A recent post on Instagram had me chuckling and sighing at the same time. Someone had shared about the expatriate experience and said it was a cycle of unpacking, attempting to settle in, and packing up again. Then repeat. This resonated powerfully with me because it hits the bulls-eye when it comes to describing expatriate life accurately.
Once again, I’m at the beginning of this cycle. I’m currently sitting in my new dining room in Brunei, contemplating how we’ve been affected by our latest move from Singapore two months ago. I’m trying to think of some deeper insight to share. But I’m mostly wondering about the location of our container of belongings and crossing my fingers that it has arrived at port after weeks of being held up.
Physical Transitions From the Move
Delays in shipment should come as no surprise to me. After all, this is our third overseas posting in 14 years and our sixth international move. It’s discernible that the difficulty of transitioning increases with each move. It is in some part superficially related to the physical belongings that we have amassed over time, with furniture and keepsakes from different countries.
It is just physically tedious. But it has also gotten more challenging as our family has grown and our daughter has gotten older. (She is currently eight and already behaving like a pre-teen.) And this time around, there are many more added considerations and issues from moving during a pandemic. Besides the actual physical move, the mental and emotional upheaval can take a long time to accept and deal with.
There are several restrictions to entering Brunei. Firstly, it is currently not open to tourists and visitors, and one can only enter for essential travel. As with many other countries, there is also a quarantine period at a hotel facility along with several PCR tests at different points. Upon arriving in December, we quickly adapted to the local rules and restrictions. The first time we were invited out to dinner, we were excited to make new acquaintances.
I was having a lovely conversation with an Australian lady who had also just arrived, and we were happily exchanging notes when someone suddenly exclaimed, “It’s 9.15 pm!” and a bustle ensued to thank our hosts, make an elegant but hasty exit, and drive home quickly. You see, there was a nightly curfew set between 10 pm and 4 am, and no one in the country is allowed out of their homes during this period. Since then, the curfew has been relaxed to a later time of midnight, but like Cinderella, one has to always watch the clock on evenings out.
While my husband jumped straight into the job after our isolation period was over, my daughter and I have been at home for most of these two months. The junior kids at her school are currently waiting for their vaccinations. Until then, they are required to have online lessons from home. We’re five weeks into home-based learning (more than we had ever done in Singapore!), and we do not know when the supplies will arrive and the kids can get their jabs.
So, we are being patient and will get that done as soon as the vaccination drive begins. In the meantime, she’s getting to know her teacher and classmates over Google Meet. And also attempting to fall in sync with her different subjects and pace of lessons. The reality of this is that it has been tough, particularly in the past week. I sit next to her and try to guide her, and she generally gets on easily.
But there are days when it is all too much; we get on each other’s nerves and we need a time-out from work and each other. While we try to do fun things like play badminton together, the lack of daily interaction with children her own age is hard. There is probably a lot of physical and emotional energy being built up. We are still in the process of finding a balance and coping with being with each other 24/7.
But there are days when it is all too much; we get on each other’s nerves and we need a time-out from work and each other.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I know my patience needs a lot of work. Often, I drive her with the demands of a teacher rather than encourage her as a supportive parent. I need to know when to take a step back and acknowledge how overwhelming it can be for an 8-year-old. I just let her know that it’s alright. With online schooling possibly lasting for another few months, I foresee that there will be some days when I will be telling her teacher that she will not be completing the work. She needs a break for her physical and mental well-being (or for mine!). And we all need to be ok with it.
In these two months, I have realised that I am at an important stage of transitioning in my own roles. Since the pandemic began, I met its challenges by dealing with work and adjusted to a blended mode of teaching my students in school. After years of being a stay-at-home mum, I had gradually re-established my role and identity outside of my family and home. Presently, however, my full-on and most immediate roles have circled back to focusing solely on my daughter and husband. The term trailing spouse is often used in expatriate life, though I prefer seeing myself as the supportive spouse.
Still, there is no denying that my role as a spouse has brought me here right now, and it is where I start again as we rebuild our family life together. As a mother, I am a guide, encouraging cheer-leader, cajoler of spirits, and master-briber. I am one of my daughter’s constants as she finds her way in this place and time with new friends, interests, and future plans.
I don’t see this as losing a part of my identity just because I have to give more of myself right now as a mother or wife. Rather, I want to see this as a pursuit of establishing myself in other meaningful ways and thriving with my many different identities. It will take time and I may struggle with some parts of it, but I’d say I’m always up for a challenge!
This is an original post by World Mom Karen Williams in Brunei.