Tips & Tricks from a Trailing Spouse Expat

  • BelgiumWhen faced with an international assignment, there are endless questions that can run rampant through your mind. Where will we live? How will I find a school for my children? Where will I go grocery shopping? How do I ask for the public bathrooms??? This can be quite overwhelming, especially for those undergoing their first international expatriate assignment or permanent relocation. Luckily, we have international assignment veteran, Julie Fortner (Fort Thomas, KY) to answer a few questions about international relocation in order to help ease the newcomer's fears.

    In August of 1997, Julie left Cincinnati, OH and followed her husband on his assignment with his company to Belgium. With three kids in tow, a house in the United States to maintain, and an eight hour international flight away from everything she had called home, one can imagine this was no small feat. But after four years of memories and adventures in Europe, Julie's family returned to Cincinnati with an additional child, a beloved dog, and the ability to overcome any relocation obstacle thrown at them. Keep reading to see what Julie has to say about her experience!

    What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while relocating internationally?
    Definitely the language barrier. In Belgium they speak French and Flemish, and with my little knowledge of French, I knew I was going to have to learn. So, I took approximately 60 hours of lessons in the United States before I went over, and it was offered again as continuing education once I was overseas. But, Belgians were generally tolerable of my English and my horrible French! My advice for anyone relocating internationally is to speak the [local] language as much as possible. [Locals] will tolerate you, but they will tolerate you even more if you at least try. You will need the language for directions, ordering food, understanding currency – all of the basics, so it's very recommended that you take classes to learn the language of the country.

    What was the easiest part of your relocation process?
    Everything to do with the school. We had young kids at the time, so when we went on the house hunting trip, we looked for an English speaking international school in which to enroll them. Once we had chosen the school, it became our family, with whom we spent our time and were associated. It really became our community support and made the process easier.

    Was there anything that you stressed about that turned out to be easier than you thought?
    My biggest concern was "how am I going to meet people?" For me, I met people through the school and the church, so it was easy. The other thing was missing family. We were an eight hour plane ride from home so we had to depend on each other (my husband and kids) and make a new family. I thought it would be a big challenge to replace the family with whom we are so close in the United States, but it was pretty easy with the international school to create a new family community. Because one-third of the international school's students leave every year, you learn that you must make close friendships quickly instead of waiting around, so it pushes you to get out there and make connections.

    On the other hand, it was a lot harder for my husband to make friends in Europe because he did not know anyone, and business-wise, co-workers thought he was coming over to change everything so they weren't very accepting of him as a friend. He was working a lot and constantly traveling, so he wasn't very involved in the community to start. As a trailing spouse, I knew I needed to support him in this, and therefore made my friends his friends. After about six months, it became a lot easier for him to feel involved and connected to the community.

    As a trailing spouse, what did you do with your time during the assignment?
    All of the trailing spouses would do things together during the day, which was a really strong network. We met through the International Women's Club and the international school where my children attended. Also, daily tasks in a foreign country are a challenge, which also takes up a lot of time. I would spend two hours in the grocery and buy two things!

    How was the repatriation process after your husband's assignment was over?
    When we came back, we moved into the same house that we lived in prior to the assignment and after four years of being away we didn't fit. We changed schools, we weren't as close to the community anymore – it was a completely different life. Nobody wanted to hear about our travels overseas, so we had to suppress a lot of our lives when we came back. Even though we came back to the same house, same place, same family, it took me six months to a year to repatriate into the community. It was harder to repatriate than to move abroad. Coming back was extremely challenging, moving over was very easy. We didn't know at the time, but there was a program through my husband's company to join where employees who went on international assignments could talk together and relate. If you repatriate, see if the company has a program where you can connect with people who have been through the same process.

    Did you work with a relocation company on the move there or the move back to the United States? And if so, on what types of elements or benefits did the relocation company work with you?
    Yes, we did work with a relocation company when leaving the U.S. but more so while getting settled in Belgium. They took care of everything - that part was great because we didn't have to do anything! We just provided information to them and got our own passports, but that was it. They did the packing/moving from the U.S. and temporary housing in the U.S. as well as in Belgium, which was absolutely wonderful.

    What did you think about working with a relocation company?
    I appreciated it a lot, because I could never have done it on my own. [Relocating] was still challenging, but it was always nice to have somebody to walk you through choices (phone, cable, internet, etc.). Relocation services are very important because you're uprooting your family to a place where you know nothing and you don't have the time to research cable companies, etc. Their help was invaluable.

    What advice do you have for others going through the same process?
    Be very flexible and ask a ton of questions. No question is stupid because you're new to the process and area. Use your resources as much as possible. When you're moving you have SO many other things on your mind, so you're not going to have a whole lot of time to do much research. Use relocation companies as much as you can.

