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Navigating Life Abroad – Building A Resilient Social Network As A Global Family

Written by: Judit Végh, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

As part of a global community, embarking on a fresh start in a new location can feel overwhelming. Finding your way around, establishing a new home for your family and adapting to different cultures and climates can be demanding. One of the biggest challenges faced by global families, especially trailing spouses, is building a new social network from scratch. But what exactly contributes to building a successful support system? What are the essential elements that help you construct a reliable social safety net, enhancing your experience in your new home?

Earth against happy friends in the park lying in circle

Addressing these questions, our research, published in the Journal of Global Mobility, provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by trailing spouses and global families when adjusting to life in a new location. In this article, we not only explore these challenges but also delve into the key components for establishing a thriving and dependable network that enriches your journey and eases the transition into your new community.


As a member of the academic research team and a trailing spouse myself, I had the unique opportunity to delve into these experiences. Our comprehensive investigation focused on the quantity and quality of relationships, uncovering the crucial role played by a resilient social support system in facilitating your successful adaptation. By identifying the key contributors that significantly influence your adjustment, we aim to provide practical guidance. In the following sections, we will examine each of these pivotal factors closely, empowering you with valuable insights on how to establish and nurture a resilient social network, regardless of your geographical location.


As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, more families choose to relocate to new countries. Whether driven by a spirit of adventure, career opportunities, or a desire for change, the decision to move brings a mix of excitement and apprehension. However, for trailing spouses and their global families, adapting to life in a foreign land presents unique challenges. Trailing spouses often put their own careers on hold to support their partners' professional aspirations, and establishing a sense of belonging and cultivating a robust support network can prove to be an uphill battle. The significance of a social network in fostering a joyful and thriving global family life cannot be overstated. It encompasses maintaining connections with extended family and long-time friends while also nurturing new friendships. Nevertheless, it is not just the quantity of relationships that matters; the quality of these connections is equally crucial.


Our research findings emphasise the significance of prioritising quality time with important relationships for your successful adjustment as a trailing spouse. By dedicating time to fostering meaningful connections, you can establish a strong social support system that enhances your overall well-being. Furthermore, engaging in hobbies and exploring new interests in your host country can serve as a catalyst for building a fresh circle of friends and providing vital social support when relocating. Additionally, our research highlights the significant role of transgenerational connections in establishing a resilient social safety net that nurtures family well-being in your new home.


With this foundation in place, let us embark on a more detailed exploration, offering practical strategies and guidance for effectively creating and sustaining a robust social network as a trailing spouse or global family. Drawing from our extensive research and working closely with trailing spouses and global families, we have identified four key elements that are pivotal in establishing and maintaining a healthy and supportive social network in a new location. These elements are invaluable as you navigate your unique global journey.


Key 1: Cultivating Deep Connections – Moving from Acquaintances to Lifelong Friends


In your journey as a trailing spouse or global family embarking on a new adventure in a different location, establishing a strong social support network becomes paramount for a successful adaptation. But what does it truly mean to forge profound connections? While initial introductions serve as a natural starting point, lasting connections are nurtured by going beyond surface-level interactions and engaging in personal encounters. This entails actively seeking opportunities to meet, share experiences, and engage in meaningful conversations with others who may be going through similar life stages, facing similar challenges, or undergoing similar transitions.


The first level of connection involves the initial step of meeting new people and establishing a basic rapport. This can be accomplished by attending local events, joining clubs or organisations, getting involved in school activities or reaching out to other global families and neighbours.


Moving to the second level of connection, it's about sharing experiences and interests with others. This could mean participating in activities together or simply spending time getting to know one another better.


Finally, the third level of connection encompasses deeper conversations and a greater sense of emotional intimacy. This level of relationship often involves discussing more personal topics and sharing vulnerabilities with one another. As these connections deepen, they can provide a profound sense of belonging and community, even resembling a second family.


For trailing spouses and their families, who may encounter unique challenges while living far away from home, cultivating strong social connections becomes particularly crucial. These connections serve as a support system during times of stress or uncertainty, offering a sense of belonging and purpose in the new environment.


Self-Reflection on Building Lasting Connections:

  • Reflect on your preferred methods for meeting new people in a new country. Are there specific places or activities that have been successful for you in forming connections?

  • Consider the friendships you have cultivated that feel like a second family. How did these relationships begin? How do you actively maintain and nurture these connections over time?

Key 2: Emphasizing Self-Care and Nurturing Meaningful Relationships


When embarking on the journey of building a social support network, it is essential to take into account personal resources, such as time and energy. Deliberately allocating time to relationships that genuinely offer support and meaning becomes imperative, as these connections are more likely to endure and provide long-term assistance. Moreover, prioritising self-care as a fundamental aspect of overall well-being is equally important.


Taking regular time for yourself through activities like exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies can help recharge and rejuvenate, making it easier to engage in social interactions with others. Hobbies can serve as a means to manage stress, improve mood, and foster a positive attitude that naturally attracts like-minded individuals.


Mindfully allocating time and energy towards these relationships can lead to a sense of fulfilment and provide long-term support throughout life's challenges. This includes not only forming close friendships but also nurturing deep and meaningful connections established in other host countries or in your home country. Fostering supportive relationships requires intentionality and investing time in building connections with individuals who share similar values, interests, and goals.


