Expat Life – The Teacher Conference

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True confession, each time I sit through a teacher conference meeting I want to weep. Certainly I am not the only mother out there who feels this way.  Please tell me I am not.

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About half way through the experience, I form the regular lump in my throat and I do what I can to push back tears.  Prior experience has taught me that should a single tear roll down my face, an entire dam will burst and I will find myself in a wet mess. I remind myself of that time and I don’t forget.

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No matter how much I prepare in advance, translate what I want to say so that my thoughts, my ideas and my convictions come across with some sense of intelligence, I still fumble, and struggle.  Each time the teacher leans in and states something unfavorable about my child, or uses language that makes me cringe, I cannot help but wonder how the experience would be different in my home country, in my native language.  The feeling of isolation washes over me.  The lone woman standing solo on a very tall mountain waiting desperately for the rescue that she knows will never come.  And thus, instead of releasing the tears, I say to myself, “this is all a lesson.”  “Learn the lesson, gather the information you need to make this experience positive.”  I grab my bag, swallow that hard lump in my throat and thank those teachers for making me better, my child better and our family stronger. My son looks at me and we make that eye connection that says, “wait until we get home.” Home to discuss the terminology that makes my skin crawl, the way we teach in our home, his need for positive reinforcement and my 1 millionth attempt at reminding him that kindness above everything else is paramount.

As I exit the elementary school door, I know this is not the last time I will feel this way, but next time my hope is that I will remember the lesson and value the experience.

And on my restless retreat home I remember the words once spoken by a very wise woman, Eleanor Roosevelt,

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” 

I let that wash over me and find genuine comfort in her words.  “Thank you,” I mutter as I look up to the never ending sky for reassurance.

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Expat Life – Partnerships

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When we took our international work assignment all those years ago, we were extremely naive.  We had no idea what we were in for and perhaps that was a good thing, for we might not have jumped at the chance to relocate.

Prior to our move, it is safe to say our life was in utter disarray. We had suffered unimaginable loss and needed drastic change. Sometimes those losses are what propels us to jump into water that is way over our heads.  The only constant we had in that mix was our steady and committed devotion to one another.  We were and are still truly a team and together our team would ride the wave of life no matter how high, how low or how rough the seas became.

Our steadfast union also aided in our ability to weather the international wave that took us by surprise. We all deal with the intricacies of daily life, but throw a foreign country into the mix and the entire situation can quickly spin out of control.  Below we list ways in which we, sixteen years strong, were and are able to remain a team that thrives when venturing into the unknown.

Love – You simply must remember the love. ALWAYS!

Communication – We talk about everything and nothing is off the table.  Sometimes, after the children go to bed, we sit on the couch and “check-in,” asking about the day, work, life, hopes and aspirations.  We want to make sure not only are we on track as a couple, but that we are both happy with our current situation.  If we are not happy, we make great efforts to revise the plan, whether on a personal, couple or professional level.

We also recently printed and took the “36 questions” with us on vacation. We loved the process of diving deep into each other’s world and learning more about each other.  Give it a try.

Take time – Sometimes we just need to get away and when that urge creeps in, we retreat either home or to the mountains.  Being surrounded by friends and family is just what we need to recharge our batteries and start fresh.  And when we retreat to the mountains, the fresh air and gorgeous landscapes help reset our minds.  We also take time apart to fill ourselves with the quiet space we require.  Whether hiking for a weekend in the mountains with friends, or taking a necessary trip solo, we respect the need to nurture our own spirits too.

Dream together –  We often discuss projects, ideas and our dreams together.  We do what we can to support one another in order to help fulfill the other person’s deepest desires.  No dream is ever too big!

Happiness – He is not responsible for my happiness and I am not responsible for his.  We are each responsible for making ourselves happy.  Of course, we are happiest when we are together, however, it is not fair to place such massive responsibility on each the shoulders of the other person and we both understand that.

Team Work – I have mentioned this before, but we view our union, marriage, parenting, and life together as a genuine team effort.  A team is never about the “I,” it is about the “we” and together we are a much stronger team.  When one needs a break, a hand, or support, the other is there to catch the fall and help pick-up the pieces.  Teams always do that for each other.  Sometimes we even allow the other a long rest on the bench to observe from the sidelines.

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Honesty – We practice brutal honesty in our home.  We try to be as honest as possible with ourselves, our children and with each other.  And we are and always have been honest about our lives abroad. We have always said we will continue to ride the wave, as long as the wave feels right. We know how we feel about the life we have created, the children we are raising, our values, ideals and daily transactions.  That honesty propels us to be better people, partners and parents.  It also requires us to be accountable, not only to ourselves, but to our team as well.

Respect – This is the last element of the package and perhaps the most important next to love.  We respect one another.  Respect is essential because it validates the why for everything in this life, especially why we chose to spend our lives together.  Why we love one another, why we are together, why we are committed to us, why we live here, why we choose to raise our children the way we do, why we feel pursing our dreams are imperative, why we do absolutely everything.  It all comes down to respecting the other person.

