Today is our 9th anniversary being expats. G laughed when it was mentioned. He's not quite sure why it's a date I remember every-single-year, tho when reminded him of the definition of the word and he simply said, oh ok then.
We left on Qantas flight 11 on January 5th for Dublin with a two night stop over in Los Angeles to stretch our legs. We had a day at Disneyland, and time by the pool. MissM was two and a half and slept all the way (we medicated her as it was her first overseas flight and she was so tiny). Love looking at the album photos! She was so tiny. We were much slimmer.
We had no idea what we were doing, but were very prepared to give it a go, and see what happened. After all, we only had a two year signed contract! If we didn't like it, we'd go home.
What's happened has been amazing for so many reasons.
Nine years. 4 international moves (plus two unplanned stints in Sydney) means MissMs been to 5 schools, each with it's own cirriculum challenges. I experience the same feeling every time she has a first day - we're sending her off into the unknown and expect her to make friends, be happy and enjoy school. So far, we've been bloody lucky that's happened!
She's worn uniforms and worn casual clothes. She's had school lunches provided, and home made lunches; she's had huge grounds to play in and tiny concrete areas on which to make the most of playtime. Each time, she's made friends and settled well and been happy. What more could we ask?
Lessons Learned: Our daughter is a very kind, caring, resourceful, adaptable, creative, strong, considerate, independent, charismatic kid. If these qualities stay with her she'll be an awesome adult. I've learnt that it's difficult at times to raise a child without support from extended family and that a support network is vital to a parents sanity. My admiration for people who are doing this alone for whatever reason is 10-fold! As soon as you know you 'might' be moving, check out the schools and make enquiries about available places. If you're lucky to have a choice of schools, GO SEE THEM and ask questions, make sure it's a good fit for your child/ren; don't accept a position just because it's offered (tho sometimes you don't have a choice); it does get more complicated as they get older in terms of continuity of subjects, teaching styles, adapting learning styles, friendships but it will all work out! Depending on the age of your kids, get involved in the parents groups, volunteer - tho remember not all schools function this way, so ASK first. It's OK to buy second hand uniforms, bags, text books etc. Allow the kids to take time to fit in and navigate their way - it's the same as your first day in the new office. It all takes time. As the kids get older, it reduces the opportunity to be involved with school thereby reducing mums social network opportunities.
We've met so many generous, funny people along the way. Made lifelong friends in a matter of months. Expat life moves fast! You never know when you or they will be moving on, so you have to make the time you have count.
Lessons Learned: Sometimes you have to let people go, or they choose to let you go and you know what, it's never personal as ironic as that sounds. I've learnt that the crowd you're IN with is your crowd and not to be bothered by the other crowds. That you really don't need a lot of friends, you just need a few good ones - people to laugh with, cry with, explore with, and to confide in. I've learnt that the saying 'never judge a book by it's cover' is so wrong! If I did that with people I'd met these past 9 years, I'd have missed out on some of the most unique friendships that have come my way. I've learn to be quiet(er) in certain social situations, to let others have their say/their way, to keep some personal things secret, people don't need to know everything about you (the beauty of expat life is you get to do-over regularly). Be slow to trust others and be quick to be trusted. Listen more than talk (don't laugh, it's true!) and be respectful of differences, great friendships can happen if you let them. Remember, there is much truth in six degrees of separation, especially with Facebook! Be open to meeting a friend of a friend whose just moved to your city, or is about to move to where you've lived. The common factors might just allow a new friendship to grow. Join the local International Womens' Club ( or similar), investigate volunteer roles at school or with local charities - keep busy! Sign up to a course, continue a hobby or sport.
The world is an amazing place. Cultural differences are to be celebrated. Each city we've called home has offered us different perspectives and interests.
