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Book Review - Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions About Living Abroad

Finally a way to let it all out among friends!  I have to admit, I found the title, Expat Women:  Confessions a little misleading.  The term “confessions” leads one to believe that there’s something scintillating or juicy “a la Desperate Housewives” but if you’re expecting wife-swapping and shop-a-holic stories you’ll be disappointed.  However, what you will find is page after page of sage advice from two women, Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth, who have “been there, done that” for years.  Each chapter highlights a question from a woman in the thick of all things expat, followed by an answer that is thoughtful, insightful and thorough that includes great tips and helpful suggestions.  The authors have backgrounds in HR and psychology and have both lived around the world.  They come to the table with an in-depth understanding of human nature and a boatload of empathy built from personal experience.

In the introduction, expat author Robin Pascoe says, “remaining silent about your concerns can be a survival tactic.”  Wow…that one really hit me.  I go through entire conversations in my head thinking, ‘if I said this out loud, everyone would think I’m nuts!’   So, you smile through the confusion and start each day believing it’s going to be a little better.  For me, it really was.  I thoroughly enjoy my expat life.  But, for many, it’s torture.  You can almost feel the cathartic relief as the “confessors” pour out their souls (anonymously) looking for reassurance and advice on how to make it better.

Each chapter attacks a different aspect of expat life from career advice to raising children.  There’s great general information as well like “Spend as much time as possible researching your new home location and office environment.  Go online and learn as much as you can about both the country and it’s people.”  Of course, if you’re planning a move to a whole new country and culture and you’re not already doing that, you should probably stay put.

One of my favorite bits of advice that few people suggested to me but I went ahead and did myself is - “If you don’t find a group, network or association that interests you, do not be afraid to set one up yourself.” You might be thinking that it’s way out of your comfort zone and you’ve never done anything like that, but Andrea and Victoria suggest that sometimes it’s just a matter of “recalibrating your mindset.”

“Sometimes expat life calls for improvisation and resourcefulness,” they say.  Even consulting an expat life coach could be a good step for some, they suggest.

Their advice comes not only from their own experience and expertise but also from well-respected resources like the Global RelocationTrends 2010 (Brookfield Global Relocation Services).  The stats they quote go further to reassure the confessors that they’re not alone in the world.

Do the Research
There are so many issues that can create problems in a relationship when making a move overseas but they’re often the same issues that create problems in relationships no matter where in the world you live.  There’s a great chapter on considering the financial ramifications of an overseas assignment, which gives some great advice.  They caution new expats to research the policies of moving money out of certain countries, like China, and to look into the laws in countries like the UAE where Shari ‘a Law prevails (for example, if your husband should die, your local bank accounts are frozen and you won’t have access until the courts decide who the rightful heir is, which can often take several years). 

Expat Scenarios
One expat wife writes that she is worried that after several years of living the expat life (which can very exotic and inebriatingly addictive) that she and her husband are repatriating and lo’ and behold, only have about two months salary saved up!  What happened to the rest of it?  You can’t cry over spilled milk so the authors take her (and us readers) through a step-by-step process for moving forward so that this “worst case scenario” has a not so horrible outcome.

A new mom in Korea, cooped up in a small apartment, no parks, no way out…yeesh!  My heart broke for this young mom.  Trailing spouses are often “trying to deal with various situational, environmental, emotional and personal issues simultaneously.”

Andrea and Victoria give this mom some very practical, applicable, easily followed advice…if you have the will.  My mom always said, “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” They suggest for this mom, if you don’t have a yard for your son to play in, find a friend who does have one or enroll him in a nursery school a couple mornings a week – great suggestions!

Expat families can become enmeshed families (a new term for me)…where they start to rely on each other for everything from moral support to entertainment and everything in between.  The authors caution the new expat to be aware of this starting to happen and to force yourself to get out and meet new people and make new friends. 

Even after all the years I’ve lived as an expat, Expat Women: Confessions was still a great read and offered some new advice I hadn’t thought of as my husband and I plan our next expat adventure. 

You can check out the regular Expat Women Confessions column on for more ongoing advice…It’s like Ann Landers for expats!

Expat Women Confessions


Expat Women said…
Hi Anne, This is such a great and comprehensive review. Thanks so much for making the time to read the book, and then making the time to blog about. It sounds like you have a lot of expat experience, so I'm humbled by your lovely review. Thank you very, very much! Andrea :)
Hi Andrea,
You're most welcome! Let me know when your next one comes out!
Very good review of what is clearly a popular AND highly useful book. Nicely done!
Anonymous said…
Great review Anne. I can't wait to read the book! Its always good to hear that other people are having the same bizarre thought processes you are and that you're not really nuts, you're just adjusting!

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