Expat advice for the short-term assignment

short term expat assignment

When I heard about the three-month time frame on Cody’s assignment in Madrid, I knew there would be a completely different set of challenges. But when searching for advice, I found zero blogs or articles discussing this particular type of experience and the accompanying spouse.  With assignments like these, it makes sense for the working partner to go it alone because people have families, homes, and all the other things that go along with roots. However, I had no home and an expiring Colombian visa, so I packed my bags and got ready for adventure.

Heading into our summer in Madrid, most of my worry centered on finding a balance between playing tourist, having some semblance of routine and maybe an acquaintance or two. If you read my post last week about emotional jet lag, then you know I didn’t find my feet as gracefully as expected.

Read on for my thoughts about where I did well and where I fell flat.

Find your new Skype schedule.

Remember how important staying connected to friends and family was in your first experience abroad? If you’ve already navigated those muddy waters, then you know that those familiar faces are crucial to feeling settled quickly. I leaned heavily on my U.S. loved ones while we were in Madrid because I wasn’t quite ready to invest in new friendships when I knew goodbye was only three months away. Not only does keeping in touch provide a bit of structure, it will also remind you that you’re still part of a community, even if it’s two thousand miles away.

Seek out like-minded folks.

Ticking off every museum in a city is great, but most likely there’ll come a day that you’d like to talk to someone besides the guy selling you produce from the shop around the corner. That’s where organizations like Internations (see this previous post for a bit about them) and Meetup come in handy. On Meetup, I quickly found multiple English-speaking groups in Madrid who met for gallery visits, wine tastings or boot camp style workouts in a nearby park.

I’m also a huge advocate for volunteer work. Even if it’s only once, many foundations would happily accept your help or point you in the direction of someone who could. Try searching blogs in your city (see the next blurb) or a local expat organization (such as the American Women’s Club) for suggestions of charities which may be seeking temporary volunteers.

Just to be honest here, I looked into all of these things. And I made plans. Even though I knew it would be good for me to go, I didn’t actually do any of them. Don’t be like me.

If you get stuck, email other bloggers.

When I was blogging consistently in Bogotá I received many emails from folks who were moving to or already in the city. I was always happy to answer their questions about my thoughts on safety or settling in or what to pack. A few of these email chats even ended up in coffee dates and new acquaintances!

If you’re looking for a great used book shop or a certain kind of cafe that reminds you of home, peruse the directories in the Resources page to find bloggers in your area and reach out for suggestions. But before you hit send, make sure you’re asking a direct question (instead of something general such as What’s Spain like?) and take a look at their posts to make sure your question hasn’t already been answered.

Most importantly, know yourself and act accordingly.

When it comes down to it, the key to accompanying your partner on a temporary stint is to know what makes you happy. Then, make sure you do it. I know that I need a routine and to feel useful through writing and work. But I was feeling overwhelmed and kept telling myself I needed a break. What’s worse is I stuck with that even when I knew it wasn’t working.

Also, remember that culture shock exists for everyone to some degree, no matter how similar your new home is to your old or how many times you’ve moved. Looking back on this advice I wrote from Colombia, much of it applied to my situation in Madrid and I even made some of the same naive mistakes! I think my expat mantra is becoming something like next time I’ll get it right.

Have any of you picked up and settled down for the short term? Say something in the comments about what worked for you or what you saved for next time.


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