Monday, March 17, 2008

What's it like being an expat wife?

I met up with my bunch of girlfriends on Sat for brunch. We're quite a close bunch, we'd all worked in the same company, suffered through endless Budget Reviews and meetings together, had tiffs with Legal and Sales together and so have come to formed a sisterhood, bound together by our mutual corporate suffering.

They've all continued on with their careers, some have moved on to different companies, I'm the only one who has opted out of the rat race. I was asked, "So what's it like being an expat wife?" Erm.. very hard to say... as I've never been any other type of wife, so I don't have a basis for comparison. Hee.

I think most people confuse expat wives with tai-tais. Tai-tais are wives of the wealthy, they have real money, they can really afford to spend their days doing nothing but going to spas, pedicures, manicures and salons. They can afford to waltz into designer boutiques and waltz out with bags and bags of merchandise. They get chauffeured around in lux cars that actually belong to them and play mahjong with gold-plated mahjong tiles. Okay, maybe I'm wrong about the last bit.

Expat wives are different. We find ourselves in unfamiliar foreign countries as we follow our husbands, often left alone with the children while hubby works hard at the office. Sometimes we get lucky and end up in a country where hubby gets a driver, nice housing allowance and maids. Then we get to be a little bit like tai-tais but it only lasts till hubby's next posting.
I don't know about other expat wives but I certainly don't have an endless budget to spend on bags and clothes and what-nots. Staying expat means a chance to save up as much as we can just in case hubby gets sent to expensive Europe and UK to work and pouf! - there goes all our money.

Expats tend to stick together because it's convenient and it's a relief to see others who know what you're going through. It can be quite lonely when you arrive in a new town and you don't know a single person, you miss home and all the familiarity of it and when you find people who are in the same boat, you find that you attach yourself to this group. You identify with them. I do see some expats try to make friends with locals but it can be difficult sometimes with the cultural and language gaps. Sometimes it works... like Dear Hubby made friends with me, the local in KL, and we ended up getting married! Haha!

Some expat wives work, some don't. Most of those I know fill their time by volunteering at local charities and at the schools their children go to, so it's not exactly as if they all spend their time sipping margeritas by the pool. I know of some who love the adventure and travel but I also know of those who get so homesick that hubby has no choice but to ask for a transfer back to their home country.

I'm approaching our stint in Jakarta positively, I take this as a chance to see another city, experience something different. I'm aware I could get quite bored in Jakarta if I can't find things to do but I've made the choice to follow Dear Hubby, so I'll make the best of it!


  1. Hi, I've just stumbled ur blog and enjoyed reading it. Welcome to jakarta, hope you'll have a good time. There's definitely lots to do around here, not a whole lot different to KL (as I enjoy KL too). I have just been back to the country after 11 years away, 2 years ago, and I am still finding new things around here.

    I totally understand about ex-pat wives being lonely and all, so hope you'll settle in well, and if I can help in anyway, drop me a line!

    Enjoy Jakarta!

  2. hey dear... now it's my turn to leave comment!!! - nothing much to comment hor... go to my livejournal - got reference to our satay ordering rules!

  3. it's hard to be a scouse too


    i think you are in priviledge of the few where you get to be places ... u have lots to blog about ... for sure

    i've been places too ... internet


  4. I too have just stumbled your blog from ... can't recall which one now. Bad bloghopping habit, I'd say!

    I am preparing to move to where my husband is currently posted (Philippines). I was there for a month and felt so homesick already. I am still figuring out how I am going to live there for longer than a month.

    Hope you have fun in Jakarta!

  5. To all who have left comments, first I must apologise for not replying earlier. I didn't have Net access till ytdy!

    miss lai lai: I read your blog, I love it! Looking fwd to saying hi to you once we're in Jkt, I'm still shuttling up and down Jkt-KL for now.

    roy: I did. I left lots of silly komen on your blog. Hee.

    azer mantessa: I am humbled to have the opportunity to travel like this. As long as one keeps one's mind open... physical travel isn't everything! The mind must travel too. :))

    andie: I know you! Hehe. From PB's blog! Thanks for dropping by! I hope you do enjoy your time in Philippines as I hope to enjoy mine in Jakarta.

  6. It's rather odd being an expat, for a while. It feels like loosing ground, don't know what or where to call 'home', especially if have to move every 4 years. Friends are temporary, and the best friend becomes a stranger and the new friend become a best one. Learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Learn how to shop at the supermarket and convert each favorite brands to available ones. Learn to know the post office system. Learn to understand the language, or accent.

    On the other hand, it gives such incredible opportunity to understand different cultures, customs, food. Meeting new people and learn about each other's country.

    Something I notice, the closer people move away from their home country, the more complaint I hear. A friend just moved to Singapore (and complained about missing Indonesia, despite flying back and forth every single month. Come on!). A lady moved from one European country to Aberdeen, and suffer from acute homesick, even it's only 1 hour flight distance.

    Great post, by the way.

  7. Finally Woken: Don't deny that it is fun to be able to travel around and see new places though but no place like home, eh?