Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Ausländer Anonymous

I've just found a better name for my blog - 'The Trailing Spouse'. I really like that. Damn, missed a trick. I suppose I could still change it... hmm..I'll mull it over.

Anyway, we have a new student in our midst, from Japan, though she's been living in Boston for quite a while. Her husband is German and has decided that they will stay here in Berlin for the next 22 years, until he retires. She is feeling unbelievably homesick. I can't blame her. I've always thought that it's so much easier to adapt to a country and live in it if you can keep in your head that it's just temporary.

Two years doesn't seem like so long a time, especially now we've done more than a quarter of it. In fact, if anything, I wonder if we'll be able to fit in all the things we want to do and see in the time that we have left. In some ways, yes, it is just like a big, long holiday. But of course, when I'm not thinking of all the nice places I want to visit, and all the great things we can get out and do and see when the weather is good, then it's not like a holiday; it's just like normal everyday life with strange things and a foreign language thrown in.

I can't really imagine what it's like to move say, to Australia, for good. I think that must be really hard. So I'm rather lucky really. When this woman opened her heart to me today it got me thinking back to our pre-assignment briefing and all the tings we were warned to expect.

The honeymoon period where (supposedly) you do all the touristy things and eat out loads and go drinking and dancing and generally have loads of fun and treat it like a holiday. I never really felt like I had a honeymoon period very much as it was my job from the off to get us settled and do all the practical things like registering the car for a parking permit and seeking out half a dozen doctors and looking for schools and Kitas, and struggling with the language.

The next phase is a trough phase where you start to miss things from home, even things you wouldn't normally miss or want when you were at home. This is the point at which you have to start coping with the realities of actually living there. It's fun, fun, fun.

After this phase you hit the 'rubber wall', where you come up against things you consider illogical and unreasonable and you want to kick against it. Stevie thinks I 'hit the wall' about a day after we arrived here. I'm good that way: I like to fast track to the crappy bits.

Finally, in the last phase you can go one of 4 ways. You either continue on a decline and feel a bit depressed about the whole thing and eventually make the decision to return home, or you just continue with struggling with all the problems you feel you are encountering. The third path is more positive and you recover and discover that life abroad really isn't that bad and your life is just as good as at home, and finally 40 - 45% of people discover themselves on the path where they feel their lives are positively enriched by the experience.

I'm thinking of inviting this woman round to my house with her 1 year old baby. I don't know that it'll make her feel much better, but I'm not sure what else I can do to make her feel better about living here. If you have any 'homesickness' remedies please let me know.


  1. Incidentally, the point with the new blog title was that when I looked through the RR documentation this afternoon this was how they described people in my position.

  2. There are lots of books/articles about the "trailing spouse" concept. There's even a group on Toytown, although it's all wives, from what I see.
    I hit the wall fast, too, trying to get the kids registered and everything set up. But perhaps the honeymoon period is only for those without kids? I feel a bit as if I'm in it right now, with the girls both is school and starting to actually explore the city. But it took me over three years (and three moves) to get here.
    TV was my homesickness remedy. It's not that different from moving in the States if I can watch my shows when I want. But that's also because I am constrained to be at home quite a bit of the time, as caregiver.

  3. Funnily enough I think you are right about having the honeymoon without kids. I was too constrained by naps and the practicalities to really ever feel like a tourist, but on the couple of child-free moments I've had, I've certainly enjoyed being a tourist! Oh roll on school!

  4. I guess moving to another country, you can go through the phases of grief. A loss of your old life, your comfort zone. I reckon inviting the woman over will help her.


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