EXPAT WOMEN - Homesick New Mother Abroad

by Extract from book: Expat Women: Confessions, 05/07/2011


The following is an extract from Expat Women's New Book: Confessions - 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions.*

Q. I am a trailing spouse and mother of one. We have been living in South Korea for seven months. When we first arrived, I loved the thrill of it all. But now I hate it. We are living in a tiny apartment with no backyard or outside space and we all sleep in the same room. My son is cooped up inside unless we take a couple of forms of public transport to get to the local park. My husband works from home on occasion, and then I have the impossible task of keeping our sixteen-month-old son quiet and occupied so as not to distract his father.

As an Australian who grew up on a large property, I had never envisaged my son's childhood or my parenting style to be anything like this. I desperately miss my mum for the emotional support and I wish she could help more with her grandson. I feel like I do not have five minutes to myself or anywhere in our home to "get away." Our situation was not like this on our first assignment in Canada. I miss Australia dreadfully and although my husband says we can go back once this assignment has finished, I have a sinking feeling that he does not want to go back to Australia at all. Can you offer any encouraging comments?

A. As is often the case for a trailing spouse, you are trying to deal with various situational, environmental, emotional and personal issues simultaneously. Ensuring that your family is safe, secure and comfortable in their new home, while you yourself are trying to figure out a new culture and navigate the emotional upheaval that this brings, can be downright difficult. Throw into the mix your new role as a parent and suddenly life looks completely different–and quite often not at all how you had pictured. More often than not, your own needs are sacrificed for those of the rest of your family unit.

Be realistic and live for today. Our first word of caution is about being too nostalgic about "home." The reality of life in your home country might not actually match your memories of "home" anymore. We tend to reflect on the positive and blank out the negative aspects of our lives, especially when we are in an unhappy space. You may be reminiscing with rose-tinted glasses on. Be careful.

Unfortunately, if you are living in the past and yearning to be back in Australia, it will be nearly impossible to adjust and assimilate in your new location. In order to integrate into or adapt to life in Korea, you need to live it and be present in it. Get out and experience new things: try new foods, go to new places, join a club, get involved in Korean cultural activities, do some sightseeing. Your life in Korea is not "instead of" your life in Australia. Think of it as "in addition to." swiss made replica watches

Positive changes you can make. Assuming that you will be in Korea for a while longer, the only real way to move forward is to articulate some positive changes that you can make in your day-to-day life that might help you to feel better about your new location. Can you change where you live? Granted, you might lose some money on the current lease, but are you able to find someone to take it over, or are you willing to lose a bit of money on the rent in an effort to improve the happiness of everyone in your home? Have you thought about contacting some estate agents to get an idea of what is available? We appreciate Korea is not the cheapest of places to rent accommodation, but you will not know if you do not investigate.

If you cannot move, can you befriend others nearby who might have an outside yard or play area, where you could visit with your son? Have you considered enrolling your son in a kindergarten or nursery for a few mornings a week? This will give your son contact with other children his age, plus space to run around and play–and it will hopefully give you the time you deserve to do something for yourself. Another idea would be to take your son out to more activities, such as swimming lessons, music classes or any other type of socialization classes that will get you both out of the apartment and feeling more involved in your community.

What about joining a playgroup (or two) of other expatriate or internationally minded mothers? This could provide you with an outlet to share your joys and struggles with like-minded new mothers who empathize with what you are going through and are probably going through the same things themselves. If there are no such groups in your immediate vicinity, you could always advertise (in local media, via a flyer at the local supermarket or via online forums) and start your own.

Recognize realities. Another major consideration is, just how much of your frustration is due to your location versus your new role as a mother? Motherhood is a massive adjustment in itself and an ever-evolving one as your children grow. It has a huge impact on your life, given its around-the-clock responsibility, sleep deprivation and the feeling that you never have any time to yourself. These are issues that mothers all over the world deal with, so be careful not to blame these frustrations on your host country.

With regards to not having your parents around to help out, again a word of caution: many an expat has been lured home by the promise of free babysitting from grandparents, only to find that the busy schedules of grandparents today might not match those of their children. With sixty being the new fifty and fifty being the new forty, grandparents today are more than likely still working (at least part-time), regularly traveling for pleasure and/or just being very busy in their own right.

Take action to find happiness. We suggest that once things are clearer in your mind, in terms of why you are frustrated, what you can change and what you cannot, talk to your husband (because open and ongoing communication is vital) and then set yourself some goals and time frames for making positive changes to improve your situation. If you find that you have genuinely tried to be happy in Korea but cannot, then again, you need to speak with your husband and articulate clearly how you feel and why. Together, you need to work out what is important and how you can both be happy.

Many relationships have broken up overseas (and at home) because couples cannot see how to change a current, unhappy situation. However, many other relationships have survived because together, couples have made difficult decisions (such as moving home, quitting a job and/or changing a career path) that have ultimately improved their family's happiness and kept them together.

Note: Do not be afraid to get external counseling to help both of you think about and talk through what you are seeking to improve in your current situation. Unfortunately, not all expat assignments work out. Nor do all marriages. But before you think about separating or moving home, think how you personally, and you as a couple, can try to transform your situation so that your time in Korea might later become a wonderful memory.

Copyright: www.expatwomen.com (With Expat Women's permission, K4E has slightly edited the full article to fit our format.
For more on the book, click here.

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