Lessons Learned: We actually enjoy travelling and sight seeing. G and MissM, once out of the house are great explorers, even tho we have different tastes, we make it work. Our suitcase packing skills have vastly improved, and we manage with less. We love planning and researching trips. We're great in planes, trains and cars. We're terrific walkers when on holidays, and can go into chillaxing mode with the click of a finger. We don't do hot'n'humid very well, tho we do enjoy a pool-resort vacation. Include the child/ren in planning what to do/see on vacation. Mix up the days so everyone's tastes are taken into account. Take lots of photos and make albums of the best ones and write little stories so you remember the good-funny and not so good times of the trip. As the kids grow older, or you repatriate, you'll relish these memories.
We had no idea we'd be unofficially running a B&B. We love having guests stay with us, and showing them around our new home. We can indulge ourselves with friends much more this way and genuinely catch up even if it's a 48 hour visit. The more bedrooms we can offer friends the better.Our happiest times in Winchester were when all 3 guest bedrooms were full. Even now, we can sleep an extra 5 people (two on the sofa bed, one on a single bed, and two in the guests bedroom). It's a great excuse for us to do local sight seeing that we might otherwise not do.
Lessons Learned: always provide guests with a prepaid mobile phone with important mobile phone numbers already in the contacts (yours, the house phone, taxi, hospital, GP, and one or two reliable friends in case you are uncontactable for some reason); always ask friends if they have any dietary requirements you may not be aware of (a cousin informed me she was a vegetarian two days before arriving for a week - there went my menu planning!); precook and freeze as many meals as possible so you're not slaving over the stove/hob their entire visit; if you can, rent a TV for their bedroom as a means of offering them private time; give them your WIFI passwords when they arrive; keep to your kids routine as much as possible or the kids think that yo have guests, they get a day off school; don't be shy in asking guests to catch coach (or similar) to a closer destination to you than the airport, saving time and money; learn to say 'no' if you really prefer people not stay with you. Alternatively if you offer a sleepover, be prepared for the person to phone one day and say they are coming for a visit! Have everyone who stays sign a guests book - they are one of the most treasured possessions we have.
Food and Festivals. Local culture. As nowhere is quite like 'home' everywhere is exciting! For us, our time in Japan has been the most eye opening simply because our cultural differences. Being part of an International School added another invaluable dimension to our experiences.
Lessons Learned: Participate in every single thing that you can - Google search the event beforehand so you have an idea what's going on, ask questions when you're there, take photos, be as open minded as you possibly can and that includes ALL your senses. Say yes to invitations. Find out what events are 'annual' and when they occur and plan to participate; if you miss out one year, make sure you make a note in your diary for the next year! Enjoy getting lost - you find the most incredible things. Catch a train or bus to the end of the line, or pick a stop and get off and walk around; there's so much information online to Google, or lookup on trip advisor, or read DK travel books, or Lonely Planet. No excuses for being bored, or missing out.
It's you and him and the kids; you are a tight knit family unit who face the world, literally, as a team. You land in a new city, calling it home knowing only each other (maybe a few other people but not often), and have to 'start over' establishing friendships, creating a life, exploring and learning to live day to day in a new environment. Strong marriages! If, when things go wrong, you've each other to lean on, tho how much honesty you share with one another is a huge question. Does He really need to know how miserable you are? Will it make a difference to the contract? If SHE knows the job isn't what I thought it would be and I hate it, will that make her nervous about moving? If SHE's bored batty, her days too long and unfulfilling how does she get the energy to 'pretend' its fine, so she remains interesting to her employed husband? Too many marriages breakdown in expat life .... if they were 'home' would they have survived?
Lessons Learned: No matter what, find a way to be honest with each other. Secrets get you into trouble. Make sure you can look each other straight in the eye and say 'Despite doing my very best at <><><><, I <><><><' and begin a conversation. Get help - see a councillor together or individually if need be; ask a friend to have the child/ren for a night and get away for a break; have regular DATE NIGHTS (I cannot stress this one enough!). If you can't find a sitter ask a friend and repay the favour (babysitting or childminding clubs are popular amongst expats depending on where you live); See, none of this is unique to expat couples! What is difficult at times is the total reliance on each other for stuff, as there's no extended family or uber close knit circle of friends to support/help/talk thru things with. Never go to bed on an argument, and never leave the house angry. Always kiss each other goodbye and hello.
Talking of missing out, we have missed out on stuff. So much going on at home in Sydney with family and friends. Obviously if MissM was only two and a half when we left, so was our nephew and our niece was 6; we've missed out on birthdays, school concerts, picnics, hanging out, growing closer, sharing secrets and more. Time we'll never get back. Time that Skye doesn't allow to happen. Friendships also need to be cared for and invested in; people's lives get busy and let's face it, our day to day is here and theirs is there, so you can't be part of it.
Lessons Learned: Make the most of the time you do have together; embrace technology as your friend, don't let time slip by cos you're busy or time zones don't meet up; post a card every so often, send a small gift; Friendships also need to be cared for and invested in; people's lives get busy and let's face it, our day to day is here and theirs is there, so you can't be part of it. Don't let the distance or absence eat you up - it's not worth the stress.
For a lot of expats, that hardest relationship to navigate is that with our parents. None of us are getting any younger; siblings who are close by are the ones to support and comfort aging parents, depending on situations a trip home several times a year isn't feasible but we'll all make the trip if a parent or sibling is diagnosed unwell, or worse. A disagreement over Skype or email is blown out of proportions as opposed to it happening 'in person'.
Lessons Learned: Gosh, I'm not so sure about this one. Call, Skype, email, Facebook often; never finish contact on a negative note; don't share the ins'n'outs of any sad or negative situations cos they can't do anything about it miles away, nor do they really understand your perspective and they only dwell on it while you've moved on (guess the same goes for their news); do share important stuff if someone's unwell, or achieved something great; don't bang on too much about what you're doing and where you're going as sometimes expats come off as a tad spoilt or indulged; ask questions, share light news; expat life is pretty normal and can be mundane, it can also be hugely exciting so be careful to balance conversation. Other than that, love to hear your lessons ..... I still feel I fail miserably with this one.
I've also learnt:
- We don't NEED a car, but having one makes things easier.
- The are very few genuine global brands.
- Words might sound the same, but have completely different meanings, so check!
- Libraries and/or Kindle are a great way to indulge one's love of reading without the weight of books.
- Just cos you can see it online doesn't mean the company delivers to your country/area.
- PayTV offers you hundreds of channels, most of them are rubbish.
- Balance your news - CNN isn't always the one to watch.
- Keeping in touch with news from home online helps to converse with family and friends.
- Never ending days of social isolation (for some) is dangerous as it affords the mind time to think.
- Learn to ask questions - about anything! Good conversation starter, plus you learn stuff.
- Let your Embassy know you are newly arrived, especially in countries that have natural disasters like earthquakes. Just makes it easier IF something happens.
- Better to have a wardrobe of 'transeasonal clothing' than specific seasons as it lasts longer in more countries.
- Invest in a good coat, warm boots, colourful hats/gloves and scarves when living in colder climates. Everywhere's heated so you don't need to overdress.
- Find a good hairdresser, doctor and babysitter as quickly as you can by asking for recommendations.
- Don't share your babysitter!
- Accept that everywhere is different, and what you did in one place with one group may not be how it is in another.
- Keep busy, even if it means going to a movie in the middle of the day on your own.
I'm sure there are more ...................
We hope when we share our Adventures we do it with humility and consideration and don't bore people. We aim to be the best hosts we can be when we have guests, and that we make as most of the opportunities afforded us.
Are we the same as when we left? Well, is anyone the same as they were 9 years ago? We're basically the same, just a bit older, chubbier, with a few more experiences, lots more friends, and great memories. .
Being an expat is bittersweet but it's the life we live, and while we've no idea what the future brings, we'll continue to enjoy it and get back to Sydney as often as we can.
So, Happy Anniversary G, love you.
What lessons have you learnt since being an expat, or living 'away' from home?
If you've not moved, what would you like those who have to know?
Do you acknowledge when you started your Adventure?