China Expat Spouse – a passion project

I want to give the people following their partners into an expatriation to China the chance to find their place, their purpose, and their passion with my new project China Expat Spouse.

The reason I want to offer information for expat spouses in China is that coming to this wonderful country alongside my husband was a very new experience for me. It made me look at the world differently, re-examine who I am as a person and what direction I want my life to take, and it made me grow.

For us, going to China would have been a little different than for most other couples. I imagine that in most cases, it’s the working spouse who comes home and says: “Honey, as my next career step, the company’s asking me to go to China for a while. Would you be okay with tagging along?”

For my husband and me, it was the opposite. I studied Chinese in college, got my translator’s degree in Chinese, English, and French. I lived with Chinese roommates for years and years and half my circle of friends back home was Chinese.

Therefore, I had always wanted to go live in China together with my husband. He had visited, but he had never lived there. Since he works for a global car manufacturer, I knew that an expatriate assignment for him would be easily feasible. And so I kept nudging. Kept asking: “China, how about China? Are there any available positions in China? Can we go to China at any point in time? I think going to China would be wonderful for us…”

So, eventually, we did. We came to live in Shenyang in the summer of 2014. And right away it was very clear to me that I wanted to be working because working was very much how I saw myself. The idea of staying at home horrified me, frankly.

One reason for this was that I did not want to have to introduce myself as: “Hello, I’m Julie, I’m an expat spouse.” From day one, I fought what I perceived as the stigma of that title. To be seen as someone who spends their partner’s hard-earned money, who is frivolous, does not work, spends their days at the salon or having mimosas with friends. So, I knew, I needed a task and a purpose.

I had the advantage of speaking Chinese, which made finding work easier than for many other expat partners. I couldn’t really let go of the work that I had been doing back home, though, so I kept doing that on the side. And the company I worked for in Shenyang put me on a project with another company as well. Which led to me doing three jobs. The result of which was that I worked myself into burnout.

Then, and after I felt like I had recovered, I started my own business in the travel industry. In January of 2020, of course, COVID hit. So I decided to change direction with my business, to pivot. And to change it to something that seemed a little more portable, that was location-independent. So that, no matter where we were, I would be able to continue working on it. This is why right now, I offer coaching. For all sorts of people really, but it turned out that most of my clients are the spouses of expats who have come to China. I often accompany my clients all the way to when they re-integrate in their home country upon their return.

The setbacks I went through – the burnout, the recovery phase after with many ups and downs, starting a business, losing a business, getting up and dusting myself off to start again – were blessings in disguise. They have taught me what I can do, how to learn from failures, mistakes, and adversity. They have shown me how to be kinder to myself, how to pay attention to my needs, and given me a better understanding of how to help others going through similar situations.

As a coach, I get to meet a bunch of amazing people. So, I have decided to start an interview series to show what amazing success stories there are amongst the expat spouse community in China.

I sometimes feel that as the wife or the husband of the working expat in the relationship, we tend to get a bad rap. Or maybe it’s just that there are certain assumptions about how we spend our time. And I find that more often than not, expat partners don’t fit the mold that the expat community at large want to put them in.

For me, being an expat spouse in China was not the first time I went abroad, not by a long shot, but it was the first time that I went abroad tagging along. You might have heard of the expression ‘trailing spouse’ (which I don’t like much, by the way, but that is a different story). When coming to China, I felt for the first time like I was trailing behind my partner. Like I was an appendage, like I didn’t get to call the shots. Therefore, at least in part, I do what I do to reclaim the term expat spouse. I want to turn it on its head. I want all the partners who follow along to China to see that this is an opportunity for growth, both personally and professionally (if they decide to make it so).

I want spouses to become aware that they can develop in whichever direction they choose. And I want all of us to step into our power, and to turn this into the best decision we ever made.

Because we get to be who we want to be. To me, the best advice for anyone who’s preparing to go to China as the spouse of someone who will be working there, is to be as open as possible. To be excited about this wonderful, crazy, ever-changing country. And to spend the time in China as the amazing opportunity it is.

To inspire others to do so, I will be posting a series of interviews on this platform. My interview subjects are expat spouses who live in different parts of China, who come from different countries, and who were willing to share their stories with me.

There will be stay-at-home parents, there will be people who are part of the working population, some who started a business. Some will tell you about how they use their time in China to learn Chinese, discover the culture, and travel around. There will be tales of volunteer projects started or run. You will read stories of people following the love of their life all the way to the Middle Kingdom. And you will get to know people who have gone through amazing personal transformations during their time as a China Expat Spouse.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interviews as much as I did listening to my subjects.

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