Makes it sound so simple right? Uttering a quick yes to a romantic proposal for #expatlife, following years of planning filled with shared imagery for the future and dreams of sun soaked days and toenail selfies by the exotic pool.
Not quite the reality that met me in early 2016. Let me rewind and perhaps offer some notes of learning for anyone who stumbles across this looking for help to make a similar decision.
Ok, confession time: forward planning is not my strong suit. Those who know me know that my head is full of dreams and meandering thoughts but these rarely involve long-term practical planning. I’m also loathe to change. Sure, I’m an INFP (more on that another day) and adore big beautiful ideas and exciting plans, but I like these to be happening to others, not me.
So it was that in early 2016, despite a great job in a global organisation that offered lots of opportunities to move overseas, the thought had never entered my head. The furthest I saw us moving was within a 20km radius into a lovely new house, surrounded by fields and where the biggest issue for the children was whether they could access an Educate Together school.
On the other hand, hubby was talking. A lot. Again. To overseas companies. Well, one in particular.
I say again because this often happened. We’d considered moving to Haiti (never happened) and he’d done an interview or two for a –stan country somewhere up toward the Urals. I now ignored this and blissfully house-hunted as he had interview after interview, uttering these now infamous words of warning: “You’ll probably be offered a job the day we put an offer in on a house.”
And that’s exactly what happened. House offer made; no Educate Together, but I was overlooking it. Job offer made; still no Educate Together, and where on Earth is Qatar?
Having the talk
It would be unfair to make it seem like the decision-making was all one way, but clearly some serious conversations were needed and quickly. It is almost (and I mean almost) hilarious how little time you seem to have to make these very big decisions when everything else afterward about setting up expat life seems to take an eternity.
So, these are the things to consider:
- Family – your kids will always be fine, even if you first think you’re ruining their lives. Trust me on this. Don’t make the children the focus of your decision; they’ll be happy once they’re with their parents.
- Family – your parents/siblings are another matter. There’s no way to gloss this over, as this is the tough bit. We were blessed as our family are all in good health, which does make this type of decision easier.
- Schooling – so I said don’t worry about the kids, but actually, do worry about their schooling! Qatar, for instance, has a shortage of places in schools. Have a look and see whether there are any schools that match your ethos and expectations for your children’s education. See if you can chat to any other parents there already.
- Contract details – look at the finer details, the whole package. How much is the school allowance? Does it cover fees in your preferred schools? How much of an allowance do you get to go home during the year? What about health insurance? How much annual leave do you get and will it allow you both a holiday and a trip home? How much is your housing allowance, if you have one, and does it cover the type of housing you’ll require?
- Jobs – do you both need/want to work while overseas? I’m still in two minds on this one personally (my lack of proper planning obvious on this), but I suspect that might be more down to the toenail selfie opportunity issue.
- Your relationship – this sounds obvious but it’s likely that someone will leave first. How will this affect your relationship? How will you deal with communicating at a distance? Also, let’s face it, moving house is already one of life’s biggest stresses. Doing this across continents just multiplies this. Make sure you’re both strong and committed or you’re setting yourselves up to fail.
Taking the step into the unknown
I won’t lie and say any of the above was easy, or that I took a logical approach to any of the questions above. I think I cried every time it was mentioned for the first week or so.
And then, having digested and started to think “possibility” instead of “change”, the conversations became less about whether and more about how we would move. Less about the fear and more about the practicality.
I’m honestly not sure, even now, whether we had a “Yes, this is it. We’re doing it” moment, and that was ok, especially for me. It allowed me to digest each change at a time and focus on each of the implications at a time. That moment when I got an email to say the contracts had been signed and sent wasn’t long in arriving.
We were about to embark on a new adventure and I was now ready and excited about what the future would bring.
I’m packing my toenail polish alongside my laptop and the nappy bag! Qatar calls and next month, after rather a lot of preparation and treading water, we’ll be calling it home.