How I became a Trailing Spouse in Singapore
It was November 2009 and I was waiting for my husband, Alastair in the foyer of The Royal Albert Hall, where we were due to attend a performance by Bart’s Choir. He was late, and then vague when we spoke on the phone, this was out of character and I remember feeling slightly bemused. He finally arrived, a bit green round the gills, and without any pre amble announced that his job in Reading was relocating to Aberdeen and he was being made redundant. We never saw the choir’s performance but I’m sure it was excellent.
Back home in Oxford, in a house that we were about to finish renovating after six years – yes SIX long years, we sat down to look at our options. We were both approaching our mid- forties and for me it was a watershed. Normally bouncy and enthusiastic, I was tired; stuck in a career that was once fulfilling but was now draining. To compound matters, we’d endured years of gruelling infertility treatment which hadn’t worked. All this intensified my longing for a change, almost any change!
Back to that first discussion, we looked at lots of options, encouraging each other to think expansively and use the fact that we didn’t have children as a springboard to consider more adventurous paths. Even so, never once did either of us voice the possibility of moving overseas, it was just too remote a possibility. Then there was the phone call that would change our lives.
Alastair is an engineer and four years previously had worked on a three month project in Singapore; leaving me freezing in a house with no back wall, just a flimsy internal door separating the kitchen from the garden. The colleague Alastair had worked with in Singapore had recently changed jobs and on a whim Alastair called him to let him know about his job situation. This phone call came at exactly the time when his ex-colleague’s new company had started their search for a candidate with precisely Alastair’s qualifications and experience. In the quest for a job serendipity is a wonderful thing. Within forty eight hours he had a job offer and a move to Singapore became a tantalizing possibility.
The hardest part by far was telling our families. My father was bewildered and distraught. He had left his home country to find a job because his options were limited. We, on the other hand were educated and therefore could find something in the country we lived in. Even now nine years later, thoughts of those conversations can still move me to tears.
Practically, the steps to making our move overseas a reality were straightforward. I resigned from my job, we collected the paperwork needed for our visas and we arranged for a friend to house sit. We pared down the essentials to what would fit into two suitcases. We liked the idea of travelling light as it made the move less momentous.
We sanded the last floor to complete the house renovation on 16, December, 2009. On the 3, January, 2010 Alastair moved Singapore and in March I joined him. Overnight my status had changed and I had unexpectedly morphed from being a working woman into being something I’d never heard of before, a ‘Trailing Spouse’.
That name, ‘Trailing Spouse’, my goodness what a loaded term! Sometimes it’s softened to ‘Accompanying Partner’ or ‘Trailing Talent’ but the premise is the same, i.e. someone (usually a woman but increasingly a man) who is relocating overseas because their partner has secured a job and they haven’t. It’s an interesting transition as you are propelled into a situation where you have no structure or network, plus you typically end up with a ‘dependent’ status. No matter what you did in your previous life, you are starting your new life stripped of this identity. The job of building a new reality, routine and structure sits squarely on your shoulders.
I can look back after nine years with the benefit of hindsight, and when I ask myself the question ‘Am I good at this ‘Trailing Spouse’ thing?’ The answer is, ‘it depends,’ there are good and not so good days. What I can tell you is that I’ve been energetic, and am actively involved in businesses, associations, groups, charities and communities. I love listening and speaking to all kinds of people. I’ve worked in not for profit organisations and in decidedly ‘for all the profit we can get’ companies. Heck, I even worked in Insurance.
I’ve also reached the stage where status and position have ceased to matter. I entertain a certain objectivity and how people make me and others feel is so much more important than what they ‘do.’ This I do know, living overseas, even if you hate it, will give you a different perspective. It’s not easy, it requires a significant adjustment and there will be times when you could scream with frustration. However, if you get a few lucky breaks and ask for help when you need it, you can have, the time of your life.
I’ve written this short habit guide, not because I am an expert, but because I hope to make life a little easier for those who find themselves in a similar position. These ten habits are not exhaustive but they are a useful starting point.
Whatever happens, I wish you all the very best and I fervently hope your overseas adventure is enjoyable and packed full of juicy opportunities!