The shoestring expat

Volunteers working for organizations like VSO, ICCO or PeaceCorps typically go through a training course before they’re sent abroad, get guidance in their country of placement and get another training course after they return to their home country.
Likewise, expats working for the usual suspects, the Shells, Unilevers, P&Gs, etc., not only get trainings and guidance, they also get shitloads of relocation money to remain comfortable while adjusting to their new surroundings, partner benefits, free housing and whatnot.

We’ve been in South Africa for 18 months. No adjustment training, no partner benefits, no cultural guidance, no compensating financial benefits. In one day, I’ll be back home, six days later, I’ll be in Thailand on my next project. Meanwhile, compensation is, compared to local standards, good, but, compared to what big shot expats earn, peanuts, the most typical example of this discrepancy probably being my work in Afghanistan.
Indeed, this style of life, though living/working as expats, feels more like traveling on a shoestring budget. Meanwhile, it also can’t, specifically, be compared to, say, Aussies working to stay abroad, or northern European teenage beauties working as bar maids in sunny Spain, in short, people working for an extending vacation.
Therefore, I would like to introduce the term shoestring expat. In relation to expats, Wikipedia mentions:

In dealing with expatriates, an international company reckons the value of them and has experienced staff to deal with them. Furthermore, a company often has a company wide policy and coaching system and includes the spouses at an earlier stage in the decision making process by giving them an official say in this. Not many companies provide any compensation for loss of income of spouses. They often do provide benefits and assistance. The level of support differs, ranging from offering a job-hunting course for spouses at the new location to full service partner support structures, run by volunteering spouses supported by the organisation.

So, with the above in mind, I would like to suggest the following definition of a shoestring expat:

A shoestring expat works for an international company that reckons the value of them but provides no experienced staff to deal with them. There is no company wide policy, no coaching system and the spouses are not included in any stage of the decision making process, providing no benefits or assistance for the spouses.


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My last day in Jo’burg was much more emotional than I expected. Every end is a new beginning, you win some, you lose some, but here, I felt that I was losing more than I was going to win. 18 months is a long time. Betsy and I have really attained a ‘native’ foothold, with (good!) local friends, local activities and local likes and gripes while, now, we’ll have to see when (if?) we’ll ever be back to try and pick up where we left off.
I was also sad to have to say goodbye to Spoek, our neighbor’s sweet, completely white, very playful and young cat. Twice, on my last day, did she run up to me, almost begging to be petted, when I was outside, dropping of garbage or whatnot.

And in Budapest

Going to places I haven’t been in ten years and to places I’ve never been before.

And a cute little Hungarian chicky offering ‘Francia’ (not the language, I misunderstood at first) for ‘three’ because her baba was ‘rossz’.

No pictures

Strangely enough, when I unpacked my things at my mother’s place in Delft, the memory card from my camera, together with some 350 pictures I’d shot over the previous two days, had disappeared.