Page 74 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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O
ver the course of some three
decades as a Foreign Service
spouse, I held a variety of
jobs overseas. But the one I thought
Foreign Service Journal
readers might
find most noteworthy came relatively
early in my career.
First, though, a little background.
Shortly after I met and wed my hus-
band in 1969, we were transferred
from Mazatlán to San José. There I
stumbled into a position teaching
third-graders at an American school. I
taught for one semester until our son
was born, followed by a daughter a
year later.
Six weeks after she was born, we
were assigned to Buenos Aires. The
quality of life there was pretty high, but
the security situation was difficult for
the expatriate community. And in any
case, with two infants at home working
was not an option for me.
By the time we arrived in Taipei, in
1975, I was eager to go back to work
during the day while the kids (now 4
and 5) were in school. I focused on
jobs at private companies because of a
frustrating experience working at a
United Nations agency before my mar-
riage.
One day, while reading the local
English-language newspaper, I noticed
a large ad Northwest Orient Airlines
had placed. They were looking for an
English-speaking sales representative
for the large expatriate community, in-
cluding the huge contingent of U.S.
military personnel, based there. (This
was before United States recognition
of the People’s Republic of China in
late 1978 changed the bilateral rela-
tionship.)
Having worked for Scandinavian
Airlines System for several years, and
later for Civil Air Transport of Taiwan
inManila, I felt this was a job just wait-
ing for me! And just a few weeks after
applying, I was hired. I still have my
business card:
Lisa Wilkinson
International Sales Representative
Northwest Orient Airlines
Taipei, Taiwan
The scope of my responsibilities
was limited to American and European
businesses based in Taiwan, as well as
the U.S. embassy and military contin-
gent. In other words, I dealt only with
contacts who did not need a visa to
travel to the States. That was impor-
tant, because it ruled out any potential
for a conflict of interest with my hus-
band’s work in the consular section.
Apparently I was the first spouse to
work outside Embassy Taipei. I found
out later that the embassy had done its
own sleuthing soon after I was em-
ployed, and confirmed my under-
standing that there was no conflict of
interest. Nor was I breaking the local
law, because I was paying income taxes
to the Republic of China.
Even so, upon my husband’s trans-
fer to another diplomatic post in 1978,
the ROC informed me that it would
refund all the money the airline had
withheld from my salary for taxes dur-
ing my years with NWA. However, I
declined reimbursement, for I felt it
was only proper that the money remain
with the host government.
During my three years with the air-
line, I met many local, American and
international contacts and officials.
They were often surprised to see my
husband and me together at functions,
for they had no idea we were con-
nected!
It was a relief to feel so independ-
ent and not be referred to as “the
spouse of” or be identified on embassy
documents as a “dependent wife,”
which is how the embassy classified fe-
male spouses then.
As I mentioned, I would have many
other jobs over the following decades.
But I still think back very fondly on my
time as an independent woman in
Taipei, a place where I also found long-
lasting friendships.
Lisa Wilkinson, a Foreign Service
spouse since 1969, has lived in Mazat-
lán, San José, Buenos Aires, Taipei,
Guayaquil, Manila, Seoul, Bangkok,
Bonn, Guadalajara and New York
City. Now inWashington, D.C., she is
the second vice president of AAFSW.
R
EFLECTIONS
An Independent Woman in Taipei
B
Y
L
ISA
W
ILKINSON
It was a relief to feel
so independent and
not be referred to as
“the spouse of.”
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