Call Me House Dumpling: A Trailing Spouse’s Guide to Traveling Abroad

For teachers in a committed relationship, the choice to teach abroad belongs to not one but two people: the teacher and the “trailing spouse.” There’s not much written about the experience of the trailing spouse, but for many it can be critical to a successful teach abroad experience. BGL’s Lisa Kramer brought along her husband, Lutz, who offers this insightful report:
Lutz Kramer, House Dumpling

Lutz Kramer, House Dumpling

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.

Playing Santa in Taiwan

Playing Santa in Taiwan

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.

See the world together.

See the world together.

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.

Cooking classes abroad.

Cooking classes abroad.

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.”

Lisa & Lutz, loving life.

Lisa & Lutz, loving life.

 

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.

7 comments

  1. Courtney Dayhuff · August 24, 2014

    This is amazing! The best Dumpling I have ever known!

  2. Rushton Hurley · August 25, 2014

    Great post, and great title! Were you a Rotary president? If so, let’s connect. I just finished my year as president of the Rotary eClub of the Southwest USA (a global, online club).

  3. Jon Cristofer Miller · August 30, 2014

    My daughter accompanied her husband to a teaching assignment abroad. It was no surprise to me that she was immediately drafted as an interim teacher. She decided to get a legitimate American credential, and I suggested that ABCTE was the least expensive way that I knew. She checked it out, signed up, took it seriously, and now has a credential good in at least 14 states. Now, with three years of full time teaching experience, she and her husband comprise an experienced, credentialed “teaching couple.” They with their daughter – plan to explore the world with teaching assignments for the next few years. It doesn’t matter whether she continues to teach when they finally return to the US; she now has more options in an ever-changing career landscape. ###

  4. Helen · August 30, 2014

    As I could never persuade my husband to come to China with me I accepted only summer positions of no more than 6 weeks there while my husband stayed at home. I certainly was not going to miss the opportunity so it was a good compromise.

  5. Kirsty Rice · November 11, 2014

    I think I’m going to be a house dumpling from now on!

    • banyangloballearning · November 12, 2014

      It sounds great, does it not? Although, many of the trailing spouses who come along to Taiwan start off as house dumplings but then employment seems to find them quickly. Native English speakers are always in demand in Asia.

  6. Pingback: There and Back Again: Coming Home After Teaching Abroad | Banyan Global Learning

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