. as an adult, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an accompanying spouse. Although I knew that’s what my situation would be when I chose to accompany my husband where his work would take him, I’ve only fully realized what it entails by living it these past few years.

When we were growing up, we didn’t have to deal with any logistics of the move, understanding health insurance, figuring out credit systems etc. As children, we had a regular routine, surrounded by many others like us at school. But as an adult, especially as an accompanying spouse, none of that applies anymore. Now we’re the ones with responsibilities and it’s up to us to figure it all out. There are no teachers or fellow students to help you out. This is very individual, independent learning – for better or for worse.

Since we’ve moved here, I’ve had to learn about living in the U.S. as an adult. Just because I have an American accent, people assume I’m from here and therefore I am aware of all the intricacies of daily life here. I only lived here as a young child, and although it is my passport country, it’s not where I’m from originally and it’s not where I’ve spent most of my life. This adds a further layer of complexity to this transition. This makes it a confusing mix of familiar and totally foreign. It makes us hidden immigrants and repats and neither all at the same time.

I’ve suddenly become acutely aware of what it must have been like for our parents – trying to make a home and figure everything out in a foreign place. And I also realize more than ever what a challenge that probably was for my mom, or any accompanying spouse. While the working spouse has a job to go, a routine, people they regularly interact with, the accompanying spouse often has none of those. I’ve learned just how difficult it can be to meet people when you work from home, don’t go to an office/school or have kids.

I had assumed that being an accompanying spouse in my passport country would make certain things easier – no need to get work permits or apply for visas, and no language barrier. And yet finding work has been extremely difficult, despite trying many times and in many different domains. I find myself competing with locals who have lived here, studied here and worked here most of their lives. I clearly have a foreign name, and have lived, studied and worked all over the world, but never in the U.S.

I also assumed I would find it relatively easy to adapt, to speak with people, to figure things out quickly… I had done it so many other times, in foreign places, while having to learn a new language; how hard could it be this time? Well, I didn’t realize how much the culture shock and loneliness would impact me. It was more acute than I expected, especially living in an area where there are very few foreigners and even less (if any) with TCK backgrounds/experiences like us. I have found it quite difficult to connect with people here. I have acquaintances and have no trouble carrying on a conversation, but I have forged few real relationships.

It has been a struggle and a steep learning curve. But thankfully it has also been a blessing in disguise. I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time, which allowed me to reignite my love for writing. I have started building something of my own, one brick at a time – first my blog, then some published articles, then my writer’s residency, published book reviews and soon a book with my name on it (as a writer and assistant editor). Those have led to other opportunities, little bits and pieces that slowly add to the puzzle. There is still a long way to go, but I’m proud of where I’ve gotten.

When we first arrived here, I never imagined that things would develop in this manner. I thought I would find a regular, part-time job and take a more ‘traditional’ path. Instead an unexpected path opened up and I’m continuously surprised by what it’s given me and by what I’ve learned about myself along the way. These last few years have allowed me to plant seeds for a career that I can carry with me wherever future plans may take us.

And what could be more fitting for a TCK, expat and accompanying spouse than a career with moveable roots?

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18 thoughts on “Moveable Roots

  1. Dounia, Jo would be proud as you’ve written this from the heart, ‘naked’ as she would say. It is a difficult place to write from as we don’t want to appear ungrateful for our expat lives and the experiences it allows us. However, as I’ve written this past week as well, the ‘gilded cage’ can feel stifling, inhibiting and often confusing. And yet because of the adversity, you have grown and arrived at a place you couldn’t have imagined, that of a writer. I agree, soon we will see our names as writers in a published book which is vindication of the travails we’ve had as ‘trailing spouses’ and the resilience we shown to move onto the next stage as writers. And I think we were most definitely meant to be here…the journey is only just underway! Terry Anne xx

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    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Terry Anne. The understanding, validation and support in it was just what I needed after posting this. I worked on this post for a while, hesitated quite a bit before hitting “publish” and so comments like yours are gold for my writer’s heart. Your last line summed it up perfectly: “And I think we were most definitely meant to be here…the journey is only just underway.” Thanks again for your comment, and also for your honesty on your blog. It is a wonderful life we lead, but it is not without its own complexities and tough moments. It’s good to know there are others who understand – both the life and the need to write about it.

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  2. Thanks for another lovely post Dounia, I’ve missed reading your words and always find that they echo so much with me! A portable career indeed: I’m very happy with my Science teacher job which theoretically would allow me to move around the world, but in my case it’s my husband that is the ‘obstacle’ in a sense. His job is far less flexible, so moving is unlikely. I feel quite sad about this as I’d like my kids to experience the excitement and apprehension of moving and settling in a different countries, i am so certain it is beneficial… Funny how we have to compose with spouses, jobs, countries, and somehow squeeze in our own hopes and dreams in there! Bises et merci!

