Expat Life

Are you checked IN or checked OUT?

Checking in for your flight is such a straightforward process nowadays. You do not even have to be at the airport anymore, you can check in from home. But are you checked in to your location, your friendships, your career or even your marriage? Or have you consciously or unconsciously checked out? Let me explain.

Checking out when Moving

In expat land, Tis The Season, not of being merry but of the endless goodbyes. The moving circus that takes place every summer in the expat community is getting up to speed these days. Friends are clearing their houses, selling their cars, toys and furniture on Facebook. Colleagues are hosting goodbye lunches. And I give presentations in Brunei on How to Survive you Move.

Despite having roughly the same departure date of “summer”, the date when the leavers “check out” varies immensely. Some have been talking about leaving incessantly already since last year, the departure looming large over their heads. They had already begun to “check out” before even knowing their new destination. Others have been clearing out storage and wrapping up volunteering positions for a while now. Yet others seem relatively relaxed about the whole move, they go about life as usual, enjoying the positive aspects of living in Brunei and not worrying much about the logistics of departure. They seem “checked in” for as long as possible.

Some people need more time than others to process the departure, but be careful about mentally checking out too early. If you end up staying longer than expected (and it happens), it makes it harder to check back in.


Check back in tip:

Do things you love as long as possible in your current location, and think of the new place in designated moments in the week or day (depending how close you are to the actual moving date).

Checking out of Friendships

With moving comes the change in friendships. Some expat friendships will withstand the test of time, while others will soon seem a distant memory. And while expat friendships can be counted in dog years (1 year is comparable to 7 years of regular friendships), physical distance does have an impact on a friendship’s intensity.

We have three types of friends in life: Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.

-Author Unknown

Friendships are more rewarding when both sides are checked in. However, checking out of friendship does happen. It can come from two sides, both from the person who is leaving and from the ones who stay behind.

When you move there is a massive to-do list in our heads, drowning out other important things, or rather people if we are not careful. And vice versa, friends who stay make plans for events that will no longer include you. Admittedly, when I meet nice people who tell me that they will be leaving in the next few months, I do not always follow up with them. You could say I do not check in with a possible friendship in that sense. When you tell people you are leaving, sometimes you can see them crossing your name off an invisible list in their heads- they check out of a friendship with you.


Check back in tip:

Make time for friends- old and new, and enjoy the fun times you have together.


Checking out of your career

If you are like me, you may have had to give your job up at some point (or multiple points) to follow your partner abroad. It may have felt like your career was over. Or maybe it still feels that way sometimes. I know women who refer to their time abroad as “retirement.” And if that is what enables you to spend your time doing things you love, that’s great.

I also meet expat partners who are not very happy with the life they live abroad. They feel they “should” have a job or “should” be happy with not having one, in neither case being as happy as they can be. In some cases it even affects their sense of self-worth, as though a part of their identity is missing.

One lady gave a very memorable answer to the question What do you do here? It was “I enjoy myself.” And she meant it. I’ve been trying to follow her lead ever since. Whatever you decide to do (or not do) abroad, enjoy it.


Check back in tip:

If you feel something is missing or that the time is right for you to restart your career, do not despair. It is totally ok not to have a clue if you have not been thinking about work for years but instead been busy raising kids and managing your family abroad. Start a process to figure it out by focusing on the things you love doing and writing down any ideas regarding jobs that excite you (or seem interesting). Check out some free online courses or chat with a coach. And don’t beat yourself up, instead be curious and kind to yourself.

Checking out of your marriage

Is the only reason you are still together because it is a hassle getting divorced abroad? Are you devoting energy to your kids, your job, your friends and hobbies, but no longer to your spouse? Are you annoyed by all your partner’s habits, from the way he eats his lunch to the way he sighs when he walks through the door? Chances are you’ve checked out of your marriage.

If you notice that your marriage is in a slump, expecting the other person to change tends not to be a good strategy. Instead, it will lead to resentment and unmet expectations. After all, we can’t change a man (or a woman for that matter) unless he’s in diapers as the saying goes. You have made a commitment when entering this relationship- you checked in- and it is time to change strategies if it seems the current one is not working. Otherwise you might end up in a destination that is very different from the one you checked in for. That being said, staying checked in takes effort- there is not some magic pill, not for us nor for our spouse.

Check back in tip:

You can work on yourself– taking responsibility for your own happiness, for feeling good about yourself. You can bring appreciation, attention and romance back into your marriage. If you have run out of ideas, you can see a marriage counsellor. That’s never a waste of money, even if it turns out the marriage can’t be saved, you can use their help to part on good terms for the sake of the kids.


And you? Are you checked in or out? I’d love your comments and thoughts!

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Marriage trouble abroad- An interview with Helen Rudinsky, MS, Marriage and Family Therapist


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