When you get the call to work in a foreign country, you need to consider more than just the job opportunity and your own ability to manage the transition (which can be very challenging without any other issues involved). If you have a family, the transition will be that much tougher.
There are many variables involved when deciding how to help the family adapt. Here are some questions to consider:
- How many children are involved and what are their ages?
- Was the spouse working and how will it affect their career?
- How different is the culture you’re going to?
- What kind of a support system will you have in the new environment?
- What are the language challenges for each individual?
Here I will only focus on the first two bullet points: Children and Spouse’s career/job.
Impact On Children When Moving Abroad
My son, his wife, and their two children quit their jobs in the U.S. and went to live in France for one year. They wanted the experience and figured sooner is better/easier than later. Their children were 4 and 6, so both entered the French school system. Both of them already spoke French fairly well (my son had only spoken French to them), but they lacked the normal vocabulary, including and especially school-related vocabulary. And the French kids spoke a lot faster than their dad had.
The educational approach was different. They had trouble making new friends and even, lunch was different. Their kids had a tough time in the beginning, and their mom and dad felt every pain they were going through.
There’s no easy route in these situations. No amount of preparation will change the differences and if the children are too young to understand, explaining the differences might not be all that helpful. The best thing you can do is to provide a stable home life.
It is the responsibility of the parents to be the same as you were back in your own country. This can be easier said than done because you are simultaneously going through your own challenges to adapt and can be emotionally strained. Discipline the same, teach the same, in all ways possible, act the same around them. Try to replicate many of the same traditions you had at home in your own country. Don’t feed them entirely new cuisine. Make sure some of it is food they recognize and prepared in a way they recognize. A good dose of familiarity will help moderate the sea of differences they are confronting.
When the children are older, additional problems can ensue—missing their friends even more, hanging out at their favorite places, being even more linguistically challenged, and so on. It is your job as a parent is to help them understand, encourage them, and try to instill confidence in them. You usually can’t change their struggles, but you can be a relief from the storm.
Impact on Spouse’s Job/Career When Moving Abroad
And then there’s the nonworking spouse. If the spouse was previously not working, that usually makes it easier—not easy, just easier. Much of the structure of daily life will be similar—perhaps cleaning the house, shopping for food, cooking, etc. But it might also be in an entirely different language, and getting to the places to shop might be in an entirely different and unfamiliar way. But if the spouse was in the workforce, and particularly in a career slot, going from having a very structured day and problem-solving with coworkers to having no peers around and having to recreate the structure, can be even more challenging. The working spouse has to find some other source of fulfillment and sense of efficacy that is outside the workplace.
Despite all the challenges, however, the value-added of the new experience can be well worth it for all. Don’t give up!