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Old 15.06.2008, 10:33
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Tips for Trailing Spouses

Having seen posts written by newcomers who find it very difficult to feel at home here, it might be useful, (in a similar way to the 'tips on eating cheap' Thread), to collect ideas which have worked for those who relocated 'successfully'. Not too many negative personal experiences please.
If you have settled in happily, have you ideas for others to copy?

My offering:
Before you leave home: if the language of the future domicile is known, get hold of a phrase book if you possibly can. In the ‘new land’ there may be phrase books available in the two languages, but they might be ‘put together’ differently and any phonetic aid to pronunciation will be the ‘wrong way round’. Being able to look up and use even the simplest expressions reduces the ‘tongue-tied’ feeling and gives a more positive ‘first impression’ to the natives! Showing an effort to fit in will usually give you bonus points.

If you have any special connections, interests or hobbies, look round for groups as soon as you are settled in. Church, sport, handwork of any description, music, art, photography... The chance that at least one other person there speaks English is quite high.
Accept that it will sometimes be difficult and think up in advance ways of ‘spoiling yourself’ if you have had a particularly rough day.
Some people find it easier than others! Don’t be put off either by folk who say they never had any problems (they are probably suffering from loss of memory), or by folk who say it is, and stays, a nightmare situation. If you have to ‘trail’ often, try to remember the tricks you used to help yourself at the previous location.

Look for ex-pat groups but don’t neglect the neighbours – you live with them 24 hours a day – especially if you have small children!
Sympathy and Solutions. Sometimes having a good rant about the problems in the new country does you good – but don’t let it cloud your vision. Get some sympathy if you can, EF is a wonderful place, but afterwards, start looking for ways to avoid the problem or at least minimise it. You can drown in too much self-pity.
Learn to laugh at yourself! You are going to make mistakes somewhere along the line and if you laugh first, it doesn’t bother you as much when other folk laugh too!

The law and the rules, written and unwritten, of the new country are valid for you too. Pleading ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. Keep your eyes open when using public transport etc. and see what the other folk are doing. (This doesn’t mean that Swiss law says you have to push your way in front of others though

Do some of the things, or see some of the sights you would never have had the chance to do or see had you not been ‘forced’ to come to this country.

If you have children, remember that this is a terrific upheaval for them too. Try to be supporting and patient. Children pick up languages quicker than we do, but that doesn’t mean it is easy for them to be torn from their old environment and in the new place not to be accepted and/or understood by their new playmates. If they are school age, remember that not only is the language different, but history and geography for example are from a completely different angle, the games or sports have rules they will not know, music may be taught in another way. Even basic principles may differ. In school in the first class in Switzerland, the setting out of the maths page neatly was considered very important. After moving to England, our daughter was immediately in trouble for wasting paper and learned to squeeze the maximum onto each page. Two years later, we came back to Switzerland and she was in the dog house again. ”Much too close together.” It’s only a minor point but for the child it is really difficult to understand. And this sort of thing happens again and again.

Mods - please feel free to edit in any way or add Tags. I am a Newbie really in spite of the 'Member' title and not really computer literate. I have tried reading the FAQ but unfortunately I cannot always understand the question - let alone the answer
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Old 15.06.2008, 11:12
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

I am a trailing spouse who has kids......

I have found having kids and integrating with the Swiss people much easier. It has given me an opportunity to meet some really nice Swiss mom's.

Learning the language was essential for me. I am able to communicate with other mom's and teachers. I am in no way perfect at speaking Italian yet and make a number of mistakes, but I have found most people to be patient with me.

My kids did not speak Italian when we came 2 years ago. They now speak wonderful Italian. I have learned a lot from them as they tend to speak Italian to each other at home. I've also learned quite a bit from helping my son with his homework.

So my tip (that worked for me) would be to learn the local language. You will feel much more at ease knowing what is being said around you.
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Old 15.06.2008, 11:43
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Yes indeed! The language!

I was against learning even high german when I first came. Our plans were unsettled and I thought living in Switzerland would just be for a year. English would do the job till we leave the country.

It was difficult though as I couldn't speak to the locals and after a while felt very alone. I started learning high german in school and that made a difference, after which I proceeded to swiss german (by hearing and making lots of funny mistakes; I realised people were very forgiving when it comes to foreigners making attempts to speak their local language).

Through that, I have also developed courage and positive thinking (thicker skin rather). I didn't take things too personal and that helped a lot.

