Expatriate coach Nicola McCall talks about her personal experience of belonging to an expat women’s group and why she can recommend you do the same.
I became a trailing spouse in 2002 on our move to Dublin, Ireland. I didn’t realise at the time that I was an “expat” so when it was recommended to me by my midwife that I join the International Women’s Club of Dublin, I thought why on earth would I want to join a pampered set of bored housewives who do lunch and buy handbags? That just wasn’t me at all.
But after wandering Dublin’s streets first lonely and bored, then pregnant and finally with pushchair, I decided to go to a mum and tots meeting, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner.
Making mistakes of past priorities of present
In 2004 I exchanged one expat community for another – moving from the UK to the Netherlands. Having learned from my last experience, joining a new group was a priority on my “things to do” list.
It took a little while to find The International Women’s Contact Utrecht and pluck up the courage to phone their contact person. When I did, I immediately felt welcomed. My first visit was to a house eight kilometres from where I lived – a distance that may seem small, but nonetheless meant driving somewhere I didn’t know and with no GPS system. I remember feeling incredibly intimidated.
At that time, I thought I’d be in the group for no more than two years and it would be about meeting some people, going to mum and tots every now and then and learning a little more about where I was living.
Friendships for life
Now 5 plus years later I can say being a member of the IWCU has enriched my life here beyond measure: the support I got from my many club friends when I’ve gone through difficult times here is unqualified; the things I’ve learnt from the members – those who have been here for many years and the “lifers” married to Dutch men alike – are inimitable.
Old School Womens Group PhotoHad I not made the decision to join a women’s group as an expat in a foreign destination I can genuinely say I would never have cultivated such rich relationships from so many different walks of life.
Data doesn’t lie
Scientific evidence too supports that belonging to a group such as this can positively enhance life and self esteem.
One particular experiment dealt with a group of women who had low life satisfaction. Some of the women were introduced to others who shared their situation, and some of the women were left on their own to deal with their concerns. Those who interacted with others saw a 55 percent reduction in their concerns over time, while those who were left out on their own showed no improvement.” Hunter and Liao 1995
What you gain from group
So if you’re an expat woman (working or not) who has never been in a group before, I recommend giving it a try, you don’t have to do everything or get very involved – do things at your pace. The benefits of joining include:
Gain friendships and companionship with those who share your own language, and benefit from being being able to talk face to face with ease to an adult who is not your partner or a host country national.
You can meet other women who know what you are going through and are ready to support you with information or just an open ear. A problem shared is a problem halved.
Participate in fun activities and events and opportunities to try new things in a new environment/culture.
Mums and tots groups are fantastic support for women with young children: you get out regularly, meet others and your children find playmates
Learn about your new environment quickly and effectively, you don’t have to create the wheel again and you get the benefit of improving your expat lifestyle and boosting your self-esteem.
Meeting women with other life perspectives and from different cultural backgrounds expands your own horizons and attitudes toward life’s trials and tribulations.
Taking on a role within the group, such as being a coordinator or on the board, can create opportunities to use skills from working days and enhance your knowledge base - all of which can add to value to your CV.
Food is usually involved somewhere – particularly where to buy home brands, where good restaurants are, the best shops for specialist items and pot-lucks and coffee mornings, meals out usually happen regularly. Food is a great way to share life and happiness.