Moving abroad for love is a tricky subject. So many of my female friends have had to move abroad as a result of their spouse’s career. In fact, this post was requested about three years ago when a friend was heading off to join her husband outside of Nigeria. Sadly, that relationship didn’t work out and the relocation might have been one of the reasons.
It’s been a little over five years since Tola and I moved to the UK to start a new life after getting married. Although I had a job in London waiting for me, I had technically first considered moving because of his own career. He had found a great job that he wanted to pursue. The elephant in the room was, therefore, whether or not I would be lucky enough to find the same. Thankfully, during my master’s degree, he did the hard work of churning out applications and helping me land a job.
But many women often don’t have that luxury and are usually the trailing spouse — the ones who move abroad or relocate for their husband’s or partner’s career. Unfortunately, in more cases that not, it takes a huge toll on their them, their career, and confidence.
What are the major issues?
Primarily there’s the issue of your identity. Uprooting yourself from familiar faces, your job, and everything you’ve known and then being thrown into new situations. These could make you lose yourself as you grasp to recreate an identity and find your self-worth.
The other hurdle is often financial — especially when one is pretty stable in the existing location and has little or no prospects post relocation. Becoming newly financially dependent can cause a huge strain on a person’s happiness and satisfaction within a relationship.
Finally, there’s the potential culture shock and uncertainties of the new location. It’s been more than five years for me, and several things are still jarring to me.
In my experience, however, a few things — besides already having secured work — helped me through this time.
What can you do before the move?
Be fully convinced (well at least as much as possible) that moving abroad to join your spouse is best for you both. Still, come to terms with the fact that you may be isolated from family, have to re-strategise your career goals and be financially dependent. It’s also helpful to discuss any concerns you may have and practical ways to deal with them. If possible, put in time stamps for re-evaluating how you’re getting on and what to do if you’re not fully happy.
Consider trying to keep your current job — either by transferring or working remotely. If your organisation has a branch in your new destination, it’s helpful to reach out and initiate conversations ahead of time.
Learn a skill or start a business: Not every trailing spouse has the good fortune of having a job at the new location or finding one in a short period. So learning a handy skill is a back up to ensure that you can both keep yourself busy while possibly earning some money. These could be hands-on skills like hair styling, crafting homemade goods, art, making clothes. Or they could be more tech-related skills like web designing, graphics, social media management, etc. Try planning the move so that you have sufficient time to learn or brush up on such skills and how you might implement them.
Network. This is definitely a good time to deep dive into your high school yearbook or Facebook groups and re-connect with people who could potentially be in your new destination or link you up with people there. Don’t worry too much about not having kept in touch all these years. You may send a generic message that says “Hi X. It’s been a long time but I see you’ve been keeping well. I’m currently contemplating moving to Y and would love to reconnect with old classmates there. I’d be happy to have a chat soon.” Besides your online social network, make sure you utilise your real life one. Tell people where you might be moving to and any tips or assistance you require.
Research your new destination. There are a few things you may never be able to fully comprehend. No matter how much research I did, I didn’t exactly have a clear idea of London’s underground tube system until I saw it firsthand. But at the least, a good dose of research will provide a general overview of how the transport system works, the shopping areas, the basic dos and don’ts, weather, and so much more.
Decide what material possessions to take with you. You may have the luxury of shipping everything you own to your new destination. Or perhaps, like me, your options are limited to two 25 kg suitcases. Interestingly, I barely took any clothes with me and stuffed my luggage with Nigerian food items which may have been tricky and expensive to find. Whatever you do, don’t forget to take a few sentimental items such as photos or memorabilia — they come in handy on those days when you miss the familiar!
At your new destination
Connect with people as much as you can. Don’t be shy to introduce yourself at relevant opportunities. This is particularly necessary if you haven’t secured a job that allows you to connect with people often.
Explore the area (on foot!). The more familiar you are, the more you feel begin to feel at home, and discover hidden gems or activities that interest you.
Focus on the positive reasons for moving. There will be low and uncertain days when you’ll wonder if you made the right move. When those come up, try to focus on the positives and always try to be open with your partner about your concerns.
Stay in touch with loved ones at home. This is necessary. Thanks to technology we can stay in touch through group video calls at least. It’s not the same as being there in person, but it sure helps!
One last thing about moving abroad for love
Don’t get tempted to spend every breathing moment with your spouse. Yes, they may be the only person you know there but it’s unlikely to be for the best, especially if said spouse often goes out to work and gets a chance to do other things.
Explore, connect with people, find your new identity and make this new place work for you. Also, remember that things take time — whether it’s learning the language, adapting to the food and weather, getting a job or making new connections. Be patient and soon you might just be preaching and converting more people to join you in your new destination!
What do you think about moving abroad for love? Did you move abroad for love or to join a spouse? Where did you move from and where do you live now? How did you adapt? What was difficult? Any more tips?