Heroes or One of the STARS?

November 24, 2013 — Leave a comment


Immediately drawn by the title, Trailing Spouses: The Unsung Heroes of an International Relocation, I read the article on Huff Post by Quenby Wilcox with interest. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quenby-wilcox-/trailing-spouses-the-unsu_b_4295981.html

I am a trailing spouse, and have been for over 30 years, though I prefer the acronym STARS – Spouses Travelling and Relocating Successfully. Before that I was a TCK, a Third Culture Kid, born in my passport country and transferred in a carrycot to Nigeria then as I grew, moved on to Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Papua New Guinea with brief spells back in England – enough time for me to attend school for a term each trip – but thereby forming a unique culture, a conglomeration of beliefs and customs drawn from each country.

Much of what Ms Wilcox writes is true. Enough credence is rarely given to the accompanying partner, and the adage “if the wife ain’t happy, nobody is” is well known in both local and international circles. It does indeed take many hours of work both before a global transfer as well as on the ground, wherever that ground may be, to make an international assignment successful.

It is also true there are still numerous multi-national organisations who, in the 21st century, have yet to realise the value of a collaborative effort with the spouse before, during and after an international transfer, which in turn allows the employee a greater chance of a seamless transition into his, or her, new role.

I do though take great exception on behalf of all those hardy women who went before us being labelled “as a throwback from the 50s: a helpless, pampered Barbie doll, rather than the highly efficient, intelligent and competent woman of today.”

It is perhaps important to remember those strong women of yesteryears who expatriated with their husbands, often to isolated locations, faced incredible, and true, hardships. Lack of healthcare sometimes resulting in the death of a child, inadequate schooling that necessitated long separations between child and parent, lack quite frankly of anything familiar. Waiting three, six, twelve months to hear of news from home. Of only returning home every three to five years. That was hardship. That was strength of character.

The accompanying spouse/partner today faces similar feelings of culture shock as our forebears and, when things go wrong back at base, similar feelings of isolation. We however are able to pick up a telephone and hop a flight. It serves no good purpose to define ourselves as victims in an organisational plot.

Having spent a large part of my life helping expatriate women, I feel articles such as this do us all a disservice. Rather than “highly efficient, intelligent and competent” women, it makes us, supposedly more educated and therefore better able to understand our surroundings, appear pampered, neurotic and ineffectual.

In defence of those same multi-national corporations, and their HR departments, in the five years since the Family Matters! Survey of 2008 (ExpatExpert.com/AMJCampbell), great strides have been made, in no small part due to organisations such as FIGT (Families in Global Transition). It would certainly behove those corporations not as supportive to offer the services of the plethora of destination service providers, life coaches, school counsellors and therapists, all eager to assist the expatriate, both in person and online.

While I firmly believe assistance is a moral obligation and should be given the whole family by the sponsoring organisations, there is absolutely no excuse these days to arrive at a new posting ill-prepared. We, the accompanying spouse, have the world literally at our fingertips.

The adaptability and resilience of the accompanying spouse, one of the STARS, is indeed sometimes unrecognised. But “hero” is a lofty moniker, better suited to those on the battlefield. If we wish to describe ourselves as such – let’s live up to it.


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