March 2015 Stay or Go?

Or Every Expats Dilemma!



Garden International School Susan Walter (GIS) Expatriate Lifestyle

Stay or Go?

Like many people who decide to work abroad, when I accepted the job in KL we thought it was just a decision about career opportunity, sunshine, and expanding horizons for Tas. It was only recently when we went through the “stay or go” decision that we realised I’d actually engaged us in something much, much, bigger. A complete life change to a parallel universe and guest worker culture. The world of the expat, where the decision wasn’t actually to stay or go, but rather, in the words of my “Trophy Husband” (he didn’t like the term Trailing Spouse so rebranded himself!), what kind of expat you want to be, a Drifter or a Decider?

My Trophy Husband describes a Drifter as someone who through experience, attitude, or both, knows that the world is not only full of opportunity but is actually getting smaller. Drifters know that something will come up when the time is right, or the warning signs of nostalgia and negativity will start flashing, and alert them to the fact that they need to become Deciders or be decided upon.

He describes a Decider, as someone who also believes in a shrinking world, one which is brimming with opportunities, but has seen time flash by and knows that all opportunities are not made equal. Deciders particularly dislike being decided upon.

We were clearly Deciders so making our decision initially looked straightforward and was focused on my career and Tas’s move to secondary school next year. After two years as a Deputy Head in KL, the opportunities for a Headship in London were clear and everyone knows the best time for kids to move to senior school is right at the start. Sorted. Back to London. Then Trophy (!) raised one of the questions he likes to pose usually when I am relaxing by the pool or just about to go to the gym:

“Why leave Asia when the approach to education in International Schools here is so far ahead of London?”

“What, you mean go to Thailand, Vietnam, or something?!”

“Or Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong. Even China. If it’s about career development.”

“I like my school!”  Tas chirped up from his playroom. “And I’d be going up to secondary school with all my friends, and I’d know my way around…” 

and we had to start all over again, without the assumption that “go” meant back to London.

Initially, I felt deflated. But once Tas and Trophy got to work on me I started not only to think of all the career development benefits of staying in dynamic Asia, but also the life experiences, culture, food and travel opportunities available. We’d hardly scratched the surface. Perhaps we could now go sailing in the Maldives, Indonesia, Philippines, or even back to the Whitsundays… Australia, New Zealand. Yes. We could visit all our friends there too. What was I thinking going back to London after only two years?

Then just as I was about to start looking for Headships elsewhere in Asia, Trophy went and threw another spanner in the works. He suggested we all write down those things about being an expat in Asia which were outside our comfort zones, for if they could be engaged, that was where our greatest learning opportunities and personal development would be found. I love learning, and have been reading a lot recently about how the brain learns, and discovered that being outside our comfort zones enhances everything about it. It seems Trophy has been reading too.

Looking at our list, I realised how little we actually really know about being expats, never mind our host continent, and that, however much we feel at home after 18 months here, we were still way out of our comfort zones in KL, never mind the rest of Asia. Staying in KL would therefore mean we would be learning at a faster rate than if we returned to London, and the more I thought about this, the more I came to see that staying was a great option with only one drawback, it was a Drifter option!

So forcing myself back to Decider I made it simple, two key questions, career development and Tas’ move to senior school.

  • Was my immediate next step a Headship or some more time working with the fantastic team where I am?
  • Would Tas get more opportunity in the new chapter of his educational life by changing buildings or changing country?

The answer was clear, my next step will be towards a Headship… when the time is right.

Garden International School Susan Walter (GIS) Expatriate Lifestyle

Stay or Go?