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    1. Thank you for another wonderful comment, Anne! I have missed your comments and getting a chance to connect with you through my blog. I’m so happy we have this platform to communicate and share stories; I am not in contact with many people from my past homes and I cherish the connections I still have. I understand you wanting your kids to have a similar experience; I would like to raise my kids as TCKs too. Right now I have no idea if/when/where that would happen. I know we would both like to continue that lifestyle, but that will depend where works leads for my husband. As for squeezing in our own hopes and dreams…Sometimes opportunities to follow our dreams come in the most unexpected places, manners and times. If only we could all have portable careers that we could do anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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  3. Dounia, what a lovely post and how interesting to read how becoming an expat partner yourself has changed your perspective on your Mom’s experience. It’s great that you’ve been able to use the space created by the role to explore your writing and to create your own portable career. I wondered if you’d be interested in doing an interview with us around the topic of changed perspectives on the expat partner role? Let me know. Evelyn

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Evelyn! Growing up we knew my mom did a lot and sorted things out through every move – all while always being present, available and supportive. But as an adult I am aware of just how much she must have had to do, and how strong she was that we never saw how difficult it must have been figuring life out in a totally new place. I’ve also been lucky to have support from my parents, siblings and husband to do what I love and that has allowed me to develop this career. I would love to do an interview with you about the changed perspective of the expat partner role – I’ll send you an email. Thanks again for your comment and I look forward to connecting further.

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  4. It is wonderful that despite all the challenges of finding your place once again in the U.S., you have been able to take advantage of the opportunities you have seen. Though it has been difficult for you to forge genuine connections, I hope you will keep trying.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment; I really appreciate it! I will definitely keep trying – sometimes it takes longer to find people to connect with, but it’s always worth trying more!

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  5. It’s funny, I can definitely relate to some of this – despite not quite being an ‘accompanying spouse’ 😛 But the whole idea of having your own responsibilities, being away from home, and suddenly actually having to deal with, well, modern life, yourself – definitely see what you mean. Was very exciting at first (and still enjoy it a lot, for lots of things – the extra freedom/responsibility) – but sometimes I almost wish I was back at school, with (retrospectively) pretty much nothing to worry about and few ‘real’ responsibilities – no rent, no bills, was generally cooked for, rarely had to worry about how to get somewhere, etc. And now…energy bills, bank accounts, water bills, internet/phone contracts, a job, visas, rent, furniture, meeting people, getting places etc etc.. There’s, for me, that trade-off of the exciting, great aspect of managing your own life and having that ‘freedom and responsibility’, with, well, actually having to manage it and have that responsibility, whether you feel like it or not 😛 (I realize that wasn;t quite the focus of your post, but hey, it’s somewhat related 😛 )

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    1. What you wrote is definitely related to the post. Even if it’s not the main theme of it, of course it’s part of the underlying complexity of the situation. We complain when we’re in school, but once we’re out in the working world, we realize how good we had it at school and at home, right? But that’s how any situation is: there’s always good and bad; we just have to make the best of it and focus on the good things. I know we had talked about this and it’s not always easy, but there’s definitely far more good than bad, so keep enjoying all the fun, exciting, great parts of it. 🙂

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  6. Wonderful post … once again I’m struck by how similar our paths are (the difficulty connecting with people, but time to explore something new) while being from such polar-opposite backgrounds. As I’ve said all along, your story somehow is relatable to many people – or maybe it’s just a tribute to your writing skills. For whatever reason, it’s always enjoyable to read. Keep doing it! : )

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Paige. I think we are all probably more alike than different, and it’s our stories that connect us. While the situations and backgrounds may be different, the emotions are universally understood. I appreciate your comment so much, because if what I write resonates with you (and others), then hopefully I’m doing something right. If I’m able to convey the stories and emotions in a way that allows others to relate then I feel fulfilled/validated as a writer. 🙂

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      1. I just LOVE your words “…it’s our stories that connect us.” Actually, you could probably do a story on THAT. But yes, you seem to have a knack for relating to lots of different people, and that is the sign of a good writer. Keep doing what you’re doing. And stay warm. : )

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  7. Hi, as a former TCK and now accompanying spouse I get you! I dedicated my book to my own mother (as well as my husband and children) because it’s only now that I realise how hard it was for her. And in many ways, without the technology and cheap air travel of today, harder. I also totally get what you say about the unexpected turns in your life. Being an expat partner has allowed me to write a book about it! Thank you for visiting and following my blog.

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    1. Hi, Clara! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it! I was so happy someone posted a link to your blog; I think it’s great and I was also able to relate to many of your posts. It’s true we’re much luckier today with technology and travel than our parents were. It’s so easy to communicate with them, but also with other people around the world with similar experiences (through blogs, twitter etc). Sometimes the unexpected turns lead to the most wonderful adventures and projects (congrats on your book!). As TCKs we know that anything could happen and we could end up anywhere in the world – and we also know the important thing is to always make the best of it.

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