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Portable Roots

Voices of Expatriate Wives


Enid Gordon and Morwenna Jones

The women in this book are modern counterparts of the traditional 'trailing spouses' who, with their children at their skirts and their worldly goods in tow, followed their husbands wherever fate, or work, took them. They are women who have, in the familiar phrase, to 'pay, pack and follow' when their husbands' jobs send them abroad, whether it is to the headquarters of an international organization, to a branch of a multi-national or on an overseas posting in the diplomatic or armed services.
To these women - for many of whom constant relocation becomes a way of life - a move to a foreign country brings a disruption of continuity, parting from family and friends, and, for some, the interruption or curtailing of their own careers. They must learn to adapt to new cultures, build a new support structure, make friendships quickly and sever ties with serenity, live with a sense of impermanence and rely above all on their own inner resources. Under such conditions they must, in fact, create for themselves and their families a set of 'portable' roots.
How do expatriate wives feel about their situation? How do they learn to cope with transience and disruption? What weaknesses, what qualities and abilities are revealed by the realtiy of their experience abroad? How do they reconcile their state of dependence on their husbands with the tenets that have been upheld by women in the last twenty-five years? What do they think can be done by their husbands' employers to improve the situation of expatriate wives and children? These and many other questions form the subject of this book.
The two authors - both of whom worked in publishing before their husbands' jobs took them abroad - now live in Brussels, which, of all European cities, is the best example of the dramatic growth of international living. It has proved the perfect base for a study which examines, through the experience of the woman concerned, a modern social phenomenon, that of professional international mobility.
Contents: Three Women - Start of a Journey - Voices in the Evening - Moving Figures in a Moving Landscape.