Florence Reisch, her husband and children have lived geographically apart for 7 years. We talk about the difference it made for her to prepare, what it was like for them. Living this life comes with expected and unexpected challenges and silver linings and we cover those too.
Florence Reisch is also known as ‘coachingwiththeflo’. She is a fellow Swiss who has lived around the world for 25 years. She is the author of the book ‘Expat Wife, Happy Life’, a book about expatriation, which is now in multiple languages, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, and French is in the making. Quite a feat! She tells us a little about her book. Go buy the book to find out more!
In This Episode:
- How the book came about (01:33).
- The message in Florence’s book (03:54).
- Challenges are normal and you can have an amazing life once you feel more confident (07:20).
- The importance of personal work and investing in your relationship (09:50).
- Effective communication (11:37).
- Joining communities of similar interests (13:30).
- ‘Don’t take a decision until you are in that situation? Reconsidering her opinion on split location and taking a decision that is best for everyone (16:24).
- “Never assume an employee will not take the split location. Let people make their own decision” (19:23).
- The importance of preparing for split location (21:21).
- The help offered by the company and organising your own help (27:25)
- The unexpected (33:33)
- Silver linings (37:38)
Welcome to Holding the Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with travelling partners!
My name is Rhoda Bangerter. I'm a certified coach and the author of the book ‘Holding the Fort Abroad’. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have traveling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience. I also invite experts to apply their expertise to this topic.
Today, my guest is Florence Reisch, also known as Coaching with the Flo. She's a fellow Swiss who has lived around the world for 25 years. She's the author of the book ‘Expat Wife Happy Life’, a book about expatriation. It's now in multiple languages. Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and French is in the making. It's quite a feat.
She will tell us a little bit about the book, but it will be more like a teaser. Go buy the book to find out more. And here is something you might not know about her. Florence, her husband and children have lived seven years in split location. We'll be talking about the difference it made for her to prepare, what it was like for them as a family and individually. Living this life comes with expected and unexpected challenges and silver linings. And we'll cover those too.
So Florence, welcome!Florence Reisch:
Thank you, Rhoda. And thank you for letting me talk about my passion life in Expatriation. So I'm really happy to be here with you today.Rhoda Bangerter:
Thank you so much. And I'm looking forward to hearing your insights, your experience. You told me that you wrote Expat Wife, Happy Life in like -- was it twelve weeks?Florence Reisch:
Yes, correct. It was in twelve weeks.Rhoda Bangerter:
It was a book that was waiting to be written. Right? It was in you.Florence Reisch:
Well, actually, I never thought I would write a book. The thing is, it was the end of the COVID and suddenly everybody was very busy at home. My husband was back home, but he has his schedule, his work. My kids were at home as well, but no more after school activities, nor nothing. So suddenly I had time for myself and I was missing the connection with all the expat woman that I was usually meeting, because I'm an expat coach as well.
And I realized, okay, how can I connect with all those women outside? And that's how the idea of writing a book or it was more like spending the message, the message that I had in myself for so long and I thought, okay, how can I do that? And I thought about a podcast, I thought about a blog, and it's at the end, it's the book that came out. But I had never wrote a book before. English is not my first language. French is my first language. But I thought, okay, English is the common language. Let's go with English, and let's write a book in English.Rhoda Bangerter:
And then you promptly translated it to all these different languages.Florence Reisch:
Actually, that came later, a year after, when I realized that people like to read in their mother tongue. They don't really like to read in English, although the book is really easy. And I decided to write it in English because I really wanted to focus on the message much more than on the form. And if I would have written directly in French, I would spend so much on how to say it and is it the correct way, is it the correct term? And I think I would have lost myself in the process. And I'm not even sure that the book would have been out yet. For me, writing the book in English was easier. I had one way of saying it. And so the book is very easy to read. So if you want to read it in English, you will see it's a very easy English.Rhoda Bangerter:
So for someone who's not a native English speaker, as in who didn't grow up speaking English, then it's written by someone who didn't grow up speaking English at home.Florence Reisch:
Is that what you're saying? So it's kind of…Florence Reisch:
Yes, I'm saying that and also because the exercise of writing this book is very different than writing a novel or a biography. It's very different. There is a message, a message that is really focused to people in transition, expat woman, future or actual expat woman.Rhoda Bangerter:
And then people can then read it in their own language, which might be their emotional language.Florence Reisch:
Yeah. So I read the book. It's a real mixture of your own life story, but it really is an encouragement to other people. It's not just a memoir or a book. Your stories are there to illustrate a point. But it's really a book that I found where you're encouraging people to go for it, to enjoy the process. Yes, there are difficulties, but to be open, to be receiving the experience. What was your main message? Because there's lots of different bits in it that are very interesting. But I thought that was probably that's what came through to me as I read it.Florence Reisch:
Actually, I think, first of all, I really wanted to share how much I love this life. For me, it's more than 25 years now, but I really liked every bit of it, and I really wanted people to benefit of my life experiences, so that's why I wanted to share it. I would have loved to read a book like this at the beginning or anytime actually in my expat life experience. Because the thing is, when you decide to go on expatriation, people around you will say, wow, you're so lucky. It's such an amazing life. And you'll be under a palm tree and you will see, I mean, you'll relax.
