From Indonesia to Switzerland: One Trailing Spouse’s Experience

23 February 2021
Syifa’s expat journey has taken her from Indonesia to Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and family. In our Q&A today, she shines a light on the life of a trailing spouse, sharing her top tips for making friends, learning a language and settling into a new home abroad.
Hi! My Name is Syifa. I’m from Indonesia and I currently live in Zurich, Switzerland. I am here as a trailing spouse, accompanying my husband who is studying and working in Zurich. I have been living in Zurich for 3 years. Besides managing our household and finances, I also attend German language school and create content for my personal blog and YouTube channel (@syifa_in_switzerland on Instagram).
As a trailing spouse, my husband and I work together as a team. My husband works outside our home and earns money, and I work from our home managing our finances, maintaining our house, and providing emotional support. I think traditional expat life is understood to be more solitary, but more adventurous. There are advantages and disadvantages to both lifestyles!
  • Learn the language and try to join a language school as soon as you arrive. This is really important, especially if you move to a non-English speaking country. When we initially arrived, I was completely lost in translation for our first year! As we settled in during our second year, I began attending language school and I felt much more confident in day-to-day life. While I started understanding the language, attending language school gave me something to look forward to and helped me make some new friends.
  • Check out the resources available to you in your community. I visited our local town hall and community centre to gather information on the support available to me. I had no idea that Zurich had programs dedicated to helping trailing spouses! While it can vary from country to country, I felt very lucky. I was even able to take part in a free German conversation course through KulturLegi. 
  • If you are also a non-working trailing spouse, it can be difficult to build a new social circle. I’d recommend reaching out to both your own national country’s community and your new international community. If you’re an introverted person (as I am!), the easiest way to reach them is through social media. I found lots of interesting expat stories and advice from different groups and forums, like Facebook groups aimed at Indonesian people in Switzerland and international mothers abroad.
  • When I reflect on my life as a trailing spouse, I remember how lonely and isolated I felt in the beginning. It was only after our second year in Switzerland that I began to feel better. I found that discovering my own passions and staying busy really helped. Through photography and blogging I found what I loved, and it made me feel much more grounded. I’d recommend all other trailing spouses to do the same – take some time and reflect on what you like to do and really pursue that in your new life abroad!

Surviving and succeeding as an expat is not an easy task – and that goes for trailing spouses too! A lot of time, thought, and hard work goes into excelling at this life.

I knew that I wanted to see my husband be successful in his career and I felt that moving abroad with him as support would be the best decision for our family. My husband can progress his career, while I support him and help with the other parts of our life.

On the other hand, I also wanted to be independent and have something of my own outside of being a trailing spouse. I thought about trying to work myself, but I have found it can be difficult to begin a new career here. With little experience and English or German not being my first language, I questioned myself – am I capable enough for working life here?

Life as a trailing spouse challenged me to be more creative and think outside of the box. When I found content creation, I felt that it was something that I was capable of pursuing while here in Switzerland. Life as an expat helped me find my true passions.

Deciding to become a trailing spouse can be a tough decision to make. I am still learning every day! You should consider your own options before becoming a trailing spouse. Do you want to work while you are abroad? Do you have other passions you can pursue? Are you comfortable spending time alone if you decide not to work? It all depends on what works for you and your family!

I’ve experienced some tough times on my three-and-a-half-year journey as a trailing spouse. I have found that not being financially independent, losing my sense of identity and feeling lonely are some of the most difficult aspects.

As a shy person in a new country with a language barrier, I felt very isolated. I had no connections here when I arrived, and it left me feeling very anxious. While my husband works and I manage our finances, it can be stressful trying to organise life in a country that is quite expensive.

With that said, there are still plenty of enjoyable aspects of being a trailing spouse.

When my partner succeeds in his career, I feel extremely proud. I know that my support and help at home is a part of that ー I feel his success is my success!

Being abroad is the second-best part of being a trailing spouse. I can travel and explore the world. With plenty of free time on my hands, I can accompany my husband on work trips and it's always so exciting to discover a new part of the world. Not everyone has this opportunity at a young age, so I am very grateful.

While you may not think it, being expats together and my being a trailing spouse has really strengthened the relationship of my husband and I. Moving abroad is no easy feat and we only had each other to rely on in the beginning. We work together as a team, supporting each other on our endeavours. I imagine other expat couples have experienced the same growth in their own relationships.

One of my main recommendations when moving abroad would be to prepare. When we decided we were moving to Switzerland, I did not prepare that much. I was very laid back and decided to just go with the flow. If I could turn back time, I would spend a lot more time learning the language and I would prepare more seriously. I think if I had, my first few months here would have been a lot easier.

Always look on the bright side! It’s not always easy to stay positive, but it does improve your mental health. Try not to compare yourself to other trailing spouses or your friends back home. Stay focused on you and your family.

Syifa has a great outlook on the expat experience, embracing the opportunities and managing the challenges, while finding joy in everyday moments. If you’d like to learn more about living abroad, we have a dedicated support centre on our website, with useful tips, expert guides and real life stories to help you on your journey through expat life.