Expat Book Review: Expat Women

REVIEW: Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth

Book coverThe term “confessions” can be a little misleading here. These “confessions” from expatriate women are really (often desperate) questions from women living abroad and facing the many problems that anyone, male or female, living in a foreign place can encounter. The 274 pages of Expat Women: Confessions offer practical, reassuring answers to 50 pleas for help from women living the expat life in various places all around the globe. These are real questions from real women living the life of an expatriate.

Based on advice posted at the ExpatWomen.com website and email responses to many women around the world, the book offers advice and encouragement for women dealing not only with the typical difficulties of culture shock, but also serious personal or family problems. Each of the two co-authors has many years of experience living and working abroad, and their advice reflects that.

The book’s basic, underlying message is “you are not alone.” The authors reassure expat women that they are not the only ones experiencing emotional turmoil and doubts. Never condescending, the authors offer solid, step-by-step suggestions for dealing with problems ranging from workplace difficulties to teens (or a spouse) who can’t seem to adjust to the expat life. But they also aren’t afraid to remind expat women that in the end they themselves are responsible for their own happiness. They remind us that sometimes we need to step back and gain some perspective on ourselves before we can solve certain expat and personal problems.

Although Confessions obviously targets women, as a man reading the book, I felt male expats could also learn a lot from it. They might gain a better understanding of how men and women think and interact differently (perhaps even better than by reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus!). More specifically, men can learn what women worry about before a move overseas – and after they’re living there.

If one is going to nitpick (and I am), the answers found in the book’s six chapters are sometimes repetitive, offering similar advice for different problems (professional counseling/therapy), similar pat answers (be patient, be positive) and similar pep talks. I suppose this comes with the territory to some extent, but more meticulous editing could have helped here.

At times Expat Women: Confessions reads like a Dear Abby column. Many of the questions have more to do with interpersonal relationships than a foreign culture. True, such problems do get a bit more complicated by living in a foreign culture, but infidelity, adopting children, money problems, empty nest syndrome, work-life balance, alcoholism, depression and retirement questions are certainly not unique to expats (or women). That is not to say they shouldn’t be discussed in a book for expat women, and hardly any topic is taboo in Confessions. Extramarital affairs, divorce, teen suicide, domestic violence and the death of a partner are all difficult enough without being compounded by living in a foreign culture.

For a few items, I felt the answers were inadequate. For instance, in the “Raising Bilingual Children” entry, the answer talks about why this is a good idea and ways to motivate your child to learn another language, but largely ignores the various methods that can be used by parents, especially for couples in which one partner speaks the target language. The scope of the question itself (Portuguese in Brazil) is a limiting factor, and the scope of Expat Women: Confessions does not allow for such in-depth answers. But the authors do include a bibliography and links to online resources that expats can use to get more comprehensive answers and detailed information.

For most of the questions in Confessions the answer can be boiled down to this (valid) formula: Do your research (and then some), develop a support network, learn the language (duh!), get off your rear end and explore (don’t become isolated), boost your self-confidence, and join or start an expat club (instructions included). Expats should also keep talking to their partner, ask for help when they need it, anticipate culture shock, and stay in touch with the home front. But the truth may be that the answers are not as important as the questions. Just knowing that others are asking such questions will serve as comfort to many a beleaguered expat woman. I recommend Expat Women: Confessions to anyone living abroad or contemplating such a move.