From reading around you’d be forgiven for thinking that expat wives sit around drinking all day or are delegated the role of housewife, My dependent identity card actually states ‘housewife’ as my occupation and my employer as my husband – I can tell you that this caused some consternation when we first arrived and I still hate writing down the word housewife on any forms asking for my employment status. Because, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a traditional housewife, in my case nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t even do any housework, we have a part time amah (cleaner) who comes in twice a week to do the boring housework (one of my luxuries). And while I know of a few women who seem to go from one coffee morning to another, I know that they also have a range of hobbies and spend a lot of time with their families.
So what can a trailing spouse do? Well, in many countries they are still permitted to work and, although the employment opportunities may not be the same as they are back home, they may still exist. In my case I was expecting to not be able to work (and most spouses in Brunei are not able to) but in truth I probably could have found a job if I had wanted. But by the time I had discovered this I was already involved in so many other things and am thankfully in a position where I do not need to work. Before moving out here I worked as an English teacher, so when I arrived in Brunei I volunteered to teach English classes to other spouses who do not speak English as a first language and I also did some private tutoring for children who were in the same position. In Brunei there are abundant opportunities to volunteer – I also spend time working at the library, I help at Brownies and I was secretary to one of the social clubs. I found these ‘jobs’ both stimulating and enjoyable, and for the first time in my life I had an excellent ‘work/life balance’ with some free time to pursue my own interests and hobbies as well as enough work to keep me busy and my mind stimulated.
If volunteering isn’t your thing then there are plenty of people who take advantage of the many clubs and social activities on offer, there are a great deal of sporting activities available and clubs to do with arts and crafts or other interests. And plenty of people start their own clubs if their particular interest isn’t already represented. There’s a group called Outpost who operate in many different countries and offer support to expatriates such as a Meet and Greet service and orientation of a new country to name just a few.
Brunei is a very quiet place, you really have to make your own entertainment, but we are lucky to have a small community full of people willing to volunteer their time and make life for trailing spouses enjoyable. I know that other places may not have the same set up, but I would argue that there is always something you can do. When I first got here I signed up for an online TESOL course, and used my new found skills to teach English to other adults. There are so many online and distance courses that you can do to suit any interest. Or pursue your own hobbies, I love reading and now have the time to do this as well as having a go at fiction writing myself recently – although purely as a hobby so far. My advice would be to make the most of the free time you now have and try to do things which stimulate you intellectually as well as activities you enjoy.
You may notice that some of my interests I’ve written about in the past tense, this is because I’m expecting my first child in two weeks’ time and so I’ve gradually been cutting down on my extra activities. Motherhood in a foreign country is to be my next challenge which I will share here!