“Trailing spouse” refers to a person who follows his or her spouse to a new city or country for a work assignment; the term is believed to have been coined by the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Bralove in 1981.
Published January 3, 2016
HYEYOUNG JEON moved to Victoria‚ B.C.‚ in 2010‚ ten days after marrying a fellow South Korean who’d moved to Canada several years prior‚ initally to improve his English but later to complete a degree and pursue work as a software consultant. Jeon had worked as a hospital social worker in Korea‚ but she wasn’t allowed to work—or even take ESL classes—when she first arrived in Canada on a visitor visa. “I felt like I’d lost my identity‚” she says.
Feelings of isolation or disconnectedness are not uncommon in newcomers relocating with a spouse—or like Jeon‚ moving to live with a spouse. One spouse may have built-in social and professional connections through work or family‚ but the accompanying partner often lacks those connections and may feel like a fish out of water. And sometimes‚ that accompanying partner may need to wait for a work permit and new certifications or licensing before working in their chosen field.
Volunteering helped me get a sense of belonging‚ a feeling like I can contribute something to the community.
Even though she says she’s not naturally outgoing‚ Jeon found her sense of purpose through volunteering with kids through the James Bay Community Project’s welcome playgroup for immigrants and refugees with small children. “I am grateful to be a small part of this playgroup for newcomers with young children as this group provides supportive and welcoming environment for them to connect with community‚” she says. “Volunteering helped me get a sense of belonging‚ a feeling like I can contribute something to the community. I had no job to do and tons of free time‚ but ever since I started volunteer work‚ it’s something I can do for the community. I’ve met lots of great people.”
Jeon’s supervisor‚ Kaye‚ moved to Victoria from England and experienced many of the same challenges as an immigrant‚ so the two hit it off. Jeon also volunteers with the organization’s toddler time drop-in‚ and she learned English and found work as an on-call receptionist for the nonprofit where she volunteers. She’s now a registered social worker in Canada and is looking for a full-time job.
Here‚ Jeon and two other accompanying partners share their tips for settling in:
GET INVOLVED. Joining a club‚ finding a job‚ or volunteering are great ways to start meeting new people‚ even if it’s uncomfortable at first. While living in Scotland‚ Nicola Stewart had previously worked at a Swarovski jewelry store‚ so when she moved from Scotland to Victoria with her fiancé‚ Martin‚ in May of 2014‚ she quickly landed a job at the Swarovski store in Mayfair Mall. She’s made friends through work (but the downside‚ she admits‚ is that her friends from the store are often working when she has time off). As word of Stewart’s Scottish roots spread‚ others from Scotland would come talk to her at the store. Stewart now works in the Bay Centre at Migration‚ a retail hub for local designers. In Stewart’s words: “I love it! Being a textile designer myself‚ it has really inspired me working here to get back to designing myself.”
If you don’t find work right away or can’t work due to visa issues‚ consider volunteering as Jeon has done or joining an athletic group like Franck Germain did. (And these avenues could help broaden your social circle even if you do find work‚ of course.) After meeting his wife Laura in Burgundy‚ France‚ Germain moved from France to Canada twenty-five years ago. “I felt like I was five or six years old again‚” he says of his arrival in Canada. “People were nice to me‚ but it was hard to develop friendships.”
Germain and his family moved back and forth between Canada and France‚ and by 2008‚ he knew he needed to build his own network of friends. While buying running shoes‚ he asked about local trail running groups‚ which led him to the group he now runs with three times a week. “You can enjoy running anywhere in the world‚” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s easy to relate to people with a shared interest. The rest falls into place.” He cautions that other accompanying spouses shouldn’t rely on their partners’ friends or family for social contact. “It doesn’t give you space to express yourself‚” he says. “You need your own space.”
I’ve learned not to make comparisons. There are good and bad things on both sides.
AVOID COMPARISONS TO YOUR HOMELAND. It’s easy to fixate on the differences between your new country and your old one. “When I first moved I’d make comparisons‚” Germain says. In France‚ Germain and his family enjoyed lively debates and two-hour lunches‚ complete with fresh French bread. But Germain found that Canadians tend not to debate as much and don’t savour their meals the way the French do. “I’ve learned not to make comparisons‚” he says. “There are good and bad things on both sides.” (Fortunately‚ Germain says‚ Victorians now have access to better bread makers than when he first arrived.) When the couple moved with their kids from France back to Canada‚ one of the children missed those long‚ relaxing meals‚ but Germain says they made a smooth transition overall.
LOOK FOR THE UPSIDE. Change often brings positive and negative results‚ but for the sake of your happiness and your partner’s‚ try to focus on the positives. For many newcomers to Victoria‚ the beautiful British Columbia weather tops the list of positives. Jeon and her husband spend time during the summer camping and hiking around the island. “When I was in Korea‚ I worked in a hospital all day‚ so I didn’t have any personal time to enjoy camping and hiking‚” she says. “The weather is really nice. Southeastern Asia is hot!” Jeon also cites her volunteer opportunities and volunteer training as positive aspects of her new life in Canada.
Stewart and her fiancé now have a Jack Russell terrier mix they named Archie‚ and the pair spends many of their weekends exploring the outdoors with Archie. “Make the most of it in the summertime‚” she says.
BE PATIENT. Whether you speak the language or not‚ certain things may still feel foreign. Stewart’s coworkers smile when she says rubbish instead of garbage or shopping centre instead of mall. It may take longer than you’d like to get a permanent residency card or find a family doctor‚ so practice patience and don’t expect to feel like a local right away. “Everything takes time to get familiar with the system‚” Jeon says.
Give it time‚ and things will often start to fall into place. “[Moving to Canada] was tough at first‚” Germain admits‚ “but I have no regrets.”
TRAILING SPOUSES OUT AND ABOUT IN VICTORIA. FROM TOP LEFT, CLOCKWISE: HYEYOUNG JEON AND HUSBAND BONGCHER; NICOLA STEWART, FIANCÉ MARTIN, AND DOG ARCHIE; STEWART AND ARCHIE OVERLOOKING VICTORIA'S OUTER HARBOUR; FRANCK GERMAIN ALONG A RUNNING TRAIL. PHOTOS SUBMITTED.
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