The expatriate spouse

Being an expatriate spouse is a good life or so many have been trained to say. But, beneath the bright smiles and often chirpy demeanour lay another story. While it is not the same for everyone, a large percentage of expatriate spouses yearn for more.

Being an expatriate spouse is a good life or so many have been trained to say. But, beneath the bright smiles and often chirpy demeanour lay another story.

While it is not the same for everyone, a large percentage of expatriate spouses yearn for more. Yes the home is beautiful, the car is lovely and the holidays make for great memories and fantastic social media posts but something is often missing.

 

One need not look further than Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to find the answer. The average human has the desire to self-actualise once their other basic needs are met. This is where the life of many expatriate spouses never move forward.

 

Imagine, for a moment, someone whose physiological needs, general safety, sense of belonging and esteem are under control. They do not worry about their next meal; whether or not they are at risk; they know they are loved and have a developed sense of self.

 

This person meets and marries the partner of his or her dreams. They begin a life in which both parties have careers which are going well. For whatever reason, they decide to accept an opportunity for one of them to work abroad.

Exhilaration becomes the order of the day, euphoria sets in and the planning begins. A few months later the excited couple moves abroad to begin a new phase of life in a different country with a hodgepodge of the following: an unknown culture, not the best internet connection, ‘strange’ illnesses, water and power cuts, and of course a different language.

The first few weeks are exciting as this discovery phase allows for exploration and settling down while the wait for the furniture is underway. Fast forward and the furniture arrives and voila! six to 12 months have passed and reality has sunk in.

The kids are busy at school, the partner is in full swing at work and the expatriate spouse is bored, overwhelmed, sad or angry.

Of course this does not apply to everyone but in a report by Permits Foundation from 2009 it was pointed out that a majority of expatriate spouses polled wished they could find gainful employment in their host countries.

The question is often asked, ‘why bother to worry about work if you are already fully taken care of?’ The answer is back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Remember that we are talking about that person whose physiological needs, general safety, sense of belonging and esteem are under control.

That leaves the fifth and final level as put forward by Maslow: self-actualisation. For many expatriate wives or husbands, working is not about money. The desire to be at the job is more an opportunity to expand and grow and to contribute. Not only is there a desire to contribute but also to thrive and to achieve.

The job market for the expatriate spouse is a mixed bag depending on the host country. There are countries where getting a job is a definite no; others where the chances are slim to none.

Still there are duty stations where the skills and expertise of the expatriate spouse are welcomed and utilised. In addition to the possibilities of a job there are some spouses who decide to develop their entrepreneurial side.

They develop businesses – some businesses travel from one duty station to another, others are sold when the expat leaves and others simply have their shutters closed. For the entrepreneurial spouse Rwanda can be an amazing duty station because opportunities are abound and the ease of doing business is worthy of mention.

As part of its rebuilding effort, Rwanda proactively promotes the strengthening and growth of its private sector. This process started with the Vision 2020 which fed into the Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) which then helped create the Doing Business Unit.

These different entities recognised that a hearty private sector would not only create opportunities but would also filter out to development in other sectors of society.

Since the beginning of this drive, Rwanda has made it easier to do business by streamlining and overhauling several steps in the process from conceptualising to accessing funds to the establishment of the actual business.

With this in mind the expatriate spouse, if he or she desires, can legally open a business by following the procedures outlined by the Rwanda Development Board. It is a simple process with a turnaround approval time of approximately six business hours.

The idea of starting a business is daunting to some and unlikely for others but, as the adage goes, one needs to bloom where they are planted. This may be easier said than done but it is always good to know that options exist after the dust settles and life truly begins in a new duty station.

The writer is a wife to an expatriate currently working in Rwanda

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