My Story: Moving abroad as a family

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I’d like to think that I used to live a nomadic life when I was growing up. My father worked for the government as a diplomat. My mother had a short stint in the workforce during her early adult life, but she had to leave her job to follow my father as we moved to one country, back to Malaysia and then to another.

I think it is fair for me to say that I am used to a life of moving about. When I married my husband in 2009, our life was about commuting and travelling for work. Within a few years, we moved from one state to another in Malaysia, and our last city was Kuala Lumpur.

Three kids and thirteen years later, somehow, I was not surprised when my husband told me he had an opportunity to work abroad. We welcomed the offer with open arms, but in retrospect, it took some time for us to decide. Perhaps we would have said yes in a heartbeat if we were younger. But at our age, uprooting our family and leaving behind our ageing parents and extended family was not exactly the first thing on our minds.

It was exciting, nevertheless. Moving abroad meant a new opportunity to start afresh and expand our horizons. A chance for our children to experience a better education and expose themselves to the diversity and wonders the world has to offer.

And so, in December 2021, our journey began.

Preparing for the big move

Source: Unsplash

The most obvious thing to do when preparing for a family relocation abroad is the logistics. Are we selling the house? What about the cars? How much stuff do we bring? How about school? Where do we start?

Amidst preparing for the logistics, we almost forgot about the mental preparation involved. The kids received the news with just a lukewarm reaction – I think it was a sign that the change was uncomfortable for them. I knew that as parents, we needed to help them get ready.

Saying goodbye to our home in Malaysia
  • Preparing our younger kids

We started to learn about the new city (in our case, Doha, Qatar) and invited our kids to learn more about the country. For example, where their new home is located on the map, and how will we get there? We also watched many YouTube videos about Qatar to give them some idea about the country and its people.

It worked pretty effortlessly with my two younger children. So, we kept the momentum by keeping the conversation and adding more topics like school, the weather, fun things to do and what they could look forward to in the new country.

  • Talking to our tween

Source: Unsplash

It was a bit tricky with my older daughter, though. Being a tween (she is turning 12 this year), it was a lot more uncomfortable for her – especially due to the thought of leaving her friends and grandparents, and her safe space that was our current home. I spent some time having conversations with her and helped her understand that she would get to create her own safe space in our new home. We also talked about potential schools, and what she could look forward to.

We also made it a point to involve her in our conversations with the younger children. Even though she did not seem as excited as her younger brothers, she was paying attention. Bit by bit, I saw her grow more receptive to the idea.

My children were mentally and physically ready on the day of our move. They helped with the packing, understood the journey and looked forward to the experience. They enjoyed the plane ride (and cooperated!) and were ready to absorb all the new things ahead.

Our journey to Doha

Staying on the same page

My husband had to move to Doha first to report for duty, leaving us behind for three months, while he settled at the new company and city. Meanwhile, I had to do solo parenting, which came with challenges.

There were days when I was utterly exhausted from housekeeping, packing and managing house chores and children. We had video calls to keep in touch daily, and I am keeping it real here: Arguments were bound to happen. Again, in retrospect, the pressures of moving away from a home country were real, and it did wear my husband and me down.

What helped was the open communication with my husband, setting expectations and being clear of each other’s tasks regarding the move. We continuously reminded ourselves that we were both dealing with a new thing – he was adjusting to a new place and being homesick, while I was overwhelmed with juggling stuff on my own.

The lonely “trailing spouse”

The first month in Doha was the most challenging for me as a wife and mother. I was used to doing things on my own, at any time, and I could drive to run errands. I had friends to chat with over coffee anytime, and I had easy access to the earnings I made working from home.

My husband had to work as usual, while I was stuck at home with three bored children. Back in Malaysia, I was able to bring them out and do plenty of activities, but being in a new country, it was not happening immediately. I missed my family and friends that I could meet on a whim if I were back in Malaysia. Being a people person, I did have a few bouts of feeling lonely, as I yearned for the social connections I used to have.

I knew that it was not healthy. I was aware of how bad it was making me feel and decided to take action. Determined not to let the “trailing spouse syndrome” consume me, I spoke about it to my husband and started to find new connections. The reality is that life as an expat spouse does not have to be lonely. I realised that, just like how I deal with other things, it would be what I am telling it to be.

Over Facebook, I connected with a women’s expat group, where I learned so much about the city. I even found an excellent writer’s club, and a very supportive Malaysian community through my neighbours. There’s plenty that I can do – be it on my own, or with my family. All I needed was to be open to it, and to give myself that chance.

Staying optimistic for the future ahead

Hari Raya Aidilfitri at a new home and country

It’s only been (almost) three months since we settled in this beautiful new country. Granted, there’s still so much to learn from the people and this experience. My children are not yet in school, and I believe my life will become even more interesting once they do!

Moving abroad is one of the most significant decisions we have made so far. It’s exciting and scary all at once, and it’s challenging and rewarding at the same time. It’s a constant navigation of ups and downs, but I believe with the right frame of mind, it can be an experience of a lifetime for any family who decides to pursue the same path.


by Ayuni Ayatillah

Ayuni is a freelance writer and mother of three bubbly children. She enjoys listening to people and writing about their stories, hoping to spread inspirational vibes whenever she can. When not writing, she’s busy running the household, watercolouring or writing in her journal.

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