It can be tough being a trailing spouse – the term is not mine – in India: not allowed to work, spouse and children gone all day, long distances and traffic jams. culture shock usually hits them in a much stronger way than it does their spouse or children as they, generally, have very little social interaction. Depression is not rare as life as an expat wife can be perceived as a 3 year sentence in a golden cage. Once again, this does not have to be a fatality. I know I am not a trailing spouse myself, but I have interacted with many of them in my different relocation training assignments and the tips below are taken directly from discussions I’ve had with trailing spouses that were getting ready to leave the country.
1. Volunteering. There are thousands of Indian and international NGOs that would be delighted to avail of the professional skills that trailing spouses could bring. Since most expat spouses don’t really need the income but want to feel useful and productive, this is a great option. Teaching, administration, project management and fund-raising are skills that all NGOs need and they would be happy to have people with professional skills on board…especially if they don’t have to pay them (trailing spouses are not allowed to earn any income with their X Visa). This doesn’t only keep spouses busy when their partners are at work and their children to school but it is also a great way to get to know another aspect of Indian society to which most expats never get exposed…and you definitely feel a better person at the end of a day out teaching English to under-privileged kids.
2. Going back to school. This is probably the best, if not the only, time spouses will have to finish their studies or study something new. Taking a 3/4/5 year hiatus from work will usually makes it harder for trailing spouses to find a new job when going back to their home country. Studying can be a good way to improve your profile by learning a new subject or taking the time to write that thesis that they never had time to do before they started to work. Spouses would need a special Student Visa to study in an Indian college or university. This is relatively easy to get if you register with an Indian institution. They can also register with an institution in their home country and do their research and writing from India.
3. Participating in community life. Most neighborhoods in major cities have Resident Welfare Associations who work with the local authorities to enhance the quality of life for their community. Taking part in these is a great way to meet new people but also to get involved in something meaningful.There are also plenty of Cricket Moms (the Indian equivalent of the Soccer Moms) to meet and/or expatriate networking groups
4. Exploring one of the most fascinating culture in the world. India is probably the most culturally diverse country in the world. Traditional dance forms, architecture, singing, cuisine, cinema, performing arts…all of them have unique regional, religious and linguistic flavors which makes sure that a lifetime will never be enough to explore it all.
Following a spouse in his/her expatriation does not have to mean that their partners have to put their lives on hold for so many years. They have an opportunity that the working expats do not have: exploring India, its diversity, its paradoxes, its culture and its people. I sometimes wish i could be an expat husband to do all this…