“I had many ‘woe is me moments’ and my identity took a hit. For a while I didn’t know who I was without the autocue and bouffant hair!”
Nicole and her hotelier husband James, moved to Hong Kong in 2010 when an opportunity came up for him with the W Hotel. Having successfully built her own career in Sydney as a well-regarded journalist and newsreader for Sky News, Nicole negotiated a career break with her employer and embarked upon the move thinking that she would enjoy some down time and have a career break. Little did she realise though just how much her identity had been shaped by her work.
After the initial shock wore off, Nicole ultimately relished the freedoms that come from being in a place far from home and the opportunity to reinvent ones self in any way she choose. Determined to find ways to leverage her twenty years of media experience she was also keen to shake off the limitations often associated with the ‘trailing spouse’ tag.
Grabbing each opportunity as it arose, she soon found herself with the classic portfolio career, working as a corporate MC, media trainer and freelance writer. Engaged by the business and media community alike, she became much sought after for writing and speaking engagements on topics that ranged from parenthood to politics and beauty to travel.
After 4 years in Hong Kong and despite initially trying to avoid China as their next destination, an opportunity ‘too good to refuse’ saw this tightly knit family land in the ancient city of Xi’an in 2014. Touching down, the reality of arriving in a truly foreign city with no expat community, where they knew no one and didn’t speak the language was almost too much to bear. Not only did Nicole walk headlong into culture shock, she and her three-year-old daughter became the subjects of intense curiosity and focus every time they ventured out because of their blonde hair.
With initial thoughts of ‘what have I done’ and a strong yearning for expat friends back in Hong Kong never far from the surface, it wasn’t long before the journalist in Nicole recognised the fascinating story that Xi’an offered.
“I decided to put my journalism skills to good use and interview as many people as I could, face to face, to try and push past the Western stereotypes and get to know the real people of China”. Engaging a translator, Nicole spoke with people from all walks of life ranging from her hairdresser and other local service providers to World War veterans, party officials, and other long-term expats. These interviews along with reflections of life in China were initially captured in her popular blog Mint Mocha Musings.
Ironically when it came time to return to Australia, two and a half years later, the family almost felt they’d just found their groove in a city that was not feeling quite so foreign any more.
Returning to Australia in 2017, Nicole set about exploring ways she could add to her portfolio career. She soon realised that the extensive interviews and writings of her time in Xi’an were so much more than great memories; they were the foundations to a book about her expat experience. Providing her with a much needed focus and purpose during her repatriation, she found a book coach and mentor and set about writing her memoir and having it published. The result was China Blonde, which was published in September 2020.
China Blonde is a personal memoir that “follows her search for friendship and acceptance where she discovers, no matter what your culture or background, we’re connected the world over by the common thread of humanity”.
It is also the story of how one woman redefined the language of ‘trailing spouse’, replacing it with ‘trailblazer’.