Re-establishing an identity with every relocation can be huge challenge and it was reason enough for Robin Pascoe, an expatriate spouse for the past 15 years, to start writing about her trials. In an effort to make relocation less of a task for expats, Pascoe has written five books on global living. Lounge caught up with her in Bangalore.
What prompted you to write these books?
I was angry at the lack of realistic information for foreigners. My husband calls my first work my “manifesto”. My family and I went through four postings in Asia and raised two children. I started getting interested in the issues and challenges ofbeing an expatriate and wrote about it. I have conducted workshops for people who were going through the problems that I also faced, and I wanted to reach out to a larger audience.
What is the most challenging part of being an expatriate spouse?
The biggest challenge is the loss of her/his own identity. Often a spouse is deeply involved in their own communities and has her own successful career. When they are removed from the things that define their identity, they experience a sense of isolation and dependency.
Is that where your book A Movable Marriage sprang from?
Yes. It is about what I and many couples go through. Making a “moving” marriage work can be quite a challenge. Every time you move, you are a different person, the children are of different age, and everything changes. There is a shift in the balance of powers. One half has all the power and the other has none of it. The spouse becomes Mrs Husband and her social life depends on what the husband does, or who he chooses to socialize with. That can be very disconcerting.
What’s the most challenging and unique aspect of adjusting in India?
Well, most people from the West do undergo a culture shock when they move to Asia. But in India expatriates have a problem getting used to the 24-hour work hours. And then there is the heat. It’s not the lack of information or food items that you get back home, because you get almost anything you want in the stores these days. Most organizations take care of the relocation, but they miss out on issues of cultural and family adjustments.
What would you ask relocating families to keep in mind before they take the plunge?
Firstly, I’d ask them to never lose their sense of humour. They must also understand that it’s a privilege to live abroad. They must travel and explore the country’s culture. It’s important to step out of your economic or social status and mingle.
Is repatriation as big a challenge as expatriation?
It’s more challenging. You don’t expect yourself to have a culture shock in your own country. It’s very relevant in India, because I see lots of Indians who have lived abroad, have moved back to their own country and not being able to relate to things here the same way expatriates do. It can take months to get over a reverse culture shock.
You latest book, Raising Global Nomads, talks about parenting.
Expatriate parents must not take their children’s adjustment problems lightly. They are changing schools, friends, pets. It’s a whole new real world that seems unreal to them. It’s important to keep the children grounded and teach them life skills and teach them how to handle their money. I am hoping that my book will serve as a road map for parents raising third culture children. It is also my most therapeutic work because it made me reflect on what worked and what didn’t. When I interview people for different books, their answers reassure me that I am not crazy, and that every parent has had similar problems.
Have your children read your books?
My daughter, who is now 25, has read them. My son is never going to forgive me for giving Global Nomads to his girlfriend, because I have used my children shamelessly as contexts. My daughter will probably use the book to help others with identity issues. My husband has read the books, but has never heard any of my speeches in 27 years of marriage. But yes, he is aware that I use him as a whipping boy!
Pascoe’s books are available on www.amazon.com. A Moveable Marriage-$22.46
Raising Global Nomads-$24.95, Homeward Bound-$24.95. She is currently visiting Indian expatriates in different Indian cities.