Expat life is often esteemed as an exotic existence, an intoxicating blend of newness, travel, perpetual holiday, café sipping experiences with the occasional work thrown in to keep it all afloat. Yes, it may appear that way, but for those of us that fantasize about a life abroad, there are several elements of daily life that need to be well thought-out.
This is a multi – part series that provides those considering a life abroad an insider’s perspective into the intricacies of daily life in a new country. Some concepts/ideas may be obvious, others not so much. Our goal in creating this piece is to share some insights into what it means to live, navigate and thrive in a new country.
Navigating a new language – I can honestly say this is a source of incredible humility, challenges and frustration. We often take for granted the simple interactions we participate in each day in our home country. Whether it is striking up a conversation in the grocery store, making a Dr. appointment, paying a bill, questioning a transaction, when we are forced to do that in another language, we can often feel overwhelmed. Taking the time to learn the language, practice speaking on a daily basis and reading the local news are all ways to assist with language acquisition, but trust us when we say, it takes years to speak fluently and intelligently.
Raising a family alone – Many of those embarking on a life abroad and still wanting to raise a family will do so alone. Be prepared for this journey, which can often be wrapped in isolation, and longing. That often translates into: enduring pregnancy solo, navigating the birthing process in a foreign country, and bringing home your new bundle to an empty home. You will learn to rely on friends and neighbors to assist when you need an extra set of hands, and you will long for the convenience of calling a grandparent, aunt or uncle when you need a night out, or more importantly, assistance when two or four hands is simply not enough. This will not happen and you will learn to rely on yourself, trust you instincts and your partner in ways you never knew were possible. You grow up, you grow strong and you learn to rely on one another.
This is not a complaint, but it does alter the way in which those living abroad will raise their families. In addition, it will require extra effort to forge lasting and meaningful relationships with family that reside thousands of miles away. That is not to say it cannot be done, for families make this work all of the time, but it does require additional effort on both parts and creative attempts at communication. Without both parties working together to maintain the relationship, it will eventually fizzle out.
Finally, plan for additional costs and time away from work to allow for travel to your home country to visit family and friends. While these trips are often costly, and at times stressful, they are essential for forging bonds, bridging gaps that time and place impose and help to keep your family connected to your home country, the rituals, the celebrations and the holidays. Maintaining roots in your country is essential.
Schooling – Local or private that is the question and a question that is often not easy to determine. Going local provides your child with the opportunity to forge friendships with those children in the neighborhood, learn the local language/ dialect and participate in all the cultural events, all of which are remarkable and essential if you plan to make a life in your new country.
What we forget, however, when placing our children in the local schools is how we as parents must learn to work within an educational system that may be and often times is, very different from our own. We must adapt to new curricula, languages, philosophies, all the while communicating our needs, our wants and our concerns in the local languages. Conferences are held in the new language, making this at times a struggle to clearly communicate your concerns. Translators may be called if, if requested in advance, however. This at times can feel overwhelming and may leave you longing for home.
Should you opt for the international school, your child will more than likely attend a bilingual school, with one language being English. This ensures that your child will learn to read, write and speak in his or her native language (assuming that the native language is English). This gap can also be bridged if you do not choose the international option with after school, supplemental programs.
Conferences are often held in English, or the preferred language and communication may be slightly easier. International schools typically meet longer than the local schools, which is ideal for working parents. But the down side is the steep tuition costs, which if not supported by an employer may not be an option for some families. In addition, some children that attend international schools never feel fully integrated into the local community, especially if the families elect to stay for the long haul.
The decision is difficult and no answer is the correct answer for everyone. As parents you must weigh the options and in the end know that whatever decision you decide, should it not work out, one can always try something else.
None of the above mentioned should be deterrents for those interested in relocating abroad not to give the experience a try. It is simply to provide a deeper look into those aspects of daily life that may not be considered. Please know that despite having to navigate all of the intricacies of our new lives together, we would never alter the decision we made to leap into the unknown. We are grateful for each and every experience that we have endured as individuals, as a couple and ultimately as a family.