Home Diplomatic Pouch Expat partner: Staying active and finding work… diplomatic life from the inside

Expat partner: Staying active and finding work… diplomatic life from the inside

Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens

By Alexandra Paucescu

During my almost 20 diplomatic years so far, I have come across several books written by fellow diplomatic spouses and also wrote, at one point, my own story.

Some of these books are funny, others more serious, but they all depict small pieces of our lives, from an inside prospective, which might sometimes be surprisingly different from what people usually assume about us.

I must say though that none of the above mentioned readings presented in such a simple and direct way the equation of diplomatic /expat living.

‘Expat Partner- Staying active and finding work’ is a complete guide of emotions in the first place: what you feel and what needs you have when you embark on such a journey of life, what you need and must prioritize in order to be happy and find peace and soul fulfillment.

The two Belgian authors, Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens, have been diplomatic spouses for many years and have seen from the inside what it means and what it takes to make the most out of this diplomatic life.

‘The idea of the book came after a workshop I have organized at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, says Carine. ‘During that workshop, I had used the model I later explained in the book. The model helps people in their personal search during transition times like moving abroad. Marie attended the workshop and she was so enthusiastic. She said I should write a book about my experiences as an expat, and also as a Family officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium. All the testimonies I heard made me realize I had to understand better what working meant to people. By better understanding all the aspects of life that are affected when one is working or not, you can make better choices and it becomes clearer what your priorities are. The words, the testimonies from the partners of expats and diplomats were the seeds of the book.’

‘The book offers a valuable method to sharpen one’s point of view on what work means. It helps in making life choices and broadens up the possibility to stay active and find work when abroad.’ (Marie)

 They decided to write the book together, putting their own talents and expertise to work.

‘I don’t know how Carine got all the ideas, information and the structure. She read so much about expatriation and talked to so many people. She wrote the first manuscript, which I then edited and later I also wrote my own story, so I became a co-author instead of a ghostwriter, along the writing process.’(Marie)

Marie continues: ‘this book is the result of many experiences: our own and those of the many spouses Carine listened to while doing her job at the Foreign Ministry. The model is based on an analysis of those experiences. Therefore it became a powerful tool. Although it warns for the downsides of being an expat partner, it also gives realistic solutions. Thanks to those experiences, it became a very hands-on self-help book.’

‘I have identified five aspects of life that are affected if you are working or not: salary; financial and social security; professional skills; social contact and structure and identity. If you stop working, you have to make choices on how you are going to deal with each of these aspects. By better understanding your priorities, it becomes clearer to you what you need to do next.’ (Carine)

‘Work can be a part of your identity. These five elements are not automatically fulfilled while abroad and if you are able to tear those elements apart and approach them as different pieces of a cake, you can decide which ones you want to develop by keeping on your plate; the others you put in the fridge. We give examples and questions for the readers to make up their own minds about which aspects are at a certain moment in life more important than others.’ (Marie)

In time, the book has become a very useful tool. ‘The ministries of Foreign Affairs from both Belgium and Luxembourg organize yearly seminars for spouses of new diplomats. Their feedback is very positive and the majority of them think it is absolutely necessary that also the diplomats themselves should follow our seminars. During our seminars, we always ask the public at the end what they take home with them. Answers can vary a lot, but generally there is always something positive and something impactful. 71 percent of the failed expatriations are due to an unintegrated partner. That is a strong reason why employers should take partners more seriously. I recently heard that another spouse got inspired by our book to make podcasts on this topic, and she reached out to us. Maybe we will work together on that.’ (Marie)

Carine adds: ‘I am nowback in Belgium after 35 years of expatriation and I want to continue sharing the model of this book with the young generation. It is for them that the book is especially useful, as young people don’t give up their professional career that easily anymore, when they move abroad.’

Indeed, it is imperative that you start this journey prepared and have a clear idea of ​​your options and career plan. It’s never easy, but it’s definitely a worthwhile life adventure!

Expat Partner- Staying active and finding work’ by Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens.

The book is currently available in English and Dutch and may be ordered online. There is also an e-book version. You may also reach out to Carine and Marie.

E-mail Carine: bormanscarine@gmail.com

E-Mail Marie: marie.geukens@gmail.com

About the author:

Alexandra Paucescu

Alexandra Paucescu- Author of “Just a Diplomatic Spouse” Romanian, management graduate with a Master in business, cultural diplomacy and international relations studies.

She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian,  gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.

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