13 April 2016

Book Review - The Expat Partner's Survival Guide

I have been following Clara Wiggin’s excellent blog for about a year now.  It is often funny, sometimes thought provoking and always interesting.  Although she is more rooted to her native culture than I am (not hard considering I have none), she is, like me, a perpetual expat.  We have shared a few postings although I don’t think we ever overlapped. 

Given how much I enjoyed her blog I thought I would get a copy of her book and see if it stood comparison.  We started a (horrendously lengthy but surprisingly last minute) international relocation from Malaysia to Saudi and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to dip in and out of the book as we went through the process and see how good the advice was. 

Firstly I will say that I have not read any other relocation/survival guides, probably because this life is not unusual for me it is something I have grown up with.  Because of that I don’t really have anything to compare it to other than my own experience.

Clara breaks the expat experience into logical segments, from preparing to relocate to managing the early days in your new home, culture shock and supporting children through the process and many many more ending with advice on repatriation.  I found her advice on each section to be absolutely spot on.  The early chapters in particular are filled with practical hints and tips (including a natty to do list which I would love to see developed as an expat relocation to do list tracking app).  Clara’s calm experience shines through and I must admit to being rather in awe at how organised she is in her moves.  The chapters giving advice on how to settle in to a new home are also filled with tips which I think would be extremely helpful to those embarking on a first or early posting.  The anecdotes Clara has gathered from expats around the world also add depth to the narrative.

For me personally I found the most useful chapters to be the ones that dealt with culture shock and depression.  Culture shock is something I have come to expect and know how to handle.  A few years ago, however, when we moved to Malaysia I went from having a job I loved and a wonderful friendship group in Kazakhstan to being alone at home.  Throw in a new baby 10 weeks after relocation, looking after visitors, and a sudden in country relocation just a few months later and I found myself, rather unexpectedly feeling all at sea.  With an 8 hour time difference in calls isolating me from easy contact with my sister and good friends it was the first time I had personally experienced how easy it could be for an expat spouse to feel completely stranded.  I was very lucky not to end up with depression but it could easily have happened and I think the links Clara put in her book and her advice on the (truly excellent) follow up section on her website are a must read for any expat.  It is this section, I think, more than the advice on the practicalities brilliant as they are, that provides the real value in the book.

In summary this is a must read that belongs in every expat’s kindle.  I also think it is required reading for the non expat families of expats to help them understand the complexities of the peripatetic lifestyle we live.  

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  1. Great assessment of Clara's book, I was really impressed by it too. You 2 really are the expats to beat all expats. My moving around the world has come to a bit of a standstill but I'm still like you, not having a "home" base, and will always be a TCK so although I didn't need to read Clara's book I wanted to. (Old school friend!) I know it will of huge use to many new expats.

    1. Thanks Phoebe. It is so true that many aspects of the expat life never really leave the system!