The Return To Work

Now that we have returned to Australia as repats, I must face the daunting realisation that I soon return to full-time employment.  After being out of the education game for 3 years, the prospect conjures mixed thoughts feelings ..particularly ‘am i up to this?’

Researching for this post, I found that there is nothing to support expat spouses to make the transition from homemaker/part-time employee to full-time career gal/guy.  The only resources I could locate were about returning to work after maternity leave.  Not terribly applicable.

Returning to work while adjusting to our new normal will be challenging.  We will be grappling with a new lifestyle, routines, relationship pressures, culture shock in addition to  transitioning back into work.  Maintaining mental health and wellbeing will be key I predict.  Below are a few of my thoughts of how to best support myself to make the leap back into the demanding and rewarding world of educational leadership while still grappling with the repatriation process.

Be organised.  This includes establishing routines at home including sleep, exercise,  household chores and so on. Professionally, meet with your boss and/or immediate colleagues (if possible) to understand your role, their role, future directions for the organisation and glean other relevant information.

Nurture health & wellbeing.  Be mindful of your work hours.  Working long hours may feel like a sound strategy to get on top of work responsibilities and tasks but this may actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health.  Maintaining a balance between work and other priorities will promote productivity.  Making time to exercise, catch up with friends or simply read for enjoyment are all ways to relax and recharge.

Say no.  Allowing yourself time to settle into life at home as well as full-time work is important.  It is okay to say no when asked to accept additional responsibilities or social invitations.   This is about knowing your limitations and how best to make a successful repatriation.  Talk to friends, family members, colleagues and your boss about how you’re coping and how they can best support you.

Say yes to professional learning.  Develop your knowledge of new initiatives and approaches, as well as increasing your self-esteem.  Remember that your skill set is not as outdated as you believe and that many of those you have developed while on eave are transferable.

There must be a myriad of effective strategies that I have not yet discovered.  How did you manage and sustain your return to work?

@aubergine_jelly

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Why is the transition challenging for trailing spouses?

Firstly, lets celebrate the trailing spouse and make time to reflect on the enormity of of this supporting role and thank them for their sacrifices.  For me, the two biggest challenges I grappled with were no job and no friends and the baggage that comes with …that.

The majority of trailing spouses at our post are women.  Highly educated, driven women who have willingly put their careers and professional aspirations on hold to support our partners to further theirs.  Many of these women who join their partner at post and find that they are unable to easily find work due to visa requirements, political environment and so on.  This is huge.

Many, like me, find that making the transition from career women to home maker quite confronting.  Our careers are heavily intwined with our identity; who we perceive ourselves as people. Some successfully find short term employment within our post while others take to the ‘ladies who lunch’ lifestyle like ducks to water.  Good on them, but that’s not me or most of my friends.  With no job, zero way to contribute to the household financially and without financial independence this leads us to deeply reflect on ‘who am I without the additional layers?”

Now if like me you have a supportive partner, you will survive the emotional rollercoaster and implement many coping strategies that will serve you well beyond the posting.  For the majority of officers, life carries on as normal.  They work in a familiar environment with policies, expectations and procedures from home, they interact with fellow countrymen and they have routine.  As spouses we struggle with the lack of routine, limited social interaction, running a household with little knowledge of what’s available within our new community, financial and emotional dependency on our partners and constant self doubt.  These factors all chip away at your happiness and mental health and the biggest factor is that you have left your support network at home.

Things to improve and mostly in random ways.  One day you will happen to meet someone who asks if you’d like to join them for a coffee.  Be brave, say yes and actually turn up. This person may end up being your best friend at post OR they may lead you to the next friend. Slowly you establish a small yet trusted support network and everything gets better from this point on.

From this point, you remember the person you were prior to posting – the vibrant, happy, confident, interesting women with hobbies. And she begins to emerge once more.  You notice it, your partner notices it and loved ones back home notice it too during Skype chats.  You venture out of the house more and more, your mental health improves (along with your outlook), you rediscover your confidence once more and you’re no longer dependent on your partner for emotional support.  A weight lifts off your shoulders and you suddenly find yourself thinking life ain’t too bad – this is a huge accomplishment!

And life as a trailing spouse isn’t too bad.  The lifestyle affords us the gift of time to study, explore a career change, start a family, experience a new culture, relax, whatever you want to do.  Initially all of these positives come at the price of happiness and anxiety.  Spouses are forced out of their comfort zone and compelled to work through many challenges.  This experience will make you stronger and more resilient both personally and professionally.  Valuable skills for life after post.

@aubergine_jelly