Category Archives: Handling emotions

Relocation & Expat Resources – The moving process. Handling emotions. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition.

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partner

Restore Default Settings. The Expat Relocation and Repatriation Dilemma.

This post was written 10 days ago, when after nearly a year of negotiating, selling and house hunting and 45 days in escrow, the expat dream of actually owning our own home was still hanging in the balance. At the time, it seemed a little too much like tempting fate to publish it, but now that I have a) keys and a signed contract and b) the Other Half 4000 miles away and blissfully oblivious to the havoc that I am wreaking on our new abode,  I am  now brave enough to share..

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partnerAnyone who happened to be using the site last Wednesday would have left with a growing sense of confusion and a really good headache, thanks to a small, insignificant button at the bottom of my dashboard page.

It said “restore to default settings“.

Ironically, all I was trying to do was change the color of the page links from a difficult-to-spot-but-definitely-elegant gray, to a glaringly obvious red (I finally settled on a rather fetching lavender blue, but that’s another story). Try as I might, the tool for changing the color wouldn’t co-operate, and so remembering that the theme came with a red link text default, I resorted to pressing the aforementioned button.

Chaos ensued. My painstakingly crafted header logo (the creeping cat) disappeared, to be replaced by an advert for a website developer. So did the tiny logo that you see in the web address bar. The text reverted back to Times New Roman, strange boxes containing Latin gibberish appeared, and a whole drop down menu’s worth of content vanished.

I think the angels made it happen, in response to an impending “I’ve had enough, I want to go home’ tantrum that was brewing.

You see, we are currently trying to buy a house, something that (in theory) should be a happy and joyful event in expat life. It means we’re putting down some roots, taking some time to breathe, and in Wiggy’s words “finally getting to paint my bedroom a color that I like”.

Instead, it is turning into a harrowing catalogue of frustrations, starting with a real estate market that is so quiet it has crickets chirping in the corners, then finally finding a house – in the wrong school district, negotiating school transfers, discovering dry rot, navigating the ever changing rules of the mortgage lenders and finally, four weeks on, being thousands of dollars poorer with no sign of a completed house purchase on the horizon, and no printer ink left.

Yesterday’s debacle was a timely reminder that no matter how complicated it gets, you can’t go back. You can relocate or repatriate physically, but while the basic content may not change, the details have – the colors, the shading, the nuances that you have added along the way that makes you different from the person you were, and makes you view the world around you differently. And what surprised me was how important those details are once they are gone.

We forget that change is an integral part of life – not just for us, but for those around us. Friends from home have been traveling a similar path, and they view us differently too. Instead of the “I’ll just pop round for a cup of coffee/ borrow the lawnmower/drop off the kids for a playdate/” type friendship, it’s a relationship that has to be nurtured over distance, telephone lines and internet connections, and the supporting roles that we used to play in each other’s lives adapt and change. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it just is.

Life is messy sometimes. It’s what makes us grow, tests our strengths and reminds us that we are indeed alive. It’s why we travel, why we learn, why we uproot our lives and relocate to the other side of the world. It’s what helps us to embrace new ideas, new places, new faces, new challenges. It’s why we survive and thrive as expats, as parents, as partners.

And despite what you may have thought while watching the Defining Moves website disappear in front of your eyes, we’re not crazy. We’re just pressing all the buttons offered to us.

Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

Keeping in Contact – The Essential Guide to Cheaper International Calling

When we first started gallivanting around the world, keeping in contact meant email and dial-up internet and very, very expensive bills. Thankfully for expats, global nomads, world travelers and their friends and family back home, things are now cheaper, quicker and far, far more convenient – provided you know what to use, where. By popular demand, here’s the Defining Moves guide to cheaper international communication. Complete with a lovingly handmade PDF cheat sheet. You’re spoiled, you really are…

 

If you are a landline lover (landlubber).