Tips & Tricks from a Trailing Spouse Expat

  • BelgiumWhen faced with an international assignment, there are endless questions that can run rampant through your mind. Where will we live? How will I find a school for my children? Where will I go grocery shopping? How do I ask for the public bathrooms??? This can be quite overwhelming, especially for those undergoing their first international expatriate assignment or permanent relocation. Luckily, we have international assignment veteran, Julie Fortner (Fort Thomas, KY) to answer a few questions about international relocation in order to help ease the newcomer's fears.

    In August of 1997, Julie left Cincinnati, OH and followed her husband on his assignment with his company to Belgium. With three kids in tow, a house in the United States to maintain, and an eight hour international flight away from everything she had called home, one can imagine this was no small feat. But after four years of memories and adventures in Europe, Julie's family returned to Cincinnati with an additional child, a beloved dog, and the ability to overcome any relocation obstacle thrown at them. Keep reading to see what Julie has to say about her experience!

    What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while relocating internationally?
    Definitely the language barrier. In Belgium they speak French and Flemish, and with my little knowledge of French, I knew I was going to have to learn. So, I took approximately 60 hours of lessons in the United States before I went over, and it was offered again as continuing education once I was overseas. But, Belgians were generally tolerable of my English and my horrible French! My advice for anyone relocating internationally is to speak the [local] language as much as possible. [Locals] will tolerate you, but they will tolerate you even more if you at least try. You will need the language for directions, ordering food, understanding currency – all of the basics, so it's very recommended that you take classes to learn the language of the country.

    What was the easiest part of your relocation process?
    Everything to do with the school. We had young kids at the time, so when we went on the house hunting trip, we looked for an English speaking international school in which to enroll them. Once we had chosen the school, it became our family, with whom we spent our time and were associated. It really became our community support and made the process easier.

    Was there anything that you stressed about that turned out to be easier than you thought?
    My biggest concern was "how am I going to meet people?" For me, I met people through the school and the church, so it was easy. The other thing was missing family. We were an eight hour plane ride from home so we had to depend on each other (my husband and kids) and make a new family. I thought it would be a big challenge to replace the family with whom we are so close in the United States, but it was pretty easy with the international school to create a new family community. Because one-third of the international school's students leave every year, you learn that you must make close friendships quickly instead of waiting around, so it pushes you to get out there and make connections.

    On the other hand, it was a lot harder for my husband to make friends in Europe because he did not know anyone, and business-wise, co-workers thought he was coming over to change everything so they weren't very accepting of him as a friend. He was working a lot and constantly traveling, so he wasn't very involved in the community to start. As a trailing spouse, I knew I needed to support him in this, and therefore made my friends his friends. After about six months, it became a lot easier for him to feel involved and connected to the community.

    As a trailing spouse, what did you do with your time during the assignment?
    All of the trailing spouses would do things together during the day, which was a really strong network. We met through the International Women's Club and the international school where my children attended. Also, daily tasks in a foreign country are a challenge, which also takes up a lot of time. I would spend two hours in the grocery and buy two things!

    How was the repatriation process after your husband's assignment was over?
    When we came back, we moved into the same house that we lived in prior to the assignment and after four years of being away we didn't fit. We changed schools, we weren't as close to the community anymore – it was a completely different life. Nobody wanted to hear about our travels overseas, so we had to suppress a lot of our lives when we came back. Even though we came back to the same house, same place, same family, it took me six months to a year to repatriate into the community. It was harder to repatriate than to move abroad. Coming back was extremely challenging, moving over was very easy. We didn't know at the time, but there was a program through my husband's company to join where employees who went on international assignments could talk together and relate. If you repatriate, see if the company has a program where you can connect with people who have been through the same process.

    Did you work with a relocation company on the move there or the move back to the United States? And if so, on what types of elements or benefits did the relocation company work with you?
    Yes, we did work with a relocation company when leaving the U.S. but more so while getting settled in Belgium. They took care of everything - that part was great because we didn't have to do anything! We just provided information to them and got our own passports, but that was it. They did the packing/moving from the U.S. and temporary housing in the U.S. as well as in Belgium, which was absolutely wonderful.

    What did you think about working with a relocation company?
    I appreciated it a lot, because I could never have done it on my own. [Relocating] was still challenging, but it was always nice to have somebody to walk you through choices (phone, cable, internet, etc.). Relocation services are very important because you're uprooting your family to a place where you know nothing and you don't have the time to research cable companies, etc. Their help was invaluable.

    What advice do you have for others going through the same process?
    Be very flexible and ask a ton of questions. No question is stupid because you're new to the process and area. Use your resources as much as possible. When you're moving you have SO many other things on your mind, so you're not going to have a whole lot of time to do much research. Use relocation companies as much as you can.