What it Means to be the Trailing Spouse

                    Jody O’Dea
               August 17, 2016

By Jody O’Dea

It was four days into our new life in Vietnam when I first heard the term.

My wife had accepted a teaching position at an international school in Hanoi, and the offer being too good to pass up, we up sticks and left. Moving to Vietnam gave us the perfect opportunity to start out in a new place together as we had been working in different countries for the previous three years.

At one of the many mixers as part of the school’s well-organised orientation week for new staff and their families, my wife and I were mingling.

“Oh, so you’re the trailing spouse?”

“I’m the what now?”

The trailing spouse. A label for people like me: people who followed their employed partners abroad to Hanoi.

The trailing spouse. A label for people like me: people who followed their employed partners abroad to Hanoi.

It was a term I immediately hated: A term that implied that I could coast on my wife’s employment for the next few years. I could in theory do nothing – except, well, maybe join the “lucky bastards club,” – a folk-lored group of men (each of them “trailing spouses”) whom, as legend says, would meet each Tuesday lunchtime at a different pub and spend the afternoon drinking, just because they could.

It was a term that glossed over the risks that I took, along with my wife, in coming to Hanoi – risks that we all take in coming to a foreign country: comfort, employment, and familiarity.

Settling in Hanoi while your partner is instantly engaged in a full-time job is daunting. The fear of what to do tomorrow. I recall futile and frustrating journeys across the city, each time looking for a specific item for our new home. I paced up and down for hours some street or another booking for the address of a shop rumoured to be selling western-style bedding / can openers / shoe horns or whatever it was that particular day. Then, there were a few inevitable “blind alleys” in my early explorations, such as getting involved in potential opportunities which turned out to be totally unsuitable for me or not really opportunities at all.

But there were very few days where I was actually bored.

Hanoi is an exciting, bustling city with lots of potential opportunities for anyone with a bit of drive.

After a while, settling in becomes easier. It can be a slow or tricky start, but once we get into the swing of things, “trailing” spouses get involved in all sorts of adventures. The city has a way of reeling us into her embrace. Random opportunities lurk around every corner, and some of us pick up where we left off and find work in our profession. Others decide to take a break from the norm, finding ourselves instead ensconced in all kinds of creative projects: fulfilling latent ambitions or starting self-sustaining businesses.

Hanoi is an exciting, bustling city with lots of potential opportunities for anyone with a bit of drive. It’s a city filled with friendly and helpful people and if you are looking for something or want to do something, you are sure to find someone who can help.

The city has a way of reeling us into her embrace. Random opportunities lurk around every corner, and some of us pick up where we left off and find work in our profession.

ClickSpace is filled with these people; it’s a living, breathing testament to the success of the “trailing spouse” as entrepreneurs, restaurant managers, writers, NGO directors and more.

Me? I started out as a bit of a digital nomad – tying up loose ends for the architectural practice I left behind in the UK before finding work as an architect in Hanoi. Fast-forward a few years and along with a couple of friends I opened ClickSpace.

Success that is not defined by the amount of money earned but by the achievement of conquering Hanoi: of cracking open the city and becoming a part of it. Truth be told, I haven’t heard the “trailing spouse” term for a long time now.

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