#81 Abbie Pumarejo – Championing self-reinvention for the supporting spouse
Abbie has been in Shanghai four and a half years. She is from the US and married her highschool sweetheart, who’s Spanish and Puerto Rican. She is a freelance writer, stay at home mom and volunteer. A southern girl with a sense of adventure, she loves cooking, getting together with friends, reading and traveling with her family to new and exciting places. In this episode, Abbie shares her transition from Denmark, how her boys enjoy the city and life as expat kids, and how Shanghai seems to be the perfect place for reinvention!
My day is pretty much my own. I can design it how I want.
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Journey to Shanghai
Abbie and her family moved to Shanghai in August 2010, from Copenhagen Denmark, when her husband’s company offered him a position in their China plant. At first it was a culture shock, the order and tight rules from Denmark stood in stark contrast to what seemed like chaos in China, reinforced by the language she did not understand. She felt like she was not ready to make the transition just yet, but quickly things changed for the better.
A day in her life
Abbie and her husband get up at 6, she wakes up her sons, gets breakfast ready, sends them off on the bus and then usually she and her husband go to the gym. After a good workout (which keeps Abbie sane!), she may meet with friends for lunch or head over to a volunteer gig depending on the day. She writes a weekly newsletter for Community Center Shanghai and also for other expat publications in the city, so she might be working on one of these pieces. It’s a pretty good life she says and what’s best? Abbie says, “The day is pretty much my own. I can design it how I want.”
Picking up a pen
Abbie focused first in her comfort zone after she arrived – subbing at her boys’ school and dabbling here and there. It was her husband, though, who challenged her to utilize this time in China as a catalyst to reignite her passion for writing. Tune in to hear more.
Being a fluent Spanish speaker, the foreign complexities of the Chinese language – tones, sounds, characters – really threw Abbie off in the beginning. She’s found that over time even her little efforts elicit the greatest respect and encouragement from the locals, who wholeheartedly enjoy and appreciate it when foreigners attempt their mother tongue.
Abbie talks in length on her three biggest victories in her four and a half years in Shanghai: becoming a freelance writer; taking in three foster babies short term; and thriving in the face of a second breast cancer diagnosis. Incredible victories they are!
Balancing life and work
For Abbie’s family, it’s all about prioritizing meals together. While her boys are in their teenage years, Abbie is finding it critical for her to be present and actively engaged in her children’s lives. Meal times seem to be the best way for them to find quality connection.
All of Abby’s three kids are teenagers, one going to middle school and the other two to high school at Shanghai American School Pudong. They are offered lots of opportunities for sport by the schools, so they don’t have rely on external programs which is great to build community.
Additional topics covered
Abbie touches on a few other key elements of her personal story:
- How Shanghai seems to be the absolute hub of supporting spouse self-reinvention
- No one cares if you run down the street in your pjs
- Or walk backwards for exercise
- The biggest obstacle for success in China is ourselves
- How she used local resources to overcome her serious health challenges
- The beauty and freedom of owning a scooter
Having an opportunity to live outside your home country and essentially your comfort zone is an invigorating and enriching experience. Be open to all of it – stay positive and give back whenever you can.