But actually, this is not the reality. When you first arrived, you can see that you have many challenges that come up to you, and then you think, okay, so I am the one that's not normal, and is it difficult only for me? And no, it's not difficult only for you. It's difficult for everyone. And this is the message I really wanted to share, is that we as expats, we all go through all those challenges, and it's totally normal that you have those challenges coming up to you.
So I really wanted to normalize the situation with this book and to give some tips, some helpful ways that maybe worked for me, worked for others, what I could observe, what I could see. All the challenges like loneliness, dissociation with your family, bringing up your kids in different countries, the culture, the languages, I mean, you name it, all those subjects I wanted to talk about and so normalizing it and see how you can go over them and really have an amazing life. Once you feel more confident, when you know what to do, where to go, who to meet.
So this is really the book I really wanted to share. And it's a very positive book because it's an amazing life. So if you have the right attitude and the right mindset, your life will be really amazing.Rhoda Bangerter:
Did you know when you set off the first time? Did you know it was going to be 25 years?Florence Reisch:
I don't think I even thought about it when I really left. I left because I was so in love with the man who shared with me that he will be an expat. And he was just appointed to go to Africa and started this life. I didn't think about it. And then when we started, I loved it so much already. The first posting, then I thought, okay, let's go for the second and the third. And then that was our life. It became our life. And to the day, we still expats.Rhoda Bangerter:
So where do you think you got all these, this framework, this mindset? Where do you think you got it from? Is it something that you just have naturally? Or did you have to work at it? Or do you have to remind yourself or how does it work?Florence Reisch:
I think it's a mix of everything you just mentioned. I think, yes, I'm a positive person. I love challenges. I left with the right person. Together we really fit. And then I think I worked a lot on myself and on our relationship. Definitely we worked a lot on that because we really wanted to make it work.
So communication is really an important subject that you have to work on. I believe, and this is what I also want to say right now, the way I'm doing things, it's not the only correct way, but this is really the way that worked for me, that's what I wanted to share, that we all come with a personal background, perspectives, education and everything. So there is no one way to do things. It's really according to your personality and situation.Rhoda Bangerter:
And then finding ways within that, within our personality, within our relationship. Is that right?Florence Reisch:
Yes, absolutely.Rhoda Bangerter:
So when you say communication, I'm always curious because what does it mean? Did you do anything specific to work, say, for example, on your relationship or on yourself? Or is it about kind of having the conversation and sticking with the topic and keeping talking about it?Florence Reisch:
When I talk, communication is really effective communication, I would say, is that you really discuss regularly with your husband or with your partner about how you feel, your concerns, your ideas and through the journey, you really update, I would say, on changes and developments in your lives, about who you're becoming, what you're expecting.
