Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Dislocated Americans

Here is an article from today's NY Times about Americans, including Foreign Service spouses, living overseas. As I have mentioned before, life for spouses overseas can be difficult. For same-sex spouses, it is even harder.

The Dislocated Americans


More and more workers have relocated abroad in recent years, but despite the growing numbers, family issues remain a major factor in the failure of overseas postings.

The initial excitement of an exotic new posting can turn to culture shock, loneliness, identity loss and depression, and it is often the employee’s spouse and children — without the familiar routine of work — who are most affected.

“I thought it would be an adventure, and it was,” said Francesca Kelly, who moved 10 times in the first nine years as a Foreign Service spouse, living in places like Belgrade and the former Soviet Union during the cold war. But it “was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.”

Brenda H. Fender, director of global initiatives for Worldwide ERC, an association concerned with work force mobility, said “if the family cannot adapt, the employee will likely not succeed.”


Yvonne McNulty, a Singapore-based consultant who studies mobility issues, said the biggest issue for spouses was loss of identity. “What I found in my research is that almost all spouses face an identity crisis but only about 10 to 15 percent did something about it, by becoming authors, getting an M.B.A. or starting businesses,” she said. Most “felt they were victims, with no control.”

Even when a company offers generous support, which may include help finding housing, language training and even funds for personal development for the spouse, that is often not enough.

[Digger comments: And as I have mentioned before, the State Department does not offer much in the way of training and support for same-sex spouses. Same-sex partners are limited to a short course in language while heterosexual spouses can get a full course of language. In many cases, that full course of language later facilitates the spouse in joining the Foreign Service, because those who can pass a language test get a bump in the score on the oral part of the Foreign Service Officers Test. As for professional development funds, those are not available to same-sex spouses. In fact, same-sex spouses can not compete for jobs at post unless there are no qualified heterosexual spouses (even if the same-sex spouse is more qualified) and then must compete with all expats who apply. Heterosexual spouses get preference. And even when a same-sex partner is hired, they are often paid the local rate rather than the American rate, meaning they earn far less than the pittance given to the heterosexual spouses.]


Ms. Kelly, the Foreign Service spouse, who now lives in Bethesda, Md., and another spouse founded The Sun (The Spouses’ Underground Newsletter) as a way to create their own support community. Initially, it was an irreverent mix of poetry, opinions and the continuing tales of a fictional “highly flawed, complete disaster of a diplomatic wife,” she said.

Soon contributions took on a more serious cast; readers wanted information about where they were planning to live. By 2000, The Sun became Tales From a Small Planet, a nonprofit Web site where members can read reports on some 350 cities written by expatriates.

Patricia Linderman — living in Guayaquil, Ecuador — edits Tales and is co-author of “The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad” (Nicholas Brealey, 2007). She said there had been an explosion of resources in recent years that support expatriates and many now also “focus on the personal and emotional aspects of cross-cultural living,” she said.


You can read the entire article here.

No comments: