It’s the new year and what that usually means for Jakarta, in the world of expats, is that many old friends have left the city to go onto their next assignment (or are sent home) and many new expats will arrive. I have already met so many new faces this year and have seen new families around my condo. One of the things that I really enjoy doing as an expat housewife is helping new fellow expat housewives to assimilate into Jakarta, and make sure they they too, love their time here as much as I do!
The most common questions that I’ve been asked by newbies are, “Why do I love living in Jakarta so much?” and “How have I achieved this level of happiness?” To help answer these questions, I am going to focus my posts on providing advice for new expat housewives into the city. Please bear in mind that this is my personal advice only, highly based on my own personality, preferences and experience.
I am going to focus this post on families that are similar to mine, where there is a working husband and a stay at home expat mother. My first form of advice for any new family moving to Jakarta is to choose the area that you live in very wisely. It can “make or break” your time here and will have a huge impact on whether or not you will be happy with living in Jakarta. Not sure where to live? Do your own research and don’t solely rely on your husband, his company’s relocation agent or his colleagues for advice (ie. post a question yourself on a forum, get in touch with someone through a friend who lives there. The main part is to ask the questions and research yourself and ask them from a mother and housewives perspective).
Jokingly, our family motto has always been,”Happy expat wife, happy expat life.” Even before having children when I was an expat housewife in California on our first assignment, this rule applied (we were lucky enough to be passed this crucial advice from a fellow, long term expat couple at my husband’s company.) Why is this our family motto? Because being the trailing spouse, following my husband from country to country to support his career, requires me to be happy and supportive of that decision. There is no room for resentment here. I am essentially the glue that holds the household and the whole expat experience together. If I am unhappy, my husband will feel the tension and in the long term, that is not healthy for our relationship, family or his career. We need to be on the same team and happily play together.
And so for this reason, we have always chosen a location to live in that is not necessarily the most convenient for my husband to commute to work however, it has been more suitable FOR US AS A COUPLE (the life we live outside of my husband’s job). We chose a location that we deemed healthy for our home life and social life, together as a couple. For us, our social and emotional health was more important than a short commute to work for my husband. I am extremely lucky to have a husband that has “taken it for the team” and has sacrificed his daily commute time so that we could live in an area that we regarded as where the action was. He did this to help keep us happy and sane as a family unit. As a couple without kids, we prioritized being close to the city (or downtown) where we had easy access to cafes, bars, bands, concerts and our other childless friends. Now, with a young family, our priority has shifted and to us, the action is now close to international schools, supermarkets, other families with similar backgrounds and interests; not necessarily where the latest nightclub is!
This is not a post about where to live in Jakarta. Each expat family and work commitments are so different and I don’t want to preempt where all expats should move to! Instead, I want to highlight some of the reasons why we chose to live where we live, in an area that is both convenient for me and our family, and not necessarily the easiest route to my husband’s office. I also wanted to highlight that we do not live next door to an international school, nor have we completely inconvenienced my husband’s career by our location. We have chosen an area that has a good balance for our family’s priorities, and that is a happy and livable daily life.
Firstly, my husband works very long hours and I am the one (along with our children) that occupies our home most of the time. Home for us is our nest and we do everything at home or near home (especially living in Jakarta where traffic bounds us to do so). For my husband on the other hand, he’s sometimes here for breakfast, dinner and bed; being so busy, he can be out for all of them! And his job requires him to travel all over Jakarta, so being right next to his office, isn’t always the most ideal location for him.
Another reason why we have chosen not to live directly next to my husband’s work is because it is logistically easier to move one person, my husband, around Jakarta, than to move myself and our children. My husband only has to co-ordinate his own movements around traffic and has many options to make his commute easier. He can set his car up as a portable office (and bed!) He can have a coffee, watch DVD’s, listen to music, tint the windows and travel up in style. If he doesn’t have access to a car, he can easily GoJek, Uber, taxi, train, bus, Tuk Tuk, or walk! Most of these options are not safe or efficient for a mother to navigate around the city in, especially with young children. It would be extremely frustrating if I had to travel through traffic daily with our children to simply take them to school, playdates, or doctor’s appointments etc. Don’t underestimate the depression and anxiety that can be caused by being inconvenienced by traffic, or the inability to easily access daily places that are required to run a household. This is even more so for an expat housewife, where the environment is new and these tiny frustrations can lead to massive emotional breakdowns (aka Expat Housewife Anxiety)! I think Jakarta would be a logistical nightmare and impossible to enjoy if my days were filled with me and my children being stuck in traffic all day long.
My final reason why we chose to live where we do is because as a stay at home mum, who is living in a foreign country, I have very limited support and outlet. My husband recognizes the challenges that I face as a trailing spouse and has helped to create a living situation that can comfort me. My situation can be extremely lonely, even more so because I am away from my home country. When things are not familiar and I am feeling homesick, I need to have EASY (this is a key word) access to a community that can help me get out of my expat funk. I need to be able to connect with other expat housewives and expat mothers to gain support from them. When I am feeling isolated, sad or confused, they are my lifeline. Yes, I certainly have wonderful non expat friends and have gained support from them, however sometimes, as a foreigner, I just need to hear the comfort of a familiar Australian accent. After a difficult day in Expat Land, I want to speak to someone who is an adult (that is not a part of my household help) and can relate to my expat issues. If I can’t make a human connection with someone from a community that I feel a part of, I would be digging a deeper hole into Expat Housewife Anxiety (and yes, there is a specific “Expat Housewife Anxiety” to be defined in a later post.)
Ultimately, what makes our stay in Jakarta a happy and wonderful experience? Managing my daily routine; prioritizing my (and my family’s) emotional health; being a part of a community and enjoying all of the positive aspects of this beautiful city.