Home > Expat Life > Travails of a trailing spouse – interview with author Stephanie Suga Chen
stephanie suga chen

Valentinaexpat has met and interviewed Stephanie Suga Chen, author of “Travails of a trailing spouse”. Thanks Stephanie for sharing your expat story!

After more than 12 years working for a very demanding company in the US, in 2012 Stephanie decided to quit her job and move to Singapore to follow her husband in his new job experience.
Being Singapore an easy city to settle in, Stephanie was really having the time of her life: a beautiful house, a 24 hours domestic helper, two children to spend time with, new friends from all over the world, exciting weekend gateways. Life was really amazing. Still, after the first 6 months, Stephanie began to feel that something important was missing in her life. She decided to write a book about her experience as an expat.
“Travails of a Trailing Spouse” by Stephanie Suga Chen was published in January 2018. The book was acclaimed by critics and public, and it is currently a best seller in Singapore.
Valexpat met her for a lovely lunch, and shares her interesting story.

How was it to move to Singapore?

Singapore is a wonderful city for an expat. The quality of life is high, and it’s very easy to meet other expats and make new friends. Also, it’s quite affordable to hire a domestic helper, and I soon discovered that I didn’t have to spend much time on household duties. I spent the first six months or so getting settled with my husband and children, and making new friends in our condo. Life couldn’t be better!

From the outside, it appeared that I was on a never-ending vacation, so how could I even complain?

Then what happened?

Well, after a few months of this, I started to feel a bit listless, but also guilty for being dissatisfied. From the outside, it appeared that I was on a never-ending vacation, so how could I even complain? I recognized that I was in a very lucky position, and this made it even more difficult to try to explain my feelings to my friends back home.
Also, as often happens in cities like Singapore – where people only stay for a few years and then move on – some of my friends were starting moving back home, or on to other countries. More than ever, I felt that I wanted my professional life to take a different direction. And still, as much as I kept thinking about it, I wasn’t doing anything to change my situation.

And the moment I started writing, I felt more alive than ever, and suddenly all the energy I thought I had lost came back.

How did you react to all this?

I kept busy, for sure. I had wanted to improve my Mandarin, so I hired a tutor, but progress was slow, and it felt, at times, that my heart wasn’t in it. I also helped a lot with the kids’ schools, volunteered with several different organizations, but still, I wasn’t content.
Then one day I was talking to a friend of mine, explaining to her that I still hadn’t found anything to do because I really didn’t have enough time to focus on anything. She was very direct, and she basically told me that, in her opinion, I was just making excuses, and that I had to stop overthinking everything and just start doing something, whatever it was.
And that’s when I started writing.
And the moment I started writing, I felt more alive than ever, and suddenly all the energy I thought I had lost came back.


stephanie suga chen

How did you decide to write a book?

The book started as a memoir, kind of a journal of my experience moving to Singapore, and once I started writing it, it seemed like I had so many things ready to be told, and I really wanted to just let everything out. So I actually wrote the entire book — 32 chapters — in about five weeks, roughly one chapter a day.

When did you realize that you actually wanted to publish the book?

As I was writing the novel, I started to think that maybe other women might find my story interesting. So, after finishing the first draft, I began looking for a publisher. In June 2017, I was fortunate to be able to sign a deal with the Straits Times Press. Then it took about five months to edit the book, and “Travails of a Trailing Spouse” was released in January 2018.

I’m happy to be a model for my children, to show them that it’s never too late to make a career change.

How did this experience change you? Do you see yourself as a writer now?

First of all, I am definitely now less critical as a reader, as I know how difficult it is to write and publish a book!
Of course, I’ve been a lot busier in the last year. My kids had been used to having me at home with them all of the time. Now things are different, but in a good way. I’m happy to be a model for my children, to show them that it’s never too late to make a career change. They come to my appearances, read about me online, and are always asking me how many copies of the book I’ve sold – it’s nice that they’re proud of their mom. My daughter also loves to write, and my son loves drawing comics!
Now I’m thinking about writing a sequel to Travails of a Trailing Spouse, focusing on expat children. My kids are seven and ten now, and I think that it might be interesting to share my experience on what effects living abroad can have on children.
Overall, now I feel much happier. I knew that I was looking for something, and now I think I’ve found it.

What’s your advice for expats who are in the same situation?

My advice is to start “doing”. Stop thinking and start doing. You just cannot sit in your house and wait for the change. Find a way to meet people, with whom you can have meaningful relationships, who can understand your feelings. One mistake I made was that a lot of my activities were done on an individual basis, so I didn’t have many people with whom I could share common interests and goals. Also, as an expat, nobody knows you, so you can reinvent yourself quite easily!

If you want to read Stephanie’s story directly from her voice, you can find her book, “Travails of a Trailing Spouse”, on Amazon.com, and in all major bookstores in Singapore.

Stephanie Suga Chen
July 2018
Photo Credit © Stephanie Suga Chen
Interview collected by Valentinaexpat (Valentina Mosca)


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