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

 

While most of us rely heavily on the internet for communicating, there are still plenty of places where the service is too slow / expensive / inconsistent to be reliable or who have loved ones back home who prefer a traditional handset. If so, you should be checking your provider for a reduced rate package that you can add to your plan – rather like the unarranged overdraft at the bank, spontaneous international calls are charged at prohibitive rates, while prepaid or pre-authorized ones are far cheaper.

If you can’t reduced rates, consider asking (and if necessary, paying for) family members to add international calls to their package at home and have pre-arranged call times – most landline calls are free to receive, regardless of whether they are local or international. Over the course of an overseas assignment, the savings will be significant, and you have the added advantage of guilt-free calls.

Combine this with a service from Rebtel, which offers cheap international calls from any phone, whether landline or mobile. It involves setting up an account online, entering the numbers you want to call, and then using the new local numbers that Rebtel gives you for each of your contacts.

It’s far less complicated than it sounds (especially when most phones allow you to store contact details) and Rebtel even offers you a free call to try it out. The even better news? It’s global, so you can use the new numbers anywhere in the world for local rate calls, and their website is incredibly clear and easy to use.

As a last resort, there are hundreds of international calling cards out there that in exchange for a prepaid card and a little inconvenience, offer a much lower rate. Try www.comfi.com for comparisons of rates – and again, don’t forget to check for connection fees…

 

If you have home internet but like to have a traditional phone and number.

 

It has to be Ooma. It’s a square device (about the size of an answering machine) that plugs into your internet router and allows you to connect a regular handset. The unit itself costs around $200, but allows you to make free domestic calls and very low-cost international calls while only paying applicable government taxes. What we like? You pay up front, all call costs, fees and taxes are clearly displayed and user reviews love it too. The bad news? It’s currently only available in the US. Sorry.

Alternatively, Skype offers a Skype To Go number to use with a handset – either buy one with Skype functionality installed, or use a phone adapter. You have to buy Skype credit online to both pay for the number and subscription/pay as you go credit, so if you are setting it up for your less tech savvy family members or friends, you might want to help them set up automated payments at the same time. In the interests of full disclosure, reviews were scathing, both about the call and product quality, and customer service. Eek.

 

If you have home internet and a computer / laptop / tablet with microphone and speakers.expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

The current market leader has to be Skype, who offer low cost calling, no set-up, cancellation or contract fees, and a variety of products and services to keep the most demanding amongst us happy. Calls can be made through most devices with a microphone and speakers – computers, laptops, tablets and even cellphones with wifi capability – and for those of us who prefer to use a regular handset, they sell those too.

Calls to other Skype users are free and if you have a webcam, this includes free video calls – fantastic for keeping track of growing children, changing hair colors or home improvement projects.  Not so good if you forget that you have video enabled and make calls in your pajamas.

The good news is that Skype is widely used, so you will be able to make free calls to most of your global network. The bad news is that you will need a high speed internet connection to avoid distortions and dropped calls and if you have a usage limit, you will quickly burn up a significant amount of data with video calls. It is also prohibitively expensive  to call cellphones, their calling rates are buried in the darkest corner of the website, and their customer service is run entirely via email and video chat. Hmm.

 

If you prefer to use your cellphone, but don’t have a data package.

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerEnter Rebtel again, the patron saint of cheap international cellphone to cellphone calls. Sure, you have to sign up online and set up payment plan, but once you have a) saved their Rebtel number in your phone and b) practiced a few times, you can get regular cellphone to cellphone calls for local rates with no data, no hassle and great signal quality.

 

If you have a smartphone, data / wi-fi access, and love to talk.

Here’s where it gets really, really good, especially if your friends have smartphones and data packages  (or wi-fi access) too, because there are some great products and apps out there. My personal favorite is Viber, which offers free cellphone-to-cellphone calls and texts to other Viber users. It integrates with your contact list so you can instantly see which friends and acquaintances have Viber, and offers you the option of free calls (for when you have plenty of data or a wi-fi connection) or a regular call for when you want to use your voice plan. We love its ease of use, the ability to easily invite others to join and the call and text reliability – but be warned; it looks very similