66.2 million is the number of expatriates listed by Finacorrd, a company specialising in market research. 66.2 million people have left their native land for better working conditions, a more pleasant environment or a more competitive salary. It also potentially means several million men and women who have decided to follow their expatriate spouse. This is the case of Luc, who crossed the Atlantic to follow his partner to Montreal.
It was 3 years ago, on April 6th. When he woke up, Luc, a web developer, picked up his phone. His girlfriend, Afsa, had sent him a message on Messenger a few hours ago. Between Montreal and Liège, there is a 6-hour time difference between them, which is not easy for spontaneity!
Afsa has a permanent contract as a nurse at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital.
“I was somewhere between excited and panic-stricken”. Two months later, in June 2019, Luc flew from the land of the French Fry to the land of the Putin.
Following your expat partner: difficult first days
“I left without a job, just with my suitcases,” says Luc, who evokes the first difficulty when one decides to follow one’s spouse on an expatriation: the loss of everyday landmarks. While the first few days are marked by exploration and excitement, once the discovery phase is over, people miss their loved ones and their “little habits”. The time difference, for example, forces Luc to find time slots and “schedule his calls” with his friends.
Luc also confides in us that it is hard and lonely to be the “spouse of”.
“Afsa already had her job, her friends, she just went out. As for me, I had a life to rebuild, a job to find again… Even when accompanied, one feels quite alone.”
At the same time, Luc discovered that he was not alone in experiencing this loss of identity. There is even a word to describe these feelings: “Trailing spouse syndrome”. The trailing spouse syndrome is a set of symptoms that expatriate spouses may experience during their first year of expatriation, including a feeling of being lost, loneliness, relationship issues and a gap between expectations and reality.
Leaving with your expat spouse: creating a new routine
To succeed in overcoming this tailspin, one must change the paradigm, stop thinking and living the “Belgian way” but instead adopt the habits and customs of the host country while creating new routines.
“I had the English level of a teenager, so I took advantage of an integration programme to learn the language. Moreover, Montreal is increasingly adopting an international outlook. Even though the majority of businesses are run by French-speaking people, English is imposing itself on a growing scale and some salespeople don’t speak French.”
After three months in the region, Luc found his first client, a small grocery shop in the centre of Montreal, and launched his career as a freelance developer. This marked his first taste of pride and the beginning of his inclusion in his new city.
For future spouses of expatriates, Luc has a piece of advice: “A new country also means a new life. Take advantage of your new home to create a ‘new you’. Take up a sport, go out, meet new people. Not everyone has the opportunity to discover the world, take advantage of it.”
If you are about to follow your partner abroad, in Canada or elsewhere in the world, and would like to find out more about our international health insurance for expatriates, discover our different offers.