Here are some ways to make the most of your experience as a “dependent spouse” in a foreign country.
by Sabera Kapasi
It’s taken a long time for me write this post. And a year and eight months ago, I never thought I’d find myself writing about a list of things one can do when on a dependent visa in the U.S.
For those who are unfamiliar, the dependent visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the U.S. to spouses and children of people who are in the country for further studies or full-time work. Spouses on dependent visas are not permitted to work, and thousands of men and women all over the world choose love over a career and migrate to the U.S. to join their other halves as dependent spouses.
A significant portion of these dependent spouses are highly educated and have previously held active, well-paying positions with organizations in their home country. What, then, does an educated husband or wife do with all the time at now on their hands?
The experience can be a daunting one. While being with your spouse and sharing a life with them is your ultimate intention, not having an active full-time vocation to utilize your brain cells is a handicapping and depressing feeling. Worst of all, it has a serious impact on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Do you fall into this category?
I did, too. And believe me, I don’t remember being in love with myself much back then. If you’ve recently moved to the U.S. or will be moving here soon on a dependent visa, this list will help point you in a few directions you can start focusing on. When I moved here, there was a dearth of well-written online resources on this issue, and I want to use this post to share what I’ve learned as a dependent spouse with you:
1. Familiarize yourself with the local transport system
Your spouse may have prepared you for learning to drive in the U.S. Driving here is different from most other countries, and it will be few months after you get here before you get a chance to take a driving test. In the meantime, figure out how the local transport system works. The earlier you learn how to be on your own, the faster you’ll assimilate to the culture and people.
2. Start volunteering as soon as you settle in
Volunteering for a not-for-profit organization, your local religious community or offering your skills for free (such as teaching English) is the quickest way to get out of the house, meet people and get a chance to actively observe people so that you can adapt to their communication style—a skill you will need to pick up quickly. Read my post on modifying your English accent here.
Volunteering is also a great way for you to use your professional skills in a different, really fulfilling context. Look for organizations that serve a cause you relate to, and talk to a volunteer coordinator about your professional experience. Most organizations will be more than happy to find something that suits you and interests you. Look at it this way: it’s their benefit to find you something you’ll like so you stick around longer to work for them. Some resources you can look to look for volunteer work:
- Idealist.org – This is a national bank of volunteer opportunities. Search by city.
- Your city’s website
3. Network with people in your profession or interest area
This point is an extension to volunteering. Being a dependent spouse doesn’t mean you have to abandon your professional development. Many professions have non-profit associations that function as a knowledge area for active and inactive professionals alike. Check with an organization that appeals to you and ask if they need volunteers. This is also a great way to pick up new skills and learn about your profession in a new country.
Volunteering with the Minnesota chapter of the American Marketing Association (MNAMA) has opened many doors for me. I learned about social media and interactive marketing, made some great friends who offer sound advice on learning opportunities, and I even used my network to find unpaid consulting projects that I learn tremendously from.
In the U.S. more than in any other country, it is incredibly easy to put on weight. Take advantage of local gyms, inexpensive community fitness centers and parks next to your home to take a walk and work out. More than the health benefits, exercising releases endorphins, which create a sense of contentment and happiness. And who doesn’t want some of that!
5. Take a course or learn something new
Always wanted to learn creative writing? Your hectic 15-hour work day never gave you time to learn French? Here’s your chance! Lots of community and state colleges offer short courses that help you learn about an interest area or offer courses that add to your professional skill set. (Again, a great way to meet other intelligent people and build your network.)
6. Learn to cook some new dishes
This may seem like a strange thing to add in this list, but with a single income, money may be tight, restricting spending on eating out. If you’re someone who enjoys food, learn how to make a few dishes you like. Trust me, your spouse will truly appreciate you for it.
I didn’t know how to cook when I moved to the U.S. What started out as a medium for me to learn how to cook and teach myself about web marketing is now this.
7. Hold your own and deal with it!
This may sound harsh, but it’s true. Don’t feel guilty when you have to spend on necessary items using your spouse’s credit card. (Dependent spouses cannot have their own credit card as they do not get a Social Security number.) And just because you don’t bring a paycheck home, don’t feel like you’re a lesser contributor to your marriage. While being “needed: in a corporate setting, rushing between meetings, dealing with difficult colleagues and bringing home a salary feels great, nothing feels more amazing than having the freedom to spend your day doing exactly what you want to do.
Here are some articles by some amazing women in similar situations whose sentiments I mirror:
- The Dependent Housewife
- Love and Expat Marriage: Finding your identity as a trailing spouse
These are some things that I have done, which have worked wonders for me. Are you in the same position? Do you know someone else who is? Add your success stories and tips here!