#75 Scott Orwig – Supporting spouse turns ‘sacrifice’ assignment into the time of his life
Scott is a father of four kids and a software developer from the United States. He and his family have been in Shanghai for almost 2 years. His wife, Sarah, works as a Human Resources manager for Ford Motor Company and their children attend both Shanghai American School and Dulwich College. In this episode, Scott talks about adjusting to life in Shanghai as a supporting spouse, including making the best school choices for your children, and how he has learned how what he thought was going to be a sacrifice has actually turned into a fantastic opportunity.
I wish I had known that I shouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to recreate everything in the US here in Shanghai.
How Scott got to China
Scott’s story starts in a suburb of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He had a good life there. His wife Sarah was working as a Human Resources manager in a job she enjoyed and they had four kids age 12, 8, and 6 year old twins. They weathered some disruptions including Scott’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Just as the family was beginning to settle into this comfortable domestic routine, they got word that Sarah was being transferred to Shanghai. Scott saw huge benefits for his children and his wife and wanted to accept this new challenge and opportunity, but felt like it was going to be a huge personal sacrifice. He was going to have to give up his comfortable life.
A week-long pre-trip Scott and Sarah took satisfied some of their fears but also created new ones. When they finally arrived, he was overwhelmed with trying to re-create his US life in China. But very quickly people started to help. Scott made friends, other expats were extremely helpful with information about how the family could meet their needs. It wasn’t long before Scott had a new problem: He was happy here and did not know how he could be happy anywhere else!
A typical day
A typical weekday starts with helping the kids get ready for school and taking them to the bus stop. After that he heads to the gym for the exercise classes he has become addicted to. While there are western type gyms Scott prefers his mostly Chinese one, which gets him immersed in the culture without having to speak Mandarin.
After the gym Scott sometimes he eats a quiet lunch at home with his ayi hovering around, but more likely he will go out to lunch with friends. Those “lunches” often last until the kids get home from school, then he starts on dinner and steering the kids toward homework. Usually he waits for his wife to get home, but that was leading to the kids being up far too late so increasingly he just goes ahead with dinner. When the kids are in bed he usually doesn’t stay up too much longer. Between the exercise and the daytime adventures and parenting Scott is worn out.
On the weekends they do things as a family, exploring together, eating at restaurants while having the ayi to take care of laundry and cleaning. On the weekends we do things as a family. They have a driver and have to do a little bit of planning on where they want to go. Sundays feel pretty much like in the US, they sit at home or go on small explorations on foot.
A comfortable life
What Scott realized soon after moving to China, was how inflexible his life in the US has become. He found workarounds for all the missing things that he thought were important, like a specific steak sauce for his kids. Or his nice big yard back in Michigan and the very close houses which he thought would cost him his privacy. Turns out he loves loves it when he can walk out the front door and say “hi” to a lot of neighbors. And the steak sauce? He found out how to make it himself.
An uncomfortable life
Giving up Amazon and online shopping in general was a big adjustment for Scott. Something he still has not adjusted to is the Internet, as it’s slow and sometimes unstable.
At first Scott was dependent on his Chinese driver, but learning about the metro and learning how to drive a scooter gave him greater freedom and mobility.
Scott’s life has re-balanced considerably. He has an ayi to manage the house and to watch the children. This frees up quality time especially on the weekends, which Scott and Sarah can enjoy without worrying about doing the laundry or cleaning the house. On the other hand during the week, even when his wife comes home from work late, she often spends time on the phone and they have to schedule their time together.
Choosing different schools
Scott’s oldest son is at Shanghai American School. He was very fond of his middle school in Michigan and upset that they were pulling him out of it. So they put him at SAS because it felt so similar to his American school, and also because they loved the energy of everyone they met there. The youngest three children are at Dulwich College school, which is British. Sending the kids to different schools brought some complications like vacations not overlapping, but overall they are content with their choice.
Scott assures you that “You will be OK!” In the end, none of Scott’s fears have turned out to be a problem.