A few weeks from now, I’ll pack my life in boxes to live overseas for the first time. I’m leaving with my husband carrying the role that I’m still slowly coming to terms with: a trailing spouse.
Although we have known of the move for five months now, the spiralling emotions take over as the pack-out date draws near.
I have moved houses and cities multiple times in my life, but this one feels all too new. There appears to be a million decisions to make about packing: what to bring and what to leave. And I can’t be exclusively practical, when in the process, I come face-to-face with my attachments.
It is almost metaphorical. What things of ours have a place in our new home and country? What parts of me am I leaving behind?
Since the announcement of our move came, my husband and I embraced the excitement of a new adventure. We feel truly fortunate that my educator husband will go from one excellent school to another, in a new role that he’s extremely eager about. Additionally, the transition is “easy” to an English-speaking, ultra-developed, zero-crime, and brimming-with-expats city.
The excitement has grown much bigger since our recent visit to our new home. It feels more real now—less of an idea and more a clock-is-ticking feeling.
I’ve done quite a lot of reading to mentally prepare myself for the transition, and it is comforting to read the experiences from many expat wives and trailing spouses. A unifying theme seems to be this: the loss of an expat wife’s self-identity.
Where my husband’s move is a natural progression in his career, working in the same field, I am entering a new country as a trailing spouse who is wholly committed to supporting my husband, and at the same time reluctant to let go of the success and identity I have also worked hard to attain.
But to what extent can I retain it? Many women write about losing their careers, friends, and the comforts of being right at home. And as I read about the well-researched reality of The Trailing Spouse Syndrome, I expand my view of the new life we’re about to make.
Many expat wives are confronted with the restrictions tagged to a spouse visa. Such a visa concedes successful professional track records, MBA or Ph.D degrees, and social equity to a life that may take you from a position of confidence and accomplishment to almost-anonymity, isolation, disorientation, and expat blues. Some expat wives supposedly cope glamorously with brunches and gin and tonics, creating a colorful stereotype that hides the struggles of women feeling “displaced.”
These challenges heighten my awareness and bring me to my toes. But I refuse to lose my internal locus of control when it is easy to. I am fighting to keep my sense of self. I insist on listening to my anticipation more than my anxieties.
I stayed up late talking to my husband about my questions: I’m excited to study for another master’s degree, but what else can I do? Do I completely give up my corporate life in a city where I can potentially thrive in my field? Do I conclusively turn my back on the career I built and start over with a passion I’ve long held at bay? Am I ready to completely leave behind an executive role to start from scratch as a teacher for international schools and align my path with my husband’s?
I am not the typical white expat wife; I am an Asian expat wife. Will I be treated any differently? (Related: My thoughts on That Asian Wife with a White Man)
Another question in my head is that I know my husband loves my independence and accomplishment; will he love me less if things change throughout the transition?
I find beginnings and possibilities thrilling. Adaptability is one of my skills, and I’m not new to dealing with difficulty. At any rate, our new home, Dubai, is an extremely lucky choice for any trailing spouse to live easily and find opportunities.
I suppose what is important now is to keep from hastily answering all my questions. Our lives are about to change, and the best approach is to positively power through all the changes with an open mind, a high degree of resilience, and not a little of my husband’s corny humor to get us by.
We must bloom wherever we’re planted.