Is it the perfect recipe, no.  We falter like everyone because we are human. But each time we fail we do our best to learn the lesson (truth be told, there are some lessons we have yet to grasp). Listed above are a few of the elements that help us venture into the unknown and come out on the other end feeling grateful, strong and committed.

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Expat Life – Spread Your Wings

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I think a great deal about how we ended up in Switzerland and each time those thoughts come to mind, I cannot help but reflect on the those we left behind.  After all these years, it still gets to me.

Saying good-bye to family and friends is never easy, in fact, it can be downright gut wrenching and life-altering.  When you elect (as we did) to leave all that you know behind in hopes to try something new, expand your horizons, test the waters or to create a fresh start, it is inevitable that feelings will get hurt, opinions will form and relationships will fizzle out.  All of which we have personally experienced, but what I find hard to comprehend is that it has to be all or nothing.

“You either live here or you don’t.”

People have been changing geographical locations for years, so moving around, whether it be to a new street, a new town, city, State, or country, is not a new concept.  In fact, prior to the inception of agriculture we were “hunter-gatherers” therefore causing us to move around and never staying in one place for long.  In addition, many people adopt and practice a nomadic lifestyle to this day.  Were we ever intended to live in one place for the entire duration of our existence?  I don’t know, but it seems ever apparent that we were not.

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I believe what it comes down to is quite simple. Distance through miles, doesn’t necessarily have to be the separation of hearts.  Yes, it is harder and the physical form of the person is not tangible, but relationships can remain strong.  That strength comes, however, only if both parties are willing to make attempts to continue to forge, foster and grow that relationship.  Like a plant that requires four elements to grow, so do relationships. Without the proper mix of care and attention, they will not thrive and will eventually wilt.  Don’t allow your friendships and family ties to wilt too.

Ways to maintain bonds:

Call – there are so many ways to call without having to incur hefty bills.

Skype – see your loved ones and schedule time to chat.

Write – receiving a letter in the handwriting of a friend or family member is priceless.

Make efforts to remember birthdays, and special events in the lives of those you love.

Visit – visiting is costly and time consuming, but both parties should make attempts to visit one another.

Plan a vacation in a central location and enjoy time together.

Did I miss something?  Please let me know, we are working hard on this aspect of our lives.

Expat Life – Business Travel

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Each time the words, “work trip” come up in our house, we immediately scramble and start the mental prep required to get through those days or weeks ahead.

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Work travel is inevitable (tough can lose it luster real quick), but preparing for the journey is never easy, especially, as all the other expats can attest, when one member of your team is away, the work of juggling family, normal life and work and feel pretty hefty.  And going it alone without the helping hands of extended family members, is always a bit tricky.

We are fortunate that Mr. Explore doesn’t have to travel too much for work, however, in the past couple of months, we have faced back-to-back trips.  In order to brace for the time flying briefly solo (my hat goes off to single parents, because those are the true heroes in this world), we do the following:

1.  Get travel schedules ironed out ASAP.  Know flight times, destinations, hotels, travel plans, meetings, etc.

2.  Secure the home work schedule, which means getting babysitting in place, so that work is not disturbed.

3.  Prep mentally.  What can you do now to make the days or weeks ahead run as smoothly as possible?

  • Does that mean extra gym time to deal with the added stress?
  • A hike in the fresh air with friends.
  • Prepping meals for late nights of work.
  • Planning on getting extra rest/sleep during that time.
  • Figuring out how you will fill your down time with the children, so everyone remains happy.  Museums visits, hikes, play dates, sporting events, etc.

4.  Plan what time of the day you will connect with your partner during his or her absence. Mental support and checking-in help immensely when one parent is traveling.

5.  Once your partner has returned, plan time together without the children to reconnect and schedule time for each partner alone to regenerate.

 

 

 

Expat Life – One of the Hardest Things

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I feel blessed to have a lot of very special people in my life. I also consider myself pretty damn lucky to call another country my home, but one aspect of this life abroad that is so very hard, is living thousands of miles away from one of my favorite people.

It has been a tough road not living next to my very best friend for most of this life, but we have managed through our excruciating distance to remain close.   I texted my best friend today and asked if she wanted to come this weekend for a sleepover (an invitation that would be incredible if only we could make that a reality) because sometimes a gal just needs her best-best to:

take a walk around the neighborhood with and let time melt away

revert to our 12-year old selves

laugh over jokes that no one else understands

talk about EVERYTHING

share some wine with

dream our deepest dreams with one another

discuss how hard it is to parent and wonder if we are getting it right

enjoy a decadent dinner in a restaurant that requires us to be ever so fancy

sleep in the same bed because we can’t stand feeling too far apart

smile at the childhoods we shared together because let’s be honest, our childhoods were incredible. Pool, tennis, travel, adventures, overnights, repeat.

wonder where the next 10 years will lead us

talk about the harshness of life

discuss the exquisite sweetness of life

ponder what it would be like if we were indeed neighbors

never once think of our upcoming good-bye

know that this friendship we have created will be everlasting

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