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*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

You've just got word that you're being shipped out. Six weeks to D-Day and then change will really crack everything open.

Enjoy the ride
You may not be able to work or you may not want to. It doesn't really matter. The best thing that you can do in many trailing spouse situations is to enjoy the ride.

Manage the process
As a trailing spouse I have done many moves and some times the best thing that you can do for your spouse, and possibly even your family, is simply to smooth the way for everyone else. It may not be the most fulfilling of roles but the reality is that, as an expatriate, you will have a different reality than your friends' back home.

When I lived in Australia I worked full-time with young children. It was expected of me, and I expected it of myself. Wen we moved to Hong Kong though, I took the opportunity of stepping away from the career fast track for a while. It was a good chance to manage the move well for us all and ensure that the transition was a smooth one. It meant that my husband, as the prime income earner, could walk out the door and not have to worry about anything other than getting a handle on his new job. I picked up the other pieces - finding accommodation, schools, transport, cars - everything. I did school drop-offs and pick-ups, joined clubs and set up social networks as quickly as possible. I found furniture, organised dinner parties and found doctors, dentists and banks.

Don't knock me
Yet when talking to friends back in Australia they were disparaging about what I was doing and I had a hard time convincing them that what my family needed at this point in time was a sense of solidarity and belonging. We needed to quickly establish roots and networks and after that I could branch out. The difference was that my friends back home already had social networks and didn't appreciate their importance. As a newcomer, I had to work at establishing them and this takes time and effort. Some posts are easier than other, some take a longer period of time to adjust. Understanding the local culture is vital to how you network.

Other expats were in the same situation and there was a difference sense of what was acceptable and expected than back home.

My point I guess is that even though you may not expect to find yourself in a traditional role when doing an expat move, it may be what it best short or long term for all of you. Don't worry about the expectations of family and friends. Do what is right for you and what is right for your own particular set of circumstances and this will really ensure that the move is a positive one for everyone.

Amanda O has been a trailing spouse for the last seven years.

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Posted 21Aug05