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Trailing spouses: forging a new path as an expat

Since arriving from America in 2010, when she was 22 weeks pregnant with baby number two, expat Christine Zibilich has mastered the art of Hong Kong living and working. First, as a Pilates instructor, she built up a loyal following among her Southside clients. And now she has shifted her focus to the real estate market. We chatted with Christine about the balance between family and work, and about exploring professional opportunities in the city.

expats, trailing spouses, Hong Kong expats, expat living
Christine Zibilich and her family have called Hong Kong home since 2010

MORE: The reinvention of the trailing spouse

Tell us about your professional background. I first worked for Goldman Sachs, in New York City, for five years. I then left banking and took a position with a new company, and moved to Prague, where I worked with companies in Eastern Europe. While there, I had a chance to feed my passion for fitness and earned a certification to teach spin classes. Back in the US, I completed various personal training courses. I worked as a master trainer with a large sports company, continuing to teach and train after the birth of my first child in 2007. When my husband Nathan and I decided to move to Hong Kong, I took a break from training, and the real estate licensing process that I started in the US, to focus on the move – and the arrival of baby number two.

What made you decide to get back to work? Within three years of moving here, we’d had two more daughters. I had taken a break from work for several years, but I missed it. I decided to go back to fitness and Pilates, taking courses that would augment my certifications from the US. Soon after, I took a part-time position as an instructor at a studio in Stanley.

Did you find it challenging to go back to work? It was pretty seamless, actually. I had a dependent visa, which makes it easy to work here. Working part-time and doing something I love was terrific. I think it’s important for my daughters to see me doing something outside of the home, and giving them a model for the future. One challenge is coordinating things such as appointments for my children. My work typically requires me to work in the mornings, a time that can conflict with school conferences, doctors’ appointments, and so on. Working around those conflicts as a dual working family has been challenging.

How has the transition into real estate been? I found the certification process relatively easy. I chose to take a prep course, as the Common Law System has significant differences from the US system, especially when it comes to property. The EAA (Estate Agents Authority) offers the tests several times a year – exams are done in both Cantonese and English, though the translations can be a bit tricky in their wording. The language barrier can be challenging in general, but it hasn’t made work impossible. After six years in Hong Kong, I’ve loved getting another view into life here. This is a vibrant city with many different walks of life represented. Meeting new people and making new connections related to my work is always interesting. The switch from part-time to full-time was an adjustment, but I’ve found a groove. Work gives me structure and focus for my day or week ahead. It’s a tough balance and busy, but interesting and exciting.

What do you think of the term “trailing spouse”? I think it’s outdated. I would hardly consider Hong Kong a hardship post. Judging from the shrinking housing and education allowances being given to new corporate transfers, most companies don’t see it as a hardship either. In most marriages, the decision to expatriate is based on mutual considerations. I saw the move here as an amazing opportunity to expose my family to language, culture and travel – I wasn’t trailing behind at all!

This article first appeared in the Oct/Nov edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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