It's really a question. It's listening to each other and it's a very big respect that you have for each other. You for your husband to understand how he grows in his job and in his career, but him on the other side to see how you grow on as being the partner. And maybe you left everything behind you, your career, your family. So for him also to understand all your feelings and how you're coping with those situation, how you're coping with your kids, how you're coping with the languages, your integration in the country, what you need to grow better. This is what I'm talking about in communication.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. You say it in the book, right? You're writing to wives, but not only to wives, right? Even though it's still the big majority is wives or the accompanying spouses. You also say in the book, like it's also for any partner who's the accompanying partner.Florence Reisch:
Yes, absolutely. Because nowadays it's more and more women who are getting expatriate and men maybe that are following. Lately I've been meeting a lot of women who are the one who are expats. And I remember I met a lot of men who were at schools and everything more at schools because then you have a lot of communities which are more organized for women. And I have to say, not including so many men, but I think I don't know because I'm a woman.
But I'm sure that men who are expatriate have exactly the same communities. For men, maybe it's more organized around sports or around their own businesses or their own interest, actually, because when you're an expat and you're joining different communities, usually you're joining communities that have a common interest, I mean, an interest that you have as well.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah, I think it can be more lonely for men, but then I interviewed very early on one of my first episodes, I interviewed a dad who was accompanying his wife and I said to him, what would you say? And he said, don't be afraid of the children and make friends with men and women. And so he's created his own network. I don't think he would say he's lonely for sure not.Florence Reisch:
Yeah. The essence of that is creating your network. It's going to people that are like minded and people that you're going to share interest with time and enjoying yourself and doing things that are making you happy. I mean, men or woman, as an expat, this is what you're really looking for. Also the other thing which is interesting is sometimes people are both I mean, you know that people can meet in the same company and sometimes one is expat and the other one is not. He's just the partner.
And what's interesting is that you can also decide that after a certain amount of years or I don't know, after one assignment, then you can decide, okay, the next assignment is the woman who's going to be the expert and the man who's going to following. So this is also something you can discuss before leaving. When you're starting to think about making an experience of expatiation, you can think about those things. If I'm leaving everything, maybe next time you're leaving everything behind and we just inverse the situations.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah, exactly. Something that you mention a little bit in the book is this time that you've lived in split location and you've done seven years and so when I heard that I was like, well wow, I want to hear about this. So can you tell us a little bit more about for example, I think you said yeah, when we talked before recording this, that you'd always said you wouldn't do it.Florence Reisch:
Yeah, actually what's interesting is I think the biggest lesson I got out of this situation is never make a decision before the situation happens to you. Because when the situation comes to you, suddenly all the perspectives are changing and it's very interesting. Yes. So before moving to this split situation family, which means that we are going to be geographically separated, I thought, okay, expatriation is really being together as a family wherever you go.
And when the situation came up to us, suddenly I realized, okay, maybe actually it's so important for my husband, I have to reconsider my thoughts and this is what happened and what I did. And that's how we finally decided that we're going to do it.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. Because it was a situation where you couldn't join as a family. Right? He had to go on his own. It was a non-family posting.Florence Reisch:
Actually, I think you can go anywhere in the world with your husband, but then you have to consider the family as well. So the destination was Pakistan, the kids were a bit older and the company recommended us to find another place to live. We decided to go to Dubai, which was not so far away, where, I mean, for him, the commuting would be short, the schools were perfect for the kids, and I had some friends in Dubai already. So for us, in the difficult situation, it was also a good compromise for me.Rhoda Bangerter:
And time zones. Right?Florence Reisch:
Time zones, exactly. In those situation, you try to think about everyone, what's going to be best for everyone. But what is interesting is the situation came up. My husband was really far away. He was back at the headquarters when they suggested the situation to him. And what's really interesting, and I want to mention that for the people who are maybe on the other side, like I heard this last week, it was someone saying, no, I'm not going to suggest this posting split family to our employee because he has a young child and he will never leave his family and live abroad.
