Most folks’ image of living abroad probably involves exotic adventures, such as visiting the wonders of the world, exploring ancient cultures, and acquiring proficiency in foreign languages. While living abroad is certainly an enriching experience, there is another side to it that ought to be considered prior to packing up your life, and your children, and dashing off to foreign lands.
Moving overseas isn’t easy. No matter how hard you try to organize your move, something always goes wrong. I will never forget our move from DC to Johannesburg, because the moving company greatly underestimated the time it would take to pack our home and were still loading the container less than an hour before my four kids and I were supposed to be at the airport.
My husband had already left a week earlier, and the kids and I had non-refundable tickets. So, I was getting really desperate when a close family friend just happened to pass by. That gentleman saved the day by taking over. Thanks to him, we made it onto the flight –barely.
Then, there’s the breakage… No matter what, something is sure to break during each and every move; and, that something won’t be just anything. Of course, it will be your kid’s favorite toy, or great-grandma’s cut-glass plate. You know, the one you only take out once a year, for fear of breaking it.
Material things are not all you risk on your journey. For example, if you relocate to a malaria zone, there’s the very real likelihood that your kids will have malaria at one point or another. Of course, malaria is completely treatable, and is practically routine –like the flu– in some parts of the world. Nonetheless, when your child is vomiting and shaking with fever for days on end, you will be consumed with guilt and convinced your child is knocking at death’s door –all because you decided to have an expat adventure.
It doesn’t end there, though. Once you and your family are fully committed to the vagabond, expat life, you can be asked to relocate anywhere with limited notice, disrupting your kids’ school year and convincing “concerned” school administrators that you are an unfit custodian for your little learners. Your children –by now– have been through so many different languages and school curricula, you’re not certain they will ever be qualified to attend a university.
Then, there’s the absence of familiar foods. No matter how adventurous your palate, the day will come when you begin dreaming of things you never even really liked before –like Dunkin’ Donuts. When you start dreaming of Dunkin’ Donuts, you know you’re really far gone.
I remember being pregnant in southern India and dreaming of creme-filled Dunkin’ Donuts for months on end. At that time, things like donuts were “exotic” and tough to find, but find one I did –and promptly had such a bad case of food poisoning I had to be hospitalized! Talk about feeling guilty…
If you can handle all of that, the expat life is the best there is. It permits you –and your children– to appreciate our shared humanity. As you learn about other cultures and ways of life, you gain a deeper appreciation of your own culture and national history.
Ironically, the shared experience of being outsiders also draws the family closer–particularly during the holidays. Parents wind up spending more quality time with each other, and with their children.
The luxury of travel also allows you to see and do things most folks only dream about. This sort of education can’t be had in any classroom –regardless of its technology. When I see my youngest son build the African animals he knows and loves with his Legos, I know all of the adventures –and the mishaps– have been worthwhile.
Have any of you lived overseas with your family? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the “Comments” section below.