Many expats move for love, but sometimes it’s not for love of another person, sometimes it’s for love of a career.
I’ve often thought about this because though I moved for love of my Englishman, who moved was all down to the careers at stake. My career was more flexible than his and I was able (in theory at least!) to move to the UK and find work here.
For my Englishman however, in the prime of his career, he didn’t feel he could move to New Zealand (to us) at that time. At times I wondered why it should be always the woman who moves!
Very often I felt jealous of that other bitch in our life – the all-demanding mistress – his job.
Feelings have softened over the past four years and I think the expat experience can be enormously helpful not only in highlighting areas of conflict in our relationship, (that we need to broach and overcome) but ultimately, also, in bringing us closer together.
Our expat Moving Story today comes from Sharon, an Aussie who has moved around the world for her husband’s job. Her experience of expat life is encouraging as she reflects that moving overseas together has strengthened her marriage. Sharon blogs at An Expat Wife.
Why did you move from Australia, originally?
I had no desire to travel. I didn’t even have a passport and in 2008 I had just started a new job when my husband mentioned there was a 12 month position coming up in Galicia, Spain. He applied for it and over the drawn out 3 months while waiting to see if we were moving I became really excited by the idea; we’ve pretty much travelled as often as possible ever since.
Can you recall the time before you left and what your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?
Absolutely! Our first time moving away we were sent on a week’s pre-visit. It never occurred to me that it would be different. I know it sounds daft, but I had only ever lived in rural Western Australia and then the quiet city of Adelaide. I was unworldly in every sense!
The home visit was a huge cultural shock, as everything was different; the food, the smells, the buildings, the people, meal times, shopping hours, traffic. We did not encounter a single person who spoke English other than our relocation company. It was fascinating and frightening and we wanted in!
We have since moved to Thailand and I think being more aware of what to expect means you worry more. This time around I was concerned about EVERYTHING. I had to stop googling all things Bangkok as there were some regular search results that didn’t help me feel as keen as I was the first time around.
What did you think you would miss most about your home country, apart from family?
Vegemite…that was all we thought we would miss. (A girl after my own heart! Ed) We were too excited to think of other things. And it was the same the second time around, thankfully they sell vegemite in our local store.
What have you missed about the other ‘homes’ you’ve had?
I miss apartment living in Spain. The clothes line was a pull out rail that we had to lean out of our laundry window to use and below us were the clothes lines of the other residents and a drop of 10 floors. I never worried about falling out, but I did lose quite a few socks!
Our current house is one of the nicest and largest we have ever lived in, and we could not afford to live this way back in Australia. I never thought I would say this but I miss the electricity bills from home – the air conditioner is on most of the time and it’s very costly.
Have you been surprised by what you really have missed about your home country?
I think we were more surprised that we didn’t miss more things about it. It’s a wonderful country and we love it when we visit but we love travelling more.
Do you see your old age in this country or in Australia, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?
We have not moved for life, and we don’t even know how long we will be here for sure. Our plan is to continue moving as expats, returning to Australia in between opportunities. Our long term goal is to live permanently in Europe but hopefully we can move a lot more before then.
Aside from the weather, what positives about life in Thailand can you tell us about?
I was not sure I would like the weather here as we are a family of winter lovers, but it’s not so bad, even the humid days are not unbearable. The cost of living is so much cheaper – with our Australian dollar currently gives us 31.7 Thai Baht.
Accommodation, beauty products, spa treatments, medicines – they are all much cheaper for us. I bought a perfume the other day, it cost $52 yet the exact same product in Australia previously cost me $190. My son’s haircuts cost $4, a manicure costs $5 and a new release novel ($20 – $25 for in Aussie bookshop) costs less than $10.
Because wages are cheaper too we have employed a full time housekeeper- something we couldn’t afford at home. But then the houses are very large. Our house is one of the smaller homes and it has 4 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, 5 bathrooms, a maid’s quarters with a bedroom and bathroom and 4 living areas. If I tried to clean the house on my own I wouldn’t have time to spend with our energetic 2 year old.
Were the challenges the same as you envisaged or not?
I thought language would be a challenge but I have learnt some basic Thai and the area we live in is heavy with expats so there are many English speaking people Before moving over we had a cultural day with an expert from Bangkok and she did warn us about racial issues and unfortunately I have experienced some of these issues. My husband hasn’t had the same experience as western men are treated very differently from western women here. Western women are not well liked by the locals.
What surprises have you had – good and bad – setting up your new home in Thailand, and what snippets of been-there-done-that advice would you give would-be expats to Thailand?
Be prepared for a lot of upfront cost in rent To move into our home we had to pay half a million baht upfront – about $16,000 AUD!
Buying furniture was a nightmare too. We had to furnish our large empty house from scratch so we thought IKEA would be our safest option. It wasn’t. We bought everything we needed – it took almost 4 hours as each department had to check the items we wanted were available – and even paid extra to have someone double check it and then returned home to wait.
Imagine the horror when the truck came and only dropped off a few things!
The rest of our house lot of furniture wasn’t available and so we had to sleep on the floor for the 9 weeks it took for IKEA to deliver the rest of our stuff.
If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?
We did experience conflict, because on arrival we realised there had been a communication issue within my husband’s company meaning he had been sent to the South of Thailand, a more rural location, to work. By the time we realised it was too late and we had already established our Bangkok home.
So we now have to live apart on weekdays whilst he works and lives down South and comes home on weekends. This had a big impact on our home life as we only have one car for our family and the area we live in is around 5 x 7km in area. I felt very isolated, lonely and constricted.
But I think I just realised one day that if I didn’t make the most of the situation I was going to end up having to go home and that would affect the lives of four people not just myself.
I still sometimes have down days but they are not very often.
When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?
Australia but I am really not sure where in Australia!
In what ways do you think your family life, and your relationship/marriage, has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?
Being apart has helped us realise how much we do value family time.
Also, as there’s a lot of temptation in Thailand for the western man, (not only in nightclubs but also in everyday places like the supermarket, golf course, hair salon and sometimes even whilst walking down the street with your family) overcoming that insecurity whilst living separately has been a real feat.
In the end knowing that you trust your partner (in spite of these distractions) is a huge positive or us, as it would be for any marriage.
Do you think it’s the intensity of the expat experience that helps bring couples and families closer together? And what challenges do you think would be insurmountable for your family or relationship?
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