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Society of Women Engineers

Career Pathways: Reflections on Working Overseas with a Trailing Spouse

Additional observations from Elizabeth Ruetsch of Keysight Technologies, a 2017 recipient of SWE’s Global Leadership Award, include thoughts on being accompanied by a “trailing spouse.” Ruestch was interviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of SWE Magazine, for the article “Key Considerations for Working Internationally.”

Published On: March 2018

View SWE Magazine’s 2018 Winter Issue on your mobile device by downloading our app on  iTunes or Google Play. In this issue, find our WE17 recap, awards highlights, and our WE17 By the Numbers infographic.

Part Three of Three

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

After traveling to China 14 times over a seven-year period, Elizabeth Ruetsch and her husband moved to Beijing, living there from 2013 to 2015. During the seven years leading up to the move, she traveled to more than 40 countries for work. While in China, she oversaw a team of 60 local engineers as the strategic marketing manager.

Elizabeth Ruetsch, first row, left, shares a moment with members of her team in Beijing.

“I was really intrigued by China and the growth there, as well as its strategic importance to our company,” said Ruetsch, now the director of worldwide sales, services, and support for Keysight.

“I expressed my interest in moving to California to take on an international role about three years before I made the move there,” she said. “After spending time in international management, I realized I really wanted to live overseas, specifically in China, and I spent another three to four years investigating these opportunities to prepare myself.”

She talked with other ex-pats who worked for Keysight in a variety of locations, and sought out a sponsor within the company. The sponsor helped her find the development opportunities she needed to position herself as the best candidate for the job when the time came.

Listen to our podcast with Ruetsch below.

Ruetsch’s husband had to quit his job and find a new role at a new company, flying private jets in China rather than in the United States, but the move ultimately benefitted him, too. When the couple returned to the United States, he secured a job flying 747 cargo jets for Atlas Air.

Hiking near Mount Wutai, a World Heritage site with some of the oldest Buddhist temples and wooden buildings in China, was one of many memorable experiences.

Yet Ruetsch conceded that a trailing spouse who is unoccupied can be a challenge. To fill his downtime when he wasn’t flying, her husband volunteered as a tennis coach at a local international school and then began giving private tennis lessons. The teachers liked him so much, they asked him to be a substitute teacher, and he filled roles in classes such as math, art, physics, and gym.

“Having a spouse occupied and connected was great,” said Ruetsch, who earned her bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Rutgers University and an executive MBA from Boston University. “That gave him his own set of friends and community,” she said. “This support network is critical for a spouse, as I had my own support network at work.”

“We also both made lots of incredible friends through InterNations — an ex-pats networking group,” she said. “Here, we met an amazing set of ex-pats going through the same experience, and we suddenly had friends from over 30 countries during just our first six months.”

Ruetsch and her husband also volunteered on weekends at a local organization helping Chinese children learn how to read, write, and speak in English. “[The children] helped us with our Mandarin,” Ruetsch said.

She said it took her several months to figure out how to communicate with her employees. She gradually realized to send her team members an agenda in advance versus asking them questions that made them feel put on the spot. She discovered fun ways to encourage group interaction, such as tea talks, and started asking the team to submit questions in advance rather than standing up and asking a superior a question in a group forum, as the latter isn’t done in Chinese culture.

“The job was perfect, but I’m still dealing with tax issues,” she said, noting that it’s essential to get expert advice on visa issues, financial ramifications and cultural expectations throughout an international stay.

Returning to U.S. family and friends is also an adjustment, and takes time, too, Ruetsch advised.

Read the first two parts of our series:

In Part One of this three-part series, Career Pathways: Karen Ramsey-Idem Reflects on Working Overseas, Karen Ramsey-Idem, Ph.D., Cummins Inc., was interviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of SWE Magazine, for the article “Key Considerations for Working Internationally.”

In Part Two of this three-part series, Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas, SWE Fellow Jan Williams talks about bringing her then-14-year-old son with her overseas and other aspects of family life in the United Kingdom.

The theme of the 2018 Winter Issue is “envisioning possibilities,” read more about it in this blog post.

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