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What helps when you are an accompanying spouse

Last week I wrote about my experiences as an accompanying spouse, and this week I want to share some tips about some of the things that can help:


Image from thewheatfield

Make friends

Building a social network is one of the most important steps to feeling at home in a new country. It’s great to have people to go out for lunch with, to compare experiences with and to have someone you can call when you are trying to work out how to make an appointment with the doctor, or where on earth you can buy a certain item. (this can also lead to an informal importation/swapping service with friends bringing each other ziplock bags from the USA, Timtams from Australia, or chocolate from Germany, etc). If you are looking for work it’s also fantastic to have people you can brainstorm ideas with, to compare interview experiences, and to help one another with CV’s and so on.

When I moved to Berlin to work for 3 months this year, (apart from Geoff) my friends were the main reason I was excited about returning to Sweden. I was surprised to find after my time in Germany that Stockholm was beginning to feel more like home because of the relationships I’d built there.

If you want to read some specific tips about making friends overseas you can read my article. I do want to add that if you have children, this can be an excellent way to make new friends. I know a number of people here who have met new friends in the local park while their children play together, and also through schools and daycares. This is also a great way to meet local friends as well as fellow internationals.

Volunteering and building a network (for job hunters as well)

Volunteering is a fantastic way to become involved in your new community, even if you don’t yet speak the language. It helps you to meet interesting people, to keep busy, and to get some in-country experience on your resume. I began volunteering at a company related to my academic background a few months after I arrived in Stockholm, and it was one of the biggest changes to my life in Sweden. I had a place to go, interesting work, and met fantastic people. This, along with getting involved in different groups and going along to social activities helped me to built a network which has led to work and social opportunities.

Even if you’ve moved to your new destination with the intention to work, don’t forget about volunteering while you hunt – I’ve seen quite a few people end up with work in their industry as a result of volunteering, and they’d never have made those contacts without it.


Talk to your partner, talk to your friends and family back home – let people know if you are struggling. Many accompanying spouses don’t want to burden their partner or worry their families back home but it is very very important to let people know how you are feeling.

You might even want to contact a councillor or psychologist, which is a great option when you want to talk to someone independent and better still, professionally trained to help you work through things. In many countries you can chat to your doctor first to get a referral (sometimes these will give you 10 sessions or so for free or a reduced price), but otherwise do a google search and try and find a private one who speaks your mother tongue, or at least a language you feel comfortable in. Try and find someone who has experience working with expats – in Stockholm the Turning Point International Counselling Centre is a great example.

Get to know the local culture

Understanding the local culture can be a very important tool when dealing with culture shock and settling in to a new country. Even if you’ve just moved the short distance from France to the Netherlands there is still a distinct cultural difference you need to adjust to. When you get a feel for how the society works (even if you don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of it) it helps you to feel a little more in control.

If you are interested in cultural differences around the world, my favourite resource is Hofstede’s Dimensions, in particular his book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the MindFor a quick overview check out his website for country specific information, but I plan to go into more detail on this topic in a separate post.

Steer clear of negativity

No matter where you go you are bound to meet people who drain the lifeblood from you with their negativity. Just distance yourself from such people, really. My views on friendship are quality over quantity, I’d much rather have a handful of great friends – friends who inspire you, support you, and who you do the same for. The same goes for people who constantly complain about the new country – everyone has bad days but if you meet someone who only ever has negative things to say (the weather is rubbish, the people are weird, the food is terrible unlike back home, etc, etc), then it’s time to move on, or you’ll end up just as depressed.  If you think the person might not realise they are being so negative, have a relaxed chat with them about it – if they keep doing it then distance yourself for the sake of your own sanity.

I also want to add that some expat forums fall into this category – some of the comments and very useful but some can make life in your new country seem unnavigable and generally horrible. If you really need to check there for a good dentist, doctor, or a place to buy a vacuums cleaner, then go for it – but nothing very good can come from reading threads such as ‘What I hate about [insert country]’.

Talk to your partner’s HR department

More and more companies are realising the importance of supporting accompanying spouses. Sometimes companies forget to let you know what services they have available to you (this is not a joke – I’ve heard this many many times) – so send an email or give the HR department a call and see what they can do. Perhaps someone will be able to look over your CV and help you update it to better fit in with local job market. At the very least they should be able to direct you towards some online job portals, or perhaps a contact at a recruitment agency. They may also put you in contact with other families.

And if they don’t have any system in place to support you – a few calls might give them the encouragement they need to implement one!

Given the importance of dual incomes and careers today it is unsurprising that academics such as Yvonne McNulty have found that ‘the dual-career issue remains the No. 1 reason for refusing assignments.’ It’s in the company’s best interest to support you.

Give yourself a break

I’ve said it before, but settling into a new country takes time. Be gentle with yourself – you’ll have good days and bad days, and that is totally normal. Take yourself out for lunch or read a wonderful book without feeling guilty for not spending that time job hunting or what have you. Go for a walk through your new city and soak up the atmosphere, it can help you realise the opportunity you have before you.

Do you have any other suggestions for what helps as an accompanying spouse? Let me know below!

The Fjords of Norway

I have always wanted to visit the fjords in Norway, and in May some friends and I decided to fly over from Sweden to experience them.

Fjords Norway Bergen

We took an self guided tour by Norway in a Nutshell starting in Bergen:

Bergen houses Norway

The tour took us by two trains, including the stunning Flåm railway, by boat, and finally a hair raising bus ride down the scariest cliff skirting road I have ever experienced in my life, I think it may have been easier to just lower the bus down the side of the mountain by crane…. that bus driver was amazing. All in all the tour took around 9 hours from start to finish, and was the perfect way to experience a small slice of the fjords.

Little Norwegian village in the fjords

Can you imagine living in one of these tiny little towns in the middle of the fjords? It would be amazing to wake up each morning to such a view … well at least in the summer time anyway!

Norwegian fjords


There were spectacular waterfalls:

Waterfall in Norway

And beautiful views in all directions:

Sunny day in the Norwegian fjords

The trip was just as amazing as I imagined it would be, and all I hope for now is the chance to return again, and explore more fjords in Norway.

Swedish Sunday: Swedishness – a video

This hilarious video on Swedishness was doing the rounds a few weeks ago. It’s got it all: equality (even for the Prime Minister), consensus, liberal attitudes to sex and religion and of course the famous paternity leave.

Links from around the world – Happy Midsummer Eve

Midsummer kvadrat

This beautiful illustration is by Majali Design and Illustration


Today here in Sweden is Midsummer Eve – a day spent dancing around a maypole beautifully decorated with flowers, singing songs about small frogs, eating new potatoes, herring and strawberry cream cakes, and of course, drinking and enjoying the never-ending sunshine. We will be spending it with some of our lovely international friends from Iceland, Serbia and Sweden.

Here are some interesting links I came across this week:

A study by scientists from the University of Oxford and Edinburgh reveal that most European men likely originate from hunter gatherers, rather than farmers from the Near East, as was previously thought.

This photography series of grandmothers from around the world and their food is just lovely – by Gabriele Galimberti.

You know when you’re a Third Culture Kid – tumblr. This one made me laugh, and this one is very true.

In Finland, every new mother who receives pre-natal care receives one of these amazing boxes packed with beautiful baby clothes and supplies. The box comes with a mattress and can even be used as a baby bed.

The far-right Golden Dawn movement has expanded to part of the 300,000 strong Greek diaspora in Melbourne, Australia – although there have been attempts by some prominent members of the Australian Greek community to prevent Golden Dawn MP’s from being granted visas to enter Australia on a planned visit later this year.

At the moment I am teaching myself how to program in R because I find data visualization a much more powerful way to get information across – is one of the best websites out there.

And to finish it off in Midsummer spirit – here is a fairly tongue in cheek video about the day that seems to have been made by the Swedish tourism website:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Go Back to Where You Came From

Go Back to Where You Came From is the title of an excellent Australian TV series that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in immigration in general, and asylum seekers in particular. Especially if you are one of the many who wish they really would go back to where they came from.

I was reminded of this show today as I saw that the rights have been sold for this to be produced in a number of countries around the world including: Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, South Africa, Canada and the USA. The Danish version will be shown soon and is called Send Dem Hjem (Send Them Home).

I really recommend you watch the Australian series previews here and here.

Basically Season 1 follows 6 ordinary Australians who cover the spectrum of opinions on asylum seekers: from Adam “Instead of harbouring them, we should just put them straight on a plane and send them back” to Gleny “I think we have the capacity to take more refugees”, and all opinions in between.

They begin by visiting refugees in their homes: a family who was resettled by UNHCR and a house with refugees who arrived in Australia by boat but who had since been given refugee status. The group is put on a refugee boat to experience how the journey to Australia might be like, flown to Malaysia – a middle country for refugees on their journey to Australia. Half the group visits a refugee camp in Kenya to see how life is like for those waiting to be resettled overseas, the other half visits Jordan and meets with the family of some of the refugees they first met in Australia. Finally they go all the way back to two sending countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq.

There is a strong feeling in Australia, reinforced by the media, of refugees, or more specifically ‘boat people’, as ‘queue jumpers’, coming to Australia for economic reasons, skipping ahead of people who might be in more need, and taking advantage of public funding once they get here. 

One of the things Go Back to Where You Came From has achieved is to show the general public the human side of the refugee story, to touch on why people flee, the long and arduous journey they go on, and the challenges they face even when they arrive in a safe country like Australia. All the statistics in the world can’t change a persons mind in the same way first hand experience can, an opportunity to empathise and the beginning of understanding how it must be to be in the shoes of a refugee.

When it’s all over, it lets you ask yourself the question ‘if my family was in danger, would I jump on a boat and try to come to Australia’ in a slightly more honest and more informed way.