Then I realize and I say, oh, that's interesting. Who is he to assume that they won't do that? And you see, if the person would have not asked us this situation because they would have assumed that we would not have done that, because we were claiming that we will never do that, we would have missed something in our life that at the end, worked out perfectly.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah, that is a huge point you're making. That is a huge point you're making.Florence Reisch:
Never assume what other people would decide. Let people make their own decision. Because when it came to me and to my husband, we found a solution to make it happen and work.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. And I think what you said early as well, to look and see how it can work for the whole family. So you were in a place where you had a beginning of a network and you felt like you could make it work. Your children were in a situation where it was going to work for them with the schooling and everything. And then your husband was in a situation where it was something that he wanted in terms of career, it was the right thing for him to do.
So it wasn't like saying, oh, I'm going to sacrifice myself, and it was going to be horrible. But you go, it was like, how can we make this work so that everybody in the family feels like they're at least in a situation where they can make it work. I think that's also important.Florence Reisch:
But to get there, you need to prepare.Rhoda Bangerter:
And this is also very important because obviously when my husband came back to me and said, they offered me Pakistan, but I said no, because I know you don't want the family to be splitted. And then I said, oh, that's interesting, let's talk about it. And then I asked him, but what would be your incentive to go there? And then when he told me, then I thought, okay, let's think about it 24 hours, because this is more or less the time you have to make a decision and when you expect it's, 24 hours. So I thought, okay, let me think about it.
And I thought about it, and I said, you see, he had so much respect to me to say, no, let's have respect to him and consider. And then that's when we talked, we consider, and then we made the decision. And I say, okay, let's do it. Let's try it. If it doesn't work, you come back, but let's try it.
Yeah. From the moment I decided, okay, let's do it, I had to prepare myself because he's already on the other side. Okay, I have the job. It's a project. He's projecting himself already onto the other side. But now me, at this moment, I'm a bit behind. I'm like, okay, how I'm going to be ready for this situation?Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. So what kind of thing did you look at? Did you look at, what am I worried about? Let's put things in place about that. Or did you look at certain elements of your life? Or what did you do?Florence Reisch:
So at this moment, everything was a bit confused in my mind. I didn't really know what to look for. So that's when I discovered coaching and what was coaching. And I thought, okay, I will work with someone. And the objective was to be ready six months later to be totally free for my kids. Free. When I say free, it's my mind would really be there for my kids, who will need me so much at the beginning of this process. And I thought, okay, I have to fix my mind and be aligned with myself, with my values and everything by then.Rhoda Bangerter:
So I knew I had six months to get ready, and I used those six months to work with the coach, to feel good, and as I'm saying, feel ready.Rhoda Bangerter:
So what kind of questions did she ask you? Did she ask you, like, what you wanted out of that time? What kind of things did you work on?Florence Reisch:
Self-confidence. Really much self-confidence, self-esteem. Just feeling aligned with the decision.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yes. So being confident that you can do it, feeling confident that it's the right decision?Florence Reisch:
That I can do it for myself, for my kids, as a relationship, it was really to understand my feelings, my thoughts, how I would approach the situation. It was talking about all the advantages, the risks, the consequences, and that's everything we worked on. And once I really felt confident and I really felt aligned, it took me a while. And then when I came in September with both my kids, I could be really present for them.Rhoda Bangerter:
And you reckon that made all the difference?Florence Reisch:
Yes, I believe so. No more confusion. Feelings were balanced. And again, that's what worked for me. Other people would do differently. But I know my character. I need to get organized. I need to be in a situation where I feel calm, organized, everything is clear to me.Rhoda Bangerter:
I think this is such an important step though, because if something hard happens or you're in a situation where you're tired and then you start to question your decision, then you could sink into a hole and kind of struggle much more than if you come back and go, no, it's okay, I'm aligned. We decided this. I know why we decided this. We have good reasons. We're doing this for a reason.
I think that is crucial for the time apart. And I think for anybody who hasn't done that and who is in split location right now and maybe struggling with alignment and values, it's still worth going back.
And revisiting the decision, making the values, spending that time doing essentially what you did before, but it's still worth doing even if you're in it at the moment.Florence Reisch:
Yes. I really think to get organized and have a structure planned and really outline your responsibilities and your expectations for both you and your partner really reduce the stress and the confusion.Rhoda Bangerter:
And you had a structure around you, right? You had help or you put all of that in place as well?Florence Reisch:
Well, you have two different helps. You have the help that comes with the company when you're in a big company. So obviously that helps a lot. And I was very grateful everywhere to that. And then you have the help that you're putting in place for yourself and your family. But this is something that you have to organize by yourself because you know what are your needs.
And again, when I talk about needs, it's also something that you have to identify before leaving in expatiation in general or in a new assignment or in a state family, you have to know exactly what you need to be happy and you and your family, again, your loved ones. So when you have kids, for example, is also to be sure that the curriculum that the schools are offering are the one that you want for your kids. You have many things to consider because if you go to a destination and you're frustrated with things, it's going to be an additional challenge, which you don't want.
So what I'm saying there is you always have a choice. If you decide that expatiation is not for you, it's okay, but make the decision before because otherwise it's going to be complicated for you, a big cost for your company as well, and then it can put your career in danger, I mean, your husband's career in danger as well. You will tell me, no, we don't always have a choice. Think about it. Think about it because there is maybe a way that you can still have a choice somehow, somewhere.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. You've lived accompanying and you've lived non-accompanying. Did you find the needs different or bigger by not accompanying?Florence Reisch:
I was still accompanying without being accompanied. The biggest thing is I always felt very accompanied by my husband. He was always putting me and his family as a priority.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. And you felt that?Florence Reisch:
Always. But this is also the reason why I accepted the challenge, because I knew that he will be there even if he's not physically present, he will be there always in all the decision that we're making, that was our deal. So, for example, every night, for example, we had dinner still the four together. He was on the computer FaceTime, and he was there with us. So we knew that 07:00 for us, 09:00 for him. We were going to be together the time of the dinner. So it was usually 45 minutes. And we were talking about everything, what happened during the day.
So my husband was always in the loop. He was always part of the decision. He was always part he could see his kids, the kids could share everything with him. So you have dinners where, I mean, it's full of life and we have many discussions and everything. And some days, nothing to say because nothing really happened, or it's just a normal conversation. Same way that you would have at home, the four together, if you live together.
So this is also the efforts, because you need to do a lots of efforts. But that was the efforts that the compromise that we were doing. Being together was a compromise for my husband, it was a compromise for the kids, for me. But that was a set time. Nothing could disturb that.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. And so emotionally, he felt very present. It was like even though he wasn't there physically, you guys found ways that worked for your family.Florence Reisch:
For his presence to be there.Florence Reisch:
And for him to be engaged with the family.Florence Reisch:
I think that's beautiful. I think that's beautiful. So did you have anything unexpected happened?Florence Reisch:
Unexpected is worth the seven years. Yeah, actually.Rhoda Bangerter:
Right. And that is a good point, too, because this is a big part of expat life as well as split location life, is that you think you're committing to something and then it turns into something else.Florence Reisch:
Absolutely. So, anyway, I think everything you think is going to happen never happens. Okay? We thought split family will never happen. It happened. We thought it's going to be three years. It turned out to be seven years. Of course, if you would have told me at the beginning it's going to be seven years, I mean no, we would have said yes. That's for sure.Rhoda Bangerter:
So what happened is, after three years, so he was managing Pakistan, and then after three years, the company asked him, do you want to take India? Obviously, for him, it was super interesting. He loved the region and he knew exactly how everything was working. The challenge was huge because at the time, India was not in a very good state. We discussed it as well.
But then he said, okay, but then the family stays in Dubai, because if we would have been in any other country, the family would have been moved to India. The situation in India for the family in term of security school and everything is better than Pakistan. And many families are expats in India. And honestly, I met so many that love their time in India. So it was something that could have been totally feasible.Rhoda Bangerter:
But we were so organized, and we had our structure. Kids were happy at school, they had their friends, and we said, okay, no, let's stay in Dubai and you continue with India. But then the situation also changed. It's when my husband found the situation much too hard for him, and he was missing family much more than I won't say we were missing him, but our life was going on. It was amazing.Rhoda Bangerter:
But there was more of you too, right? I mean, you're together.Florence Reisch:
Exactly. But then it was difficult for him to be so far away from the family. So now it has been seven years, and now he's thinking of changing the situation. He really needs to come back home.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. During all that time, how did the children live it? Did they feel like you've said it, they didn't feel like they had an absent father at all?Florence Reisch:
Well, Alex, my husband, really made everything possible to come back every weekend, more or less. So he was very present still with the kids. I don't think the kids but this is a question, obviously, that we should ask them today and also in ten years’ time, because it's always with reflection that your real feelings are coming out. But for now, I think they were okay with the situation. Yes. They never complained. They never complained. I think they understood. They liked their life. No, I think they were okay with the situation.Rhoda Bangerter:
And I think they probably saw you guys aligned.Florence Reisch:
That's the main thing. I think if they see your parents happy and if you see your parents that are aligned, as you just said, with the situation and everything for them, they go with the flow.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yes. So any silver linings, any surprising, like something good that you might not have necessarily thought of?Florence Reisch:
Well, I think that the good thing at the end is also for the kids to see that their mother were strong. I became a real model to them. I really had a real place in this situation. They could see, okay, Mommy could do that. Mommy could become strong. Mommy can go over challenges. I think they didn't see me anymore as a couple only, but as an individual, she's a problem solver. When something happens, she's strong.Rhoda Bangerter:
They saw you develop as well as a person.Florence Reisch:
Absolutely. And I think if you ask me what I could see positively, for me, I think this is a big thing. I could. See for me is being also very valorized by my children and by my husband. And for me, it was amazing to see that everybody really trusted me. Also, I received so much trust from my husband because he said, okay, I can go away and you can take care of the whole situation which gave me confidence to build myself and to again be strong there for my kids. So my role took another.Rhoda Bangerter:
Dimension. Absolutely. Which is amazing, actually. Even by saying it, I realized, yeah, that's true. That's really what happens.Rhoda Bangerter:
And I think it's important for women to be valorized in their role because as we all know, being a mother, it's never paid, I mean…Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. Sometimes you're taken for granted.Florence Reisch:
It's not remunerated. But, sometimes it's nice to see and to be valorized from a different perspective as well.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah. I hope that this is really encouraging to anyone who's listening, who's in the middle, maybe, of living this experience, that their role is valued, that their partner wouldn't be able to do what they're doing if they weren't sort of, as I say, holding the fort, but also seeing that other families take the same decisions, that it's possible to live it, to live it well, to prepare, to build in confidence, to grow as a person.
And so I think again, it aligns with your book, Florence. It's again showing that when you prepare, when you get support, when you are open to developing as a person, then these things can happen. Is there anything else you wanted to say to families or to someone in this situation at the moment before we wrap up?Florence Reisch:
Well, I think it's really believing in yourself. You can do it. Believe in yourself and it's totally fine. It's even a strength to ask for help. It's not a weakness because first of all, you will talk loud, and by talking loud, you will really see what are your needs and also who you really are.
So I think it's really important to share. It can be with friends and families, but I would really go for professionals when you need some help because go in a place where there is no judgment and this is really important. That's where you can really be yourself.
Yeah. And I really hope that everything I talked and said really inspired motivate and energize your audience. And please come back to me anytime. First, through the book and also through my website, you can get in touch with me.Rhoda Bangerter:
Yeah, I'll put the link in the show notes, so it's www.coachingwiththeflow.com. Yeah, great. I'll put it all on the website. And you're open for coaching clients?Florence Reisch:
Yes, absolutely. And I will do also mastermind classes for expats. So this will be also very nice. It's more as a discussion through, I mean, among different expats. So it's really an exchange of inputs, advices, et cetera. Okay, but come to me and I'll share everything with you.Rhoda Bangerter:
Super. Thank you. So much, Florence, thank you so much.Florence Reisch:
Thank you, Rhoda. It was really a pleasure.Rhoda Bangerter:
Bye. I hope that you found this episode encouraging and that maybe you found ideas to apply in your own situation. Please leave me a review of what you found helpful, what you would like to hear about, and any other comments you would like to leave. This helps other people find this podcast, and it also gives me feedback, so it's very helpful.
Thank you very much, and until next time!
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.