Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ex-Pat Orientation

Before leaving for an international assignment, Jonathan’s company requires that you attend an Expat Orientation specific to your new country. Ours was supposed to be Monday and Tuesday, but due to the nature of the assignment and our previous experiences in Aberdeen, we were able to squeeze everything into one day.
It was truly a great experience and we learned a lot of valuable information. I rely so much on my parents for knowledge and advice about moving to Aberdeen, but theirs is just one perspective. We are humble enough to know that we will need all of the guidance we can get.
The woman leading our orientation session lived in Aberdeen for several years and is actually good friends with my parents. She brought in two employees to speak with us; one young American who had completed an assignment in Aberdeen and one Scottish national completing an ex-pat assignment in Houston. We were like sponges just soaking in all of the information on our host country. And let me tell you, we are pumped!
We’ve been warned of the cyclical highs and lows of ex-patriating and we definitely acknowledge that we are presently in the honeymoon phase. It all feels very romantic, getting to embark on a true adventure with my husband in a fairytale setting.
But as with any relocation, we know that there will come a point in time where we will hit a wall. We will get frustrated and negative. We will get homesick. We will get weary. We will panic. We will think we’ve made the biggest, most irreversible mistake of our lives.
Our strength is that we know this is coming. We expect it and we are ready for it. And we know that, just as the honeymoon phase will end, our regretful phase will pass as well. And we’ll be left with a stronger and more intimate marriage.
This will be our third move in our four years of marriage, and though living in a different culture will undeniably bring its own challenges, we are very familiar with both the stress and excitement that comes with relocation.
I think the most valuable part of our orientation was talking with the young American about his and his wife’s experiences in Aberdeen. He said that, while Jonathan will transition more easily due to the familiarity and routine of work, the move will be 10 times more stressful for me. Jonathan’s job will be staying constant. He’ll be working for the same company which shares policies and procedures no matter which country he’s working in. He’ll also be in a position very similar to the one he’s been filling in Houston.
It will be me whose entire life will change without any constants. I’ll be navigating a foreign environment every step of the way. Nothing will be familiar; everything will be a new experience. I know the novelty of that will wear off pretty quickly for me. I was grateful that this young man recognized his wife’s role in the transition and advised Jonathan to have patience with my adjustment and to be supportive and encouraging through this process.

While we reviewed some of the logistics and quirks about living in Aberdeen, the jist of the orientation was ‘managing our expectations’. We listed pros and cons about our upcoming assignment and people with experience in Aberdeen gave feedback on our assumptions.
Some of our pros: It’s a beautiful city/country; travel access to Europe; choice of housing (in some locations you live in assigned housing); decent healthcare; shopping; dog friendly; they speak English; it’s a similar culture.
Some of our cons: distance from family; harsh winters without much daylight; cost of living; driving on the other side of the road; hassle of shipping dogs; small ex-pat community.
I think we are both realistic about the positives and negatives of this particular assignment, but actually living it will involve constantly re-evaluating our expectations. While I definitely have moments where I think ‘what the heck are we doing?’, most of the time I can’t wait to be there.
I gained a lot of peace of mind by talking to other employees who had thrived in Aberdeen. While reminiscing about their time in Scotland, all three stated that they were jealous of us and wanted to go back themselves. Its comments like that which really put my mind at ease. And also, pictures like these don’t hurt:

Yes, everything is going to be just fine.

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