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*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

Your spouse just been offered an exciting new job overseas and you, as the trailing spouse, have found yourself considering your options. What will you do to fill in your time away? If you can't work, either due to visa or other employment restrictions, you should consider the benefits of studying.

Study will do a number of things. It will give you a reason to get up in the morning. Making the change from your home country can be difficult and many people fall by the wayside. They miss their friends and family. They miss the familiarity of their previous lifestyle and they become annoyed by new changes to the ways things are done in their new country. Moreover, in some places chores or responsibilities may be assumed by a range of domestic staff. You may be left with a great deal of time on your hand. It is incredibly easy to let this opportunity slip through your fingers and for you to leave your posting with nothing to show for the time spent overseas other than some great memories.

Studying will stimulate your mind. It will make you think about things in a new manner and prompt you to think about complicated or difficult issues. It keeps your mind active.

What else does it do? It keeps you from having a gap on your CV and ensures that when (or if) you do return to your home country, you have something credible on your CV rather than an empty space.

Before you enrol you need to consider a few things:

  1. The costs. Education may be more expensive overseas. Consider the possibility of negotiating for at least some of the expenses to be included in the prime income earners employment contract.
  2. The duration. Starting a degree or course and then moving before completion may not be worth the effort. Check that you can transfer or continue your course if you move to another country mid-way through your studies. For example, you may be able to take credits from one university to another without jeopardising what you have already done. Alternatively, if you are there for a short period of time only, then it may be more worthwhile to simply do shorter and more manageable courses.
  3. The language. Don't forget than many other places may not teach or instruct in your native language. If this is the case, language study may be the best option available to you - as well as improving your integration into your new country.
  4. Technology. Advances in computing and technology mean that obtaining data and information is far easier now than it was in the past. A computer and a modem means that you can access articles, reports and information from all over the world from the comfort of your home without needing to trek to libraries and campuses.
  5. Additional charges Many universities in other countries will allow you to borrow books although they may charge you a lending fee. In some cases this can be quite high depending on the demand for the books and the availability of this information. In Hong Kong I was able to borrow from University libraries provided I supplied a letter detailing my enrolments status at another institution. The costs were quite high but it was worth it to gain access to an academic learning facility.
  6. Studying from your home country. If study in your host country is unfeasible then enrolling in your home country and studying long distance may be an option. This has the benefit of allowing you to converse and contact students and others in your own language but it can be isolating. Take advantage of the Internet. There are a wealth of support groups/newsrooms and chat-groups that will allow you to talk and discuss issues with other who are also studying. During the course of a recent overseas posting I enrolled in a degree in my home country. Because I was very isolated from the academic community, I made contact with a website that was designed to help students compete their dissertations. I found myself emailing a like minded group of women - all studying different subjects from different institutions all over the world. We emailed each other weekly to report on our goals, advise of progress and generally keep each other motivated. And the best thing was that we all learnt something new - my field is political finance and the other women were studying subjects as diverse as coyotes, the economic history of women and problems with long term drug users. Totally different areas yet we were all struggling with similar issues of perseverance, tenacity, and motivation.

Amanda O has been an expatriate most of her life and can't imagine living any other way.

HSBC Bank International has a range of tools on their web-site (www.offshore.hsbc.com) that are worth checking out. These range from country guides (www.offshore.hsbc.com/hsbc/main/living-working-abroad/country-guides) which can help with background information on a variety of destinations to an expenses calculator www.offshore.hsbc.com/hsbc/main/living-working-abroad for you to calculate your monthly living expenses

Posted 06Apr05