This may involve being selective in choosing whom to spend time with and focusing on relationships built on trust, mutual respect, and shared interests. By consciously nurturing such relationships, you can create a solid foundation of support that will be there during times of need. This support network acts as a safety net, providing comfort and stability during the ups and downs of global life.


Self-Reflection on Prioritizing Self-Care and Meaningful Connections:

  • Take a moment to assess how you currently allocate your time and energy in maintaining relationships. Are there any adjustments you can make to prioritise connections that genuinely offer support and meaning?

  • Reflect on the ways in which you prioritise self-care in your daily life. How do you recharge and ensure your own well-being? How can you integrate activities that contribute to both self-care and meaningful connections?

Key 3: Preserving Transgenerational Bonds – Linking the Past to the Future


Forging connections across distances and nurturing relationships with extended family and multiple generations holds immense potential in developing a strong social support network. These connections not only provide care and support but also play a crucial role in preserving family memories and traditions, which hold special significance, especially for your children. By valuing and nurturing these relationships, you establish a sense of continuity and belonging as you navigate your new location.


While maintaining these relationships can be challenging, particularly when living far away from extended family members, it is vital to prioritise them. Engaging yourself and your children in this process, even when physically separated, holds great importance. By fostering these connections, you help your children develop a strong sense of belonging to their heritage, which in turn fosters a solid sense of identity. Moreover, these transgenerational connections serve as a source of support during difficult times, such as crises or homesickness.


Maintaining these connections requires effort and effective communication. Regularly staying in touch with extended family members, even through virtual means, helps sustain these relationships over time. Additionally, incorporating family traditions into your lives in your new location allows you to stay connected to your roots, offering a sense of comfort and familiarity. Furthermore, maintaining connections with extended family members can offer much-needed support and reassurance, especially during challenging times such as the pandemic. By placing emphasis on these transgenerational connections, you build a more resilient social support network that enables you to thrive in your new home.


Self-Reflection on Preserving Transgenerational Connections:

  • Consider the ways in which you currently maintain connections with extended family members. How frequently do you and your children communicate with them, and through what means?

  • Reflect on the impact these transgenerational connections have on your sense of identity and belonging. How can you further nurture and strengthen these relationships, even when living far away from your extended family?

  • How do you actively incorporate specific family traditions into your daily and yearly routines?

Key 4: Unleashing the Potential of Professional Support and Intercultural Training


In addition to the three key factors previously discussed, seeking professional support can greatly enhance the process of building a strong social support network. Intercultural training, in particular, offers practical knowledge and valuable resources to aid in establishing new friendships and navigating cultural differences. Programs that provide training on social network resources and effective methods for forging new relationships can boost your confidence in connecting with others, ultimately transforming your new location into a place that truly feels like home and ensuring a happy and well-adjusted global family.


By recognising and understanding the unique challenges that trailing spouses and global families face and identifying the key factors that can support them, personalised programs can contribute to making your transition to life abroad smoother and more fulfilling.


At Intercultural Life, we specialise in providing comprehensive intercultural training that places emphasis on the importance of relationships. Our training equips individuals and global families with practical information and knowledge about maintaining extended family relationships and friendships, empowering them to navigate the complexities of a global lifestyle with confidence.


Self-Reflection on the Role of Professional Support and Intercultural Training:

  • Evaluate your current utilisation of professional support and intercultural training. Are there any additional resources or programs you could explore to enhance your ability to build and maintain a strong social network?

  • Consider the potential benefits of seeking professional guidance in navigating cultural differences and establishing meaningful relationships in your new location. How might this support contribute to your overall well-being and integration?

Conclusion: Creating a Resilient Social Network for a Joyful Global Life


In conclusion, cultivating a robust social support network is paramount for trailing spouses and their families when navigating a new location. It is a combination of both the quantity and quality of connections that contribute to your overall support and creates a safety net in your global journey. By placing emphasis on relationships, consciously allocating your precious resources such as time and energy, and valuing transgenerational connections, while also seeking professional support, you can establish a resilient social network that empowers you to overcome the challenges of living abroad. In doing so, you can ensure a fulfilling and joyful global life experience for yourselves and your family.


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Judit Végh, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Intercultural Psychologist & Global Family Consultant Judit Végh, Founder of Intercultural Life, is a recognized expert in Intercultural Psychology. With a focus on global family life, acculturation, relationship dynamics, change management, and career planning in global family settings, Judit brings over a decade of knowledge and expertise to her work. Her personal experiences have driven her passion for supporting transnational families and providing exceptional support to her clients.


Judit's experience also includes a decade in HR and ongoing work as a career education consultant for an edtech startup. This diverse background has given her a unique perspective on global family life and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by transnational families.

She is also a PhD candidate in Psychology, having conducted extensive research on global family life published in high-ranking journals such as Thunder Business Review and Journal of Global Mobility. Judit is co-founder and board member of SIETAR Southeast Asia, a society for intercultural education, training, and research, and a member of several international professional organisations, including the Asian Association of Social Psychology, International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, Hungarian Psychological Association, Mobile Professionals and Families, Families in Global Transition, and World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence. Her expertise and dedication to her work have made her a regular presenter at scientific conferences.

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