I am now still here after 10 years
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Old 15.06.2008, 12:16
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Excellent thread, Longbyte!

The single most important lesson for me was learning the difference between 'What I Do' and 'Who I Am'.

The transition from corporate ladder-climber to dependent spouse dealt a severe blow to my self esteem - although I had chosen to give up my career to join my husband, I was unprepared for the loss of identity that came with it. I suddenly had no way to define myself, coming from an environment where 'What One Does' was all-important. I remember being at a party soon after our first move, when the inevitable small talk came up: "So, what do you do?" "Umm....well... nothing." Nearly killed me.

Dependence was a terrifying concept to me; I had always held independence and equality as the keystones of our marriage.

It took a while to re-build my confidence. While I was trying to do that, I first concentrated on learning the language. In additional to making life easier, language classes provided a bit of intellectual stimulation, which helped make the change from career to Hausfrau palatable. Then I started exploring my new country; did a little traveling, joined a few clubs, took up a few hobbies, all of which I previously hadn't had time for. Suddenly I realized that I was actually having fun. I was meeting people, doing interesting things - and I didn't necessarily need a job title to define who I was.

What I do has changed numerous times, and will probably continue to do so. I've done the corporate thing, done the independent thing, done the volunteer thing - and have spent many a time (happily) doing nothing much at all. Change has sometimes been driven by trailing in OH's wake, but just as often driven by my evolving interests. Had I stayed put in the States, chances are my career and life would have gone through similar upheavals. And I wouldn't have had the thrill of living in so many new places, learning so many new things.

I've learned that What I Do is simply how I fill my time. That may or may not involve financial gain. Who I Am is the important thing - the key to living happily in a new country/culture has been understanding what exactly it is that makes me happy, and figuring out how to find it in my new surroundings.

Over the years I've finally figured out that what I am is someone who loves dogs, books, and gardening. Well, the dogs are non-negotiable. OH knows that they come with me or I don't go - and he makes his choice from there. But there is always a library or bookstore to discover, and gardens can always be replanted. And if time, tide, and the gods of work permits allow, I might look for ways to earn a few Rappen - but how I do that has nothing to do with Who I Am .

So when it comes down to it, the essentials of starting over someplace new are pretty simple. Everything else will fall into place - eventually.
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Old 15.06.2008, 12:52
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Hello there. This is a great thread.

From my experience of having moved around quite a bit, the best advice I can give is: expect culture shock.

I've lived in Tanzania, London, Frankfurt and now Switzerland. Part of the fun is how differently countries work. I've usually found that the people who don't like a new country are the ones who are really expecting things to be the same as in their home country.

A massive part of moving abroad successfully is to learn to adapt to the way the local people think and respect their way of life.

Learning the language is also a huge plus - join a class so you make friends at it too.

Probably not very helpful as it's so obvious, but it's always amazed me how many people expect foreign countries to be just like "home" and don't therefore bother to adapt their behavior to local customs. That's the best way to come up against unhappy locals.

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Old 15.06.2008, 13:19
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Thanks for starting this very useful thread, Longbyt.
Allow me to add my two rappens' worth:

1. I agree completely with Meloncollie's observations about 'Who I am' versus 'What I do'. It's a great time to find out which activities add to your happiness and drop or minimise those that don't.

2. It's a wonderful opportunity to pick up new skills and knowledge. For example, I'm taking a CD-ROM/email course (Intesol) on how to teach English. I've also done so much new cooking and baking that I'm now in a position to pass on cooking tips and knowledge to others, so I've conducted a few Asian cooking classes.

3. It's a great time to catch up on all the books you've always wanted to read but never had the time for. (Ditto for music and film.) Love photography or feel you'd like to explore it? Switzerland is a perfect place to indulge in picture making.

4. Learn to do more things on your own even though language could be a barrier. Your working spouse could be feeling the burden of bringing home the bacon by him/herself -- without also having to do all the official stuff for you. A word to the working partner though: If you already know how to do something (locally), pass the knowledge on to your spouse -- without letting her/him go through similar trial and error.

5. Explore the facilities offered by your town council: library (where audiobooks, music CDs and DVDs are also lent out free of charge), village market (where you can rent a stall with friends/neighbours to sell things/food), sports facilities such as lake bathing areas and swimming pools, the town council office where they sell limited numbers of highly discounted transport tickets, etc.

