First a clarification. Technically, in the jargon of the expat community, I am a “trailing spouse.” In other words, I trail after my wife who has the teaching assignment in Taipei. It’s a term, however, that I find demeaning and certainly not reflective of my role here. I much prefer the term “house dumpling,” a humorous designation given me by a good Taiwanese friend. Trailing spouses have issues; house dumplings have fun.
This is not to say that everything is easy for a house dumpling. Moving to a different country can be stressful under the best of circumstances, and all of the warnings about culture shock certainly apply as well. However, if you go into the assignment with a sense of humor and with the attitude that you’re here to enjoy the experience and have an important role to play, there is no reason for despair. So what is the house dumpling role? First, and most important, is the support you provide for your spouse…..physical and emotional. You need to be ready to do most of the shopping, cooking and cleaning because she will come home exhausted. You should also be prepared to be a sounding board for the predictable venting and the occasional rant. Her girlfriends are back home, so you’re it. A word of advice is to not respond with anything that begins with the phrase, “Why don’t you just…..?” Just give her a big hug and tell her that she’s an awesome teacher.
Another consideration is what to do with your time after you finish your “chores.” Moving from a 3000 sq. ft. home with 3 acres to a small apartment will leave you with a lot of free time. This is the place where boredom may set in for the house dumpling, but if you remember that the cure for boredom is curiosity, you’ll find a whole new world right outside your door. I have loved having time to explore Taipei on foot and finding places to show Lisa. Also, having a strong internet connection has afforded the opportunity to both take and teach classes. If you didn’t have a boring life back home, there’s no reason to have one here.
Finally, the house dumpling doesn’t have a problem with identity. So what if you were salesman of the year or president of Rotary at home? Here you need to be able to accept the compliment for a well-cleaned bathroom, a delicious meal, or a sympathetic ear with the same sense of pride. If you are adaptable, have a love of travel and adventure, and don’t take yourself too seriously, you have the potential to be a good house dumpling. If, on the other hand, you prefer the safety of the status quo to the thrill of reinvention, you should probably reconsider “trailing your spouse.”
If your spouse is a teacher and you’d like to trail along on the adventure, check out our current opportunities on our hiring page.