I never thought that moving abroad would result in gaining more friends than I had before I left. I thought my journey as an expat would be lonely and that I would struggle to find like-minded people. Instead, I have met many soul mates and genuine connections from various backgrounds and cultures. When I became an expat, I became a part of a dynamic network that would grow even stronger and larger when I had a baby.
As an expatriate mother in Indonesia, my life support system is my fellow expatriate mothers. I connect with these women through WhatsApp messaging, Facebook and social meetings. The most surprising part of this friendship is that they do not necessarily live in Indonesia and I haven’t met most of them face to face, and probably never will. And yet, these women are behind me, and will undoubtedly cheer for me, offering round the clock support, 24/7, no matter where I am in the world. Wow!
The value of this global community cannot be overstated. Although most husbands are the expats with the careers bringing their families into new countries, it’s the mothers who will influence where and how her family will live when they get there. Women are, by nature, very open and sharing. When you bring lonely mothers into this mix, especially those who are away from family and are living abroad, the vulnerability fuels this innate trait of ours to gather and over-share everything. Intimate details, long stories of struggles and joys. Questions and fears… we are all sharing our innermost thoughts daily, and shaping critical decisions for our families – big decisions such as which condos to rent, which schools to enrol with, where to shop and which doctors to see. It will even influence social welfare and lifestyle choices.
I have been an expat for seven years and three countries now. With my knowledge and experience of expatriating into new destinations, I am a true believer in this network and its strength. Before my move to Jakarta, I had already tapped into the power of this network as a member of a Singaporean mothers’ Facebook group called “Stork’s Nest Singapore,” which has over 10,000 members. By simply introducing myself, I made connections that would serve a lifetime of purposes. When it was time to leave to my next posting at Jakarta, I used my existing network of friends and social networking to discover a similar Facebook support group called “Jakarta Moms Support Group.” This was the only tool I needed for my move and a new group of 1,000 women were within my reach. I moved virtually into Jakarta before I moved physically.
Through this single connection, women who sympathised and understood my fear of moving to Jakarta welcomed me and made me feel at ease. They understood my anxieties and offered me advice on how to maximise my new life here. They detailed the safest way to bathe my newborn with clean, filtered water. They reassured me that I could readily purchase the specific lactose-free formula for my colic baby and gave me advice on what critical items to ship across. An international move with young children is so stressful, but knowing that there were other mothers out there who understood my fears made the move much less daunting.
These networks reach further than online and exist all over if you are willing to get yourself out there. I found solace through friends I made at the ANZA and BWA welcoming coffees. Connecting to associations within your new country is essential for your well-being. They are a great place for new expats because everyone there is looking for a new friend or has someone they can introduce you to. They also organise regular social events that you can attend without actually knowing anyone.
What I’ve learned is that these networks are a loneliness buster. As an expat mother, I need the support of someone who understands my unique struggles. Yes, I have friends and families back at home who can definitely answer my questions on how to soothe a teething baby or how to overcome my sleep deprivation problems. However, due to the time difference and lifestyle variations between my hometown and my current city, these support networks are not enough. I need to have a “posse” that shares my struggles and lives through my frustrations, every day. Only my expatriate mother’s network will understand the feeling of being stuck at home because of the traffic. Or not having a car for the day because my husband has taken it for his important meeting. And then the sheer agony of rushing a sick child to a hospital in a taxi where the driver doesn’t understand me, only to meet a doctor who seems to be practicing medicine taught from a Dummies Guide handbook, and a hospital that doesn’t have the critical medication prescribed. In the middle of these situations, I can quickly text my “Yummy Mummies Jakarta” WhatsApp chat and have a handful of women offering help on what to do next. A friend will send her driver to pick me up. A woman whom I haven’t even met yet will send me the medication that I need and another mother will offer to have my other children over to her place for dinner while I’m away.
And so, with each international move, and fellow expats moving abroad, this network grows. I now continue daily chats with women in other expat locations and forums, migrating our network across the globe. As a member of this powerful network, I love nothing more than sharing its ability to reach out and help another expat mama in need. I know that no matter where I move to next, these women will also be there for me and will continue to help me on my next adventure abroad. I too, will be there, extending a helping hand to others in need.