6. Volunteer work. Love babies? Love senior citizens? Love dogs? Find out ways to help harried mums, or old folk's homes, or the Guide Dog School, which needs folk to help bring up well-adjusted pups for future training to work with the blind. Our lives are 'stretchable' enough to include those who are not our friends and family.

7. Feel blessed and positive, and look for the good. If you feel chronically depressed, seek counselling and medical help (sometimes it just takes a bit of medication to balance the chemicals in your brain and you'll be right as rain -- no shame about it; it's normal).
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Old 15.06.2008, 13:30
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

I found the worst feeling was being aimless. Days can easily drift into weeks and weeks into months, which is when the mundane sets in.

Setting a task and having a mission really helped me.

For example, if I decide this week i want to bake. First I have to sit and google and/or EF to find out the ingredients and their alternatives. I then go hunting for the product. This can take time and imagination, especially when you do not know the language well. So, when I wanted to make home made custard, I needed corn flour. However, after two days searching shops for packets which had the translated name or anything looking like it, I resorted to squishing packets and feeling for that distinctive feel of starchy flour.

Packet in hand, eggs in basket, and a nice long vanilla pod... I satisfied my need for custard! I then see what I've learned from the adventure, such as the eggs were 10 rappen cheaper in Coop to Spar etc. To stop this getting boring, I sometimes add extra criteria, like fresh farm produce or has to come in under budget.

For me this makes life fun and interesting. Even the odd mistake can have hillarious consequences.

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Old 15.06.2008, 13:48
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Trailing Spouses are the un-sung hero's of an international move! Often the partner has very long work hours, the children become more demanding because "it's not like back home" and you are left to manage the whole lot, often without speaking the local language.

My tip would be to try to get your family and friends to use Instant Messaging. This tip is especially pertinent for the parents, many have a computers, but quite a few aren't aware of IM and how it works. (It took mine about 6 years to finally accept IM as a form of coommunication; before that they thought it was some kind of cult thing on the internet, that would lead to addiction and mess up their computer ).
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Old 15.06.2008, 14:08
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

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Excellent thread, Longbyte!
It took a while to re-build my confidence
Small point buried among a lot of excellent points in the same post. It's important to give yourself time to adapt to a new life. Be realistic about that. It's natural to panic once the initial buzz has worn off but don't suffer in silence if you can avoid it. Even one friend to talk to can make a big difference in the process of going through the various stages of learning to cope and hopefully then enjoying your new life.
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Old 15.06.2008, 14:17
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

when i first moved here, i was out of work and didn't know many people. I think that my girlfriend felt a lot of pressure to try and pick me up when i was down, to come out and do something in evening if thats what I wanted to do.......I had forgotten that she had started a new job and was also going through a new and difficult time. I was used to having a lot of mates around me and being very social, and now I wanted her to fill the gaps that had been created by moving away from my friends.

So my advice is really, don't put too much pressure on your spouse (like I did) it will have an adverse effect on your relationship.
Since I got up of my arse. did a german couse and found a job, life is great in switzerland. I have my own friends and life and have stopped needing so much attention from my hardworking girlfreind and we are happier.
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Old 15.06.2008, 14:21
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

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Trailing Spouses are the un-sung hero's of an international move!

Here here!!! There is so much admin stuff that needs doing when a family moves that it's great to have someone who can dedicate all thier time to it. The guys at the town offices are also really helpful and there's a helpline where they speak english, so you don't even need the language to get all the official stuff done.

My tip would be to try to get your family and friends to use Instant Messaging.
Skype is also wonderful. If your family have video cams it's a great way to stay in touch and it's free so the phone bill doesn't get quite such a bashing. My mum lives in France, my father in Tanzania and I have friends in the UK, Germany and the US. Skye is the way I stay in touch with them all and becuase you can SEE them, it's like you're spending real time with them.

I have "lunch" with my mother once a week, which is great fun.

Acron.
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Old 15.06.2008, 15:39
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Longbyt - First of all I see it is your Birthday!!!

Loss of identity is a major factor for many as initially you are so occupied with settling into a new home and unpacking your belongings.Then, it is done and you feel redundant. Your other half is busy trying to establish a new career move and they come home full of tales about the office and you remember being there but of course it is their working world.

It is so important at this time to get out even if it is cold and you must do this everyday.
Go to places where lots of people hang out, if you have children go to the pool or playground, I made loads of friends there young & elderly.
The internet is a fabulous tool . Not only do you have the EF ( which I would have loved years ago) but by email you can keep in touch with overseas friends and arrange their visits to you !
Then suddenly things do not seem so bad and you find that you feel really settled and you look around and think- I am so glad I live in such a beautiful country.
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Old 15.06.2008, 16:51
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

i agree with all the posts, it's a strange world out here, and your whole family's success or rate of adaption relies heavily on your ability to keep the smile in your voice while you're ironing, admining, crying and missing your mom...
the amount of contact that you have with other people depends on yourself, the most important thing is to realise that they are there for you, you need to go out and find them...they're not ignoring you, you're ignoring them...
allow yourself time to wollow when you need it and don't be too impatient, it's like making a pavlova - low heat and patience...
i'm not over the difference between who i am and what i do, it really is the crux. but my son's natural curiosity forces me to ask people questions i never would have done and has lead to pleasant sideshows on our extended roadtrip...
my advice would be, learn the language and walk through your door, your home is not a safe place, it is the dungeon that traps you alone inside...
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Old 15.06.2008, 17:06
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Another tip.....

I've actually gone to the tourist and city websites to find things to do. What better way to be learn about where you are if you play tourist for awhile! There is so much going on in Switzerland.

Some of these don't cost much. There are beautiful walks/hikes to take, botanical gardens and lots of different playgrounds for the kids. Plus public transportation is awesome to reach places.

This is a good website for Ticino and it's in English:

http://www.ticino.ch/default.jsp
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Old 17.06.2008, 03:31
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Keep the ideas rolling in folks!
I can hardly believe that the 410 folk who have read this thread up till now, but didn't add a tip, cannot remember a single thing which helped them when they first arrived , and cannot recall a single thing they wished they had known either.
It can be just a single line!

Keep in mind that a neighbour who doesn't seem extra-friendly probably doesn't know what you are going through. She has her circle of friends and family near, she understands everything other people say. You may need contact with her a lot more than she needs contact with you.
Never attribute to malice that which can equally well be attributed to ignorance (simply not knowing!)
Read an English newspaper in a local park. (If you do this when it's raining, you may catch the eye of another English speaking person even more quickly).
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Old 17.06.2008, 09:23
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

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Having seen posts written by newcomers who find it very difficult to feel at home here, it might be useful, (in a similar way to the 'tips on eating cheap' Thread), to collect ideas which have worked for those who relocated 'successfully'. Not too many negative personal experiences please.
If you have settled in happily, have you ideas for others to copy?
While this may be hard to believe, there are people, perhaps not too many of us here, who moved around the world before things like Messenger, Webcams, Skype, and forums like EF existed. We brought our LP collections with us. But guess what? We survived. Without the luxury of sitting at one's computer and using google translator to find the answer to the most basic question, you went out, dictionary and map in tow, and you learned how to function in an unfamiliar world because that's what you had to do.

You had to talk to people, or try to, and I think that lonliness was less of a problem than today. Sitting at your computer is a lonely experience. The computer has made communication with friends and family in your home country so much easier than years ago. On the other hand, it is possibly the reason why many newcomers don't adapt well. Forums are filled with accounts of negative experiences but there are so many positive ones too, just who sits down and rants about that? Sure, mistakes will be made but that's part of the discovery process and I guarantee that at some point you will look back and laugh at one of your first experiences here.

Try and maintain a sense of humour. It really does go a long way. Find a reason to get out of the house, stop for a coffee, take a good book or magazine with you, and it's almost a given that someone will notice you reading something in English and strike up a conversation with you. There are other lonely people out there as well.

Take your headphones off. You are never going to have occasion to talk to anyone if you are listening to music and look unapproachable.

Smile. Keep smiling.
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Old 17.06.2008, 09:32
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Here's a tip: don't blame your partner for your frustrations with making a life here, and expect the difficulties to be resolved for you. Take a share of responsibility for improving the situation.

Oh, and don't blame your partner for taking you away from everything you held-dear, as though you have come under duress. It doesn't help.

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Old 17.06.2008, 09:46
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Can we start a thread on "how to become a trailing spouse"?

i need a break from my stupid job and 12 hour workdays.
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Old 17.06.2008, 09:50
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

There's a book in there somewhere:

"From Breadwinner To Trailing Spouse - A hunter-gather's guide to taking it easy."

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Can we start a thread on "how to become a trailing spouse"?

i need a break from my stupid job and 12 hour workdays.
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Old 17.06.2008, 10:00
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Re: Tips for Trailing Spouses

Don't live in an expat bubble because it's easy, you'll never integrate and you'll never feel at home.
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