Marcie around the world: The adventures of a trailing spouse

Expat of the month
  • Marcie
Published on 2021-08-27 at 10:00 by Veedushi
It's been more than a decade since Marcie, a US expat, has been following her spouse around the world for his career. The COVID-19 pandemic has got her stuck in California as her husband prepares for a solo move to Shanghai. Marcie talks to us about her adventures around the world and a book she recently wrote about marriage and compromise for trailing spouses.

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

For better or worse, I'm a ‘serial' tagalong wife. My husband has an international career, and we have lived in Daejeon and Seoul, South Korea. Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai. Originally, I'm from the ‘D'—that's an affectionate nickname for Detroit—home of Motown. Music was my passion. I worked in radio and for a rock music magazine before becoming a trailing spouse.  

Where are you based currently, and for how long have you been there?

Our home base is in Los Angeles, California. We've been here for at least 25 years, although more than ten of those years have been spent overseas. 

What brought you there?

I met my husband on the boat from Boston to P-Town. I was on a day trip with a group of co-workers, and he was visiting his grandmother on Cape Cod. How sweet is that! We had a mad passionate fling, and then—six weeks later—he moved to Los Angeles on a whim. I got tired of waiting for him to come back to Boston, so I moved home to the ‘D.' But...he was always in my back pocket, in my thoughts, the one that got away. Eventually, I followed him to Los Angeles. 

How does it feel to be a trailing spouse, especially with children?

Well, that's a big question—how much space do you have? Because I could write a book about being a trailing spouse. Oh! I did write a book about it! On the positive side, it's exhilarating, right? The travel, the cultural immersion, the ability to see your own country from the outside looking in. As a working mother in L.A., often exhausted from my two jobs (inside and outside of the home), becoming a trailing spouse gave me an opportunity to relax, breathe, and be more present in our children's lives. Shopping for groceries in Paris was a joy and not a chore that had to be done fast and under fluorescent lights. The pace was much slower everywhere we lived than it is in Los Angeles, and the kids benefited from the increased downtime. They weren't scheduled to the hilt with after school activities. I wasn't a soccer mom or driving carpool for playdates. I wasn't a slave to their social lives. Family life and discovering the world was our primary social activity. I think that was a wonderful experience, we're still very closely bonded. 

You are the author of Em's Awful Good Fortune, which relates to your own experience. Tell us about it.

I think of Em's Awful Good Fortune as a love letter to expat wives. But, heads up, I did not write about the wonderful aspects of living overseas—there are plenty of books about that. Em's story is about marriage and compromise. I wanted to dig into the subjects that aren't often talked about in public. The loss of identity, career, and community. Depression, resentment and infidelity. These are very real—and very common issues—among trailing spouses, and Em's Awful Good Fortune does not hold back. It's funny, emotionally honest, and a rollicking roller coaster of a book. Ultimately, Em learns to value her own needs as much as the needs of her husband and family. She learns that her life has to work in order for the marriage to work. And she reclaims her power. 

In your opinion, what are the main challenges of being a trailing spouse, and how can one overcome them?

For me, the biggest challenge was repeatedly having to quit my job in Los Angeles in order to keep my marriage together. As a trailing spouse, I never had working papers and every time we moved back to Los Angeles, my career took another giant step backwards. On the plus side, I learned to use my time overseas to develop new skills. In Paris, I earned a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) degree and was able to volunteer as a teacher in Japan and China. Also, in Paris, I took a writing class through W.I.C.E. (Women in Continuing Education) that changed the trajectory of my life. I had always wanted to write, but it wasn't until I became a trailing spouse that I had the time to focus on developing those skills. So, I would say that overall – my life has been greatly enhanced by being an expat—it enabled me to discover and follow my dreams. 

Did you find it hard to adapt to the different countries you have moved to?

Our first move was the hardest. Not because of Korea—but becoming a stay-at-home mom was a shock to my system. I missed working and had no mom skills. And then I learned to adapt. I've never had a problem with the ‘foreign' aspect of living overseas. It's an adventure and an opportunity for personal growth. 

What has been your best experience overseas so far?

Paris is where I discovered writing, and writing has changed my life, so Paris wins! But I don't like to play favorites. Here's my rating: I found Korea to be the most welcoming to outsiders, and I like Korean food the best; Shanghai is perhaps the coolest city on the planet – art, fashion, international food. Loved it! Tokyo is very clean. And quirky. And I do like Karaoké, tofu and sushi. 

What does your everyday life as a trailing spouse look like?

Now that my kids are grown, it's all about me! I write in the mornings, then take a yoga class. In Shanghai, I taught ‘American' yoga – which means no chanting and lots of music! I always take online writing classes so that I'll have access to an English speaking writers community. I like to volunteer – usually teaching English. And, I dip in and out of the expat organization activities. They are a lifeline to creating community. 

Did the COVID-19 pandemic have an impact on your social and family life? 

Funny, you should ask! We've been hunkered down in California during the pandemic, but now, my husband is scheduled to move back to Shanghai in the Fall for a year and a half. Due to Covid-19, it seems unlikely I will be able to get a spousal visa. It's ironic, because when I started writing Em's Awful Good Fortune I envisioned a world book tour! Paris. Tokyo. Shanghai and Seoul. Now, I'll be zooming around the world.  

Is there any advice you would like to give to trailing spouses, especially in the pandemic era?

My best advice for trailing spouses is to figure out how to make your expat experience serve your own personal goals. It's okay to give yourself some love and care, ladies. Both partners need to live their fullest lives. Sorry, no advice for Covid times, I'm about to head into a potentially long separation myself. Any suggestions from your readers would be appreciated.

What are your plans for the future?

I've got several zoom book club appearances lined up, and I'd like to do more, especially with trailing spouses everywhere. Just contact me via my author website.