DIPLOMAT MAYJUNE 2021 WEB READY - Flipbook - Page 35
DIPLOMATIC SPOUSE 35
Whose job it is to take care of the spouse? Well intentioned
staff have helped me out in a pickle, but this assistance stemmed
from their heart, not their job description. While the US Embassy
employs Community Liaison Officers to help spouses adjust before,
during and after the assignment (and prioritises spouses for this
role), relocation staff are generally paid to focus on the hardware of
flight tickets and shipping containers, not the softer side of spousal
self-fulfilment. With the strain of the economic fallout from the
pandemic, and without data to support a relaxing of purse strings,
is it any wonder that institutions eschew this responsibility?
Some organisations do offer financial compensation for the
spouse’s loss of earnings, and others plough resources into helping
them find work. However, there are other more cost-effective
Social networks have a huge impact on wellbeing. ‘It’s
important to know that you’re not alone,’ Paucescu smiles.
‘Connecting with others helps you to validate your feelings, to
know that you’re not crazy.’ And these connections do not need
to be prohibitively expensive. Organisations should leverage their
resources, technology, and the support of spouses themselves to
help them connect with like-minded people on a more sustainable
basis, Professor Reiche explains. For example, an informal coffee
morning could be transformed into an official club which would
not close its doors when the lead organiser leaves the country.
Furthermore, support should be personalised. As a selfemployed serial expat mum my needs differ to those of my other
accompanying spouse friends. Yet we could all benefit from the
option of personalised coaching, community liaison programmes
or self-development courses. As a fluent speaker of French, I
did not need expensive language tuition courses while based
in Switzerland, but I would have benefited from professional
This type of support is important throughout the expatriate
journey. From personal experience, organisations put a great
emphasis on the initial relocation stage, but generally neglect the
equally challenging repatriation phase. Lynn Greenberg is founder
and CEO of Pivt, a mobile app connecting relocating professionals
and their families. A spouse should not have to seek out support
through their partner, but be connected with the resources they
need before, during and after the assignment, she beams.
Spouses need to be integrated within the expat package, not
bolted on as an afterthought, Greenberg continues. An assignment
abroad is a complex machine, and each cog needs to turn at the
right speed for it to work. Sadly, spouses tend to be shoved in after
the machine has already been designed, into roles that do not fit,
without the comfort of an instruction manual.
My first experience as an accompanying spouse launched
me back to the dark ages. I had to go through my husband for
everything from booking a doctor’s appointment, to signing
the lease on a house. The fact that I was the only one who spoke
French and German, and who was making the decisions, was
irrelevant. There was one better half, and his signature was
required throughout our journey abroad.
Society reflects this attitude. At an event Paucescu was greeted
as ‘just a diplomatic spouse’ and in a newspaper article my profile
read: ‘whose husband works in finance.’ While the pandemic is
reshaping how we look at household maintenance and childcare,
organisations and expats need to walk the talk by giving spouses
the credit they deserve.
Greenberg is working with a social network scientist to devise
the first formula for what makes an international move a success.
Today, as my husband works in Uruguay and I tend to our three
children while researching our move there, I would like to think
that accompanying spouses are part of that formula.
DIPLOMATMAGAZINE.COM } MAY/JUNE 2021