Home > Expat Life > Relocating > The dreaded question nr 3

Here is another very dreaded questions when you live abroad…


Moving to a new country is never easy. Apart from the whole question of mourning for the place you are leaving, there are hundreds of practical details you have to face, just when all you want to do is sit down and immerse yourself in memories, or spend time with friends you will soon have to leave behind.

Everyone is out of kilter: husband, children, dog, cat, even your friends and neighbours.

Everyone is projected into that moment in the future when you will no longer be a part of the familiar entourage of that place where you have spent so long, and I hope, where you have been happy.

One of the most helpful tips for moving from one country to another is to imagine yourself in your new destination, your new world, your new adventure. Unfortunately, however, although you know when you are leaving, you might have no idea where you will be going …

This may be due to your organizations’s disorganized HR department, simple negligence, red tape, a lack of suitable destinations for your family at that particular point…and so on. And at the time of writing, you can add the economic crisis which means that jobs are few and far between.

So there you are, packing up, comforting your kids who don’t want to leave, looking for a new job for your housekeeper, wading through the myriad forms you have to fill in…and someone comes along and asks Dreaded Question 3:

‘So, where are you going?’

Please don’t misunderstand me: the people ask you this are genuinely concerned for you. They are your friends, who want to know where to mentally place you in the future, because this will help their own grieving process.

Imagine yourself in this position. You are an expatriate woman. You are moving shortly, but you have no idea where you’re going. It’s a typical day.

  • You get up, make coffee, turn on your laptop, and find a friend online, someone who lives two countries away. The friend starts chatting.

So, where are you going?

‘We don’t know yet.’

‘Gulp…doesn’t that worry you a bit?’

  • You get ready, and leave the house. You meet a neighbor.

‘Oh there you are! How’s the packing? And where are you going?’

‘We don’t know yet.’

‘Wow! You’re so brave!’

  • Off you go to the petrol station, and the attendant, who has heard the news, greets you:

‘Good morning! So when are you off? And where are you going?

‘We don’t know yet.’

‘Well, as soon as you have news, let me know!’

  • At the supermarket, you run into a friend.

‘Hi! How are things? So do you know where you’re going next?

‘No, not yet…’

‘How on earth do you cope? What about the kids, what about organizing schools?’

  • You go home, empty the car, and lug the shopping into the kitchen, where you meet your housekeeper.

‘I haven’t asked you in a while, Madam…do you know where you’re going?

‘No, not yet.’

Silence. (The housekeeper knows you by now and understands that it’s best to shut up.)

  • The phone rings: it’s your friend who’s been away for work for a few days.

‘I’m back! Any news?

‘Not yet.’

‘What a saga!’

  • Your mum calls.

‘Hi! Any news?

‘Not yet, Mum. I told you, as soon as I know, I promise I’ll call’.

‘Well, I hope they make up their minds soon, because as soon as I know where you’re going I need to start planning my trip …’

  • You go to your kids’ school to pick up some papers, and a teacher stops you.

‘What a shame that you’re leaving us! Where are you going next?

‘We don’t know yet.’

‘Hmm, unsettling for the kids…’

I’ll stop here, even if it’s only early afternoon. You’ve got the picture. Every time Dreaded Question 3 is posed, it triggers an avalanche of emotions: how on earth can you cope, if you can’t project yourself into the future? And more importantly, how can your kids cope? You are overwhelmed by all the past, present and future moments of stress linked to this crazy expatriate life, and you wonder why you’ve landed yourself in it, even if, deep down inside, you’re happy with the choices you’ve made (and this reflection only irritates you all the more).

You realize you’re going to have to invent some sort of transitional limbo-land for the entire family, including pets and trunks. You begin to doubt your husband’s competence, and you are filled with a sense of inferiority and impotence. You feel the need to explain and justify the fact that you have no home in the world, and no one is interested in your explanations and justifications. You panic, because suddenly it looks like you’re going to have to answer ‘We don’t know yet’ till kingdom come.

I have sometimes reacted quite forcefully to Dreaded Question 3. I nearly leapt down a dear friend’s throat once, and there’s another friend I avoid like the plague because she seems more worried about my future than I am. I have asked family members not to ask, swearing on my children’s heads that they will be the first to know once I have news. I have asked friends to wait: I will raise the subject as soon as I know. I have even reached the point of taking on a mysterious air and answering ‘Top secret! I’m not saying anything till the contract is signed.’ I’ve even turned to superstition: ‘Don’t ask: it’s bad luck! I’ll let you know when everything is settled!

Friends: the very state of being an expat means you will end up somewhere. The period of incertitude, if you can get through it calmly and philosophically, can teach you a lot about yourself and about life. It would be a pity to wreck everything just because you are stressing about Dreaded Question 3. But you can’t expect the people close to you to be aware of all this. That’s partly why I wrote this article: copy the link, and when you’re about to move, but you don’t know where you’re going next, send it to everyone!

Happy moves to you all!


Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Translated from Italian by Paola Fornari
Image: Antonella Antonioni



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