Three years ago, I got married and subsequently packed up my life in Manila and got on a plane to live in the land of the rising sun with my husband of one day. I was nervous. I was scared. But, my heart was full of excitement and my feet, ready for adventure. I was officially a trailing spouse.
The term “trailing spouse” is attributed to Mary Bralove who wrote an article for Wall Street Journal in 1981 about businesses adapting to the needs of expat personnel and finding professional positions for the trailing spouse. The phenomena of trailing spouses are often seen in diplomatic, military, government positions and in the private sector, too.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I use the term without any derogatory intent. The term has been under fire of late because it connotes mindlessness and submissiveness. It ignores the ridiculous amount of discussion that accompanied the decision to migrate to another country. People prefer using “Accompanying Spouse”, “Spouses Traveling and Relocating Successfully (aka STARS) or my favorite term “Overseas Filipino’s Wife”. Whatever the preferred name is, moving to a foreign place can be hard. I knew that I was leaving everything behind –my family and friends, my career and everything that meant something to me.
Sacrificing Professional Goals
Oftentimes, the trailing spouses give up their professional career (and financial independence!) to keep the family together. It was very clear right from the start that becoming an OFW family was not an option for us. We decided that giving up my work is the best choice.
Loss of Identity
It might be a little hard to accept the new role. The trailing spouse is labeled as just that—a spouse who is trailing along. While in a Nihongo language class, I was taken aback when the teacher referred to me as the 主婦 or “wife”. I am more than just a “wife”, aren’t I? However, the government only recognizes me as a dependent and spouse of a resident.
Language, culture, mobility barriers are just some of the issues a trailing spouse have to address. Expat packages usually arrange for classes, house help and drivers, and introduce the spouse/family to community. Local hires have to handle all these by themselves.
But, how do I prepare myself for the many challenges ahead? The inner geek inside me did what a geek would do—read up on other trailing spouses’ experiences. Here are some of the gems I found useful:
Bring one or a handful of mementos and nothing more. It can be photos, memorabilia from your trips, a favorite book, your kid’s favorite toy and blankie or something that reminds you of home. When you have moved houses and countries often enough, you will find it easier if you only bring the essentials. Things can be bought once you’ve settled in. Also, it allows you to reinvent yourself!
Settle in at your own pace. There is no need to rush into getting settled immediately. Take your time to research the best places for certain things—schools, restaurants, sports clubs, or parks.
Join community activities. It provides you opportunities to meet the people in the neighborhood, find out information you cannot get in any handbook and at the very least, enable you to enjoy activities with like-minded people. I met good friends by joining community language lessons.
Explore your new surroundings. You are in a whole new place— the food, the music, the culture are all new. Enjoy it with your family and new friends.
Stay connected. With technology’s help, everyone is just a swipe away from you. Call, send a text, or leave a video message! Live streaming, when appropriate, would let you join in the fun. Hopefully, it would make you feel less home sick. Missing your previous home isn’t all that bad, anyway.
Bloom where you are and enjoy your time away!