Book Review: A Broad Abroad

Book Review:
“A Broad Abroad: The Expat Wife’s Guide to Successful Living Abroad” – Robin Pascoe

This book is targeted towards expatriate women from Western and/or developed countries whose husbands take long-term assignments overseas, and the family accompanies. It has a larger focus on diplomatic/high business-level spouses – about 1/3 of the people I moved, during my stint in relocation. Most of the people I helped relocate were not high-level businessmen or women, but mechanics, pilots, engineers, and so on. It was infrequent to be bouncing directors around, and I only once moved a Treasurer of a company (I mean “Treasurer/CFO” level). Many more people are becoming expatriates with host country wages – educators (whether like us, at a private school, or an ESL teacher who gets lodging covered but eats at the school cafe), consultants, mid-level businesspeople.

Aside from the fairly heavy targeting for the audience, it’s not a bad book. Much of it is irrelevant for me, and I have a feeling for other expat wives in a position similar to my own: we’re not remotely in a place where you throw dinner parties, attend cocktail parties, or have to fuss about traffic, what to wear to the next dinner party, or what to do with the children.

The leaps and bounds in international relocation support systems (including the hiring of a company to do it!) have changed an aspect of the adjustment experience, particularly for spouses. In addition, a plethora of books on cultures, culture shock and adjustment, and living as expatriates (including this one) have allowed possible expats to get a leg up on learning about their assignment. For people who won’t have that support system in place, however, this book has a number of useful tips and tricks to help you get situated. I’d recommend it as a borrow-from-library, however; one good read is all you would need.

The advice on dealing with a maid is invaluable (and Adam and I still do not have an ayah – unless I’m working, there’s no reason, or money) since it can be a complex labyrinth of expectations and customs. Some of the suggestions on how to get out and participate in the community, advice on setting boundaries and finding ways to occupy yourself, are also useful. I can’t comment on the sections regarding childcare, as that’s something irrelevant for us right now.

The book does, however, clearly assume you will be in a metropolitan area (Bangkok, Beijing, Dubai) and that the income will be on “home country” scale. There’s simply no way Adam and I could *afford* an ayah, with only him working, on this local salary. End of discussion. Other suggestions by the author such as eating out/ordering out in restaurants once or twice weekly is equally not viable for similar reasons; spending half a day in a beauty parlour, private retreats to spas, etc. … They all function on an assumed increased income, which is not the case for an increasing number of accompanying expatriate spouses.

An increasing number of expats are coming over independently or through jobs which don’t offer a support network or are looking for assistance in areas which require an individual willing to either be the only foreigner around, or one of many — in a small local community. More people are after the expatriate lifestyle, or seeking it as a method to acquire experience (look at some of the EFL posting websites!) rather than as a position their current stable employer offers.

Conclusion: Worth a borrow from the library, or a copy shared out amongst curious expat-wife friends. I’ve recommended the Woodstock library get  copy, but I don’t think this is one that every expat wife needs to have in her own personal reference library.

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