Reflections on transitions

‘Moving season’ has started. I see it in my inbox: ‘Hi, I have a friend who is moving to Muscat. Would you mind if I introduced you, she has tons of questions?’ It pops up on my social calendar: ‘Please join us for a farewell brunch before we head off.’ I feel it in my heart: ‘What can I do to make this as easy as possible for my friends who are leaving?’

I feel it in my weariness, and in my relief. It’s not me. Not this time.

But it has been me, many times. I know what it feels like. I recognize the excitement of planning for something new, but also the stress, worry, anxiety and sadness. Getting through moving season is not for the fainthearted, no matter if you’re staying or leaving.

In preparation for my attendance at the Families In Global Transition conference in The Hague last month, I took the opportunity to review some material. On the plane, I read Ruth van Reken and David Pollock’s Third Culture Kid. Growing up Among Worlds -again- and I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of their words.

When we are leaving, the authors say, it is essential that we “…face and deal with normal grief,” but also that we “…look ahead realistically and optimistically,” for “leaving right is a key to entering right” (Van Reken/Pollock 2009:179).

A healthy transition, Van Reken and Pollock suggest, can be achieved by imagining that you are building a RAFT: of Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell and Think destination.

From my relaxed plane seat heading back to Oman, I thought about how true these words are, and how I have learned to use RAFT as a helpful guideline for transitioning as an expat partner.

Here are my reflections:

Reconciliation – because you never know who you’ll meet in a new place. When we left Oman for Syria, there was one person I really didn’t much care for. The reason, in hindsight, was trivial. I didn’t bother to try and sort it out. Regrettably, I don’t think I even bothered to be civil.

Three years later, she moved in down the road from us in a very small community. Resolving our issues was awkward and I should have done so much sooner. Networking and relationships is everything in a globally mobile community – don’t let unresolved issues get in your way.

Affirmation – Treat others the way you want to be treated. I tell my kids (to prevent war during the witching hour between 6 and 7 pm) that if you can’t find something positive to say about another person, just don’t say anything.

However, if you have something positive to say, say it! Affirm the importance of your relationship. One of the nicest things I have is my leaving book from Miri, where our friends made a point of telling us what they liked about us, and left their contact details.

Farewell – to people, places, pets and possessions. It can be a rite of passage, it marks your departure, and your transition to a new stage of your life.

Think destination – research, research, research your new location. Preferably before agreeing to the move there. Find out as much as you can about your new host country, and what you might expect there.

I can’t stress the importance of building a network enough. Become a member of existing online groups. Ask your friends to introduce you to whoever they know who lives, or have lived, in your new host country. Create contacts, online and offline; the sooner the better.

Ask the stupidest questions imaginable in your newly established networks. Work out what will be feasible for you. I have met expat partners who didn’t think to ask about the internet speed and found themselves unable to complete online education. I for one never thought to consider exactly how long it might take to purchase standard groceries at a decent price in a faraway location (half a day, sometimes crossing a border) or how long it might take to secure cash and petrol in another (easily half a day). While queuing for cash was interesting and enlightening in many ways, it was definitely time not spent on work.

If applicable, it’s a good idea to look into formal work options and legal requirements prior to moving. Familiarize yourself with local rules for freelancing or setting up a business too. Update your CV and make sure you have all the paperwork you might need. Get your transcripts translated and certified before moving. Consider potential language barriers, and how you might solve them.

I think it’s important to consider how your family roles, and your family interaction patterns, might be affected by the upcoming move.

  • Are gender roles radically different to what you are used to in your new host country?
  • Will you resign from a job and take on a new role? Are you transitioning from ‘wage earner’ to ‘no longer part of the formal workforce?’
  • Who will take on what roles? For example, during our first year in Oman I practically lived in the car driving kids, while my husband spent an average of 15 minutes a day driving. He got a great start work wise. Me, not so much. I felt really resentful about this, and we had some unpleasant – but necessary and constructive – conversations trying to find solutions.
  • How can you and your partner manage role challenges, and stay connected? I believe open lines of communication is essential to cope with transitions, and being aware of changes to our social roles can help us communicate and solve issues before they become problems.

Prepare yourself – but recognize that a move is a process of discovery, too. Enjoy the ride and find ways to deal with the things you could’t prepare for.

Last but not least, I think it is important to see transitions as an opportunity to pay it forward. People have always been generous with me, sharing their time, knowledge and contacts. It has helped me manage my transitions – so I do the same and help where I can.

Do you have any tips that have helped you in your transitions? What did you find was challenging when you moved to Oman? What would you tell others to consider? I would love to hear from you.

Note: I have completely omitted my small people and focused on transitioning as an expat partner. It’s fair to say that during a transition, my small people always take first priority; but that’s a different post. Meanwhile, if you are moving with small people, you might want to consider checking out Expat Child, for a ton of information about almost everything, or Globally Grounded for insightful research based information on transitions for school age children. 

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