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'Thrive' - New book on 'trailing spouses' who create new lives in Shanghai

DRAWN from an array of fields such as diplomacy, business, art and philanthropy, the lives of 34 expatriate women who relocated to Shanghai and thrived in their new environment are the subject of a new book to be launched tomorrow.

Don't call them "trailing spouses" - that makes these individuals sound ineffective and secondary. They're accompanying spouses and the book about them is aptly titled "Thrive."

Local expatriate authors Ruth Kuguru (Kenya), Lisa Blunt Rochester (America) and Alejandra Guzman (Mexico) have spent 18 months compiling the collection of what they describe as inspirational "mini-memoirs."

Many of the profiled women arrived in Shanghai as accompanying spouses and went on to forge a new direction in an unfamiliar city.

Some left successful careers, others sought a new path, but all of them arrived in Shanghai as newcomers and rose to the challenge of creating a new life for themselves.

"We wanted people to be able to pick up this book and find themselves in there," says co-author Blunt Rochester.

The women from 18 countries and many different backgrounds, ages and situations shared their personal stories of setbacks, tragedies and triumphs.

They include a woman who successfully trained to become a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, another who started a charity providing life-saving surgery to infants, and a mother who developed support networks for her special-needs child.

Guzman says some of the women shared aspects of their lives they had never openly discussed before - one, a decade-long battle with infertility and another, the loss of a child.

"Some people really opened up to us because they knew they might be able to help others go through the same thing, but getting to that point in some cases took three or four interviews," Guzman says.

Each chapter starts with a theme such as "honesty," "timing" and "confidence."

The book also describes the lives of four inspirational Chinese women, doctor Tan Yunxian (1461?1554), legendary warrior Hua Mulan, calligrapher Wei Shuo (AD 272?349), and politician and activist Soong Ching Ling (1893?1981).

The book aims to inform and inspire not only women but also the business community about the challenges facing women who accompany their partners to another country.

In light of the increasing globalization of labor, the authors have also developed a Website that they hope will become an online community where women can share their stories about relocation to another country. It is a familiar subject for the three authors, who themselves have experienced being an accompanying spouse.

Prior to arriving in Shanghai, the authors enjoyed successful careers in public service, NGOs and the private sector and faced the challenges of reinventing themselves in their host country.

A 2009 survey by the Permits Foundation found that almost 90 percent of women who relocate to another country for a spouse's or partner's work had previously had their own career in their home country. Permits Foundation is an international non-profit corporate initiative promoting access of accompanying spouses and partners of international staff to employment through improved work permit regulations.

"The International Survey of Expatriate Spouses and Partners: Employment, Work Permits and International Mobility" also found that the percentage of spouses working in their new host country fell to less than 35 percent, although three quarters of respondents expressed a desire to work.

A Shanghai-based labor law expert who advises foreign companies but declined to be quoted said many accompanying dependants are often disappointed to learn they will not automatically receive the right to work in China.

In a number of European countries and Canada, Australia and the United States, it is easier for an accompanying dependant to gain the right to work.

A four-year survey examining accompanying-spouse issues found 45 percent of foreign assignments for multinational companies in the Asia-Pacific region failed compared with up to 63 percent in Europe. The survey conducted by professor Yvonne McNulty found family issues to be the main reason.

The "Thrive" authors say many companies still do not provide adequate support for these accompanying spouses or dependants.

"Making a transition is hard enough, but when you have culture and language and you are away from your family, it makes it more challenging and there are some easy things companies could be doing, which the majority of them don't do," co-author Blunt Rochester says.

Foreign companies should increasingly treat the accompanying spouse as a "two-for-one deal" and seek to utilize their skills and experiences where possible, the authors say.

"One of the greatest untapped HR resources is these accompanying spouses and we changed the name. Instead of calling someone a 'trailing spouse,' it's an accompanying spouse because I'm not trailing you, I'm coming with you," says Blunt Rochester.

The book will be launched tomorrow from 7:30pm to 9:30pm at Shanghai's Signal Tower on the Bund at Zhongshan Road E1.

The book is published by Grace Publishing and costs 295 yuan (US$43).

For more information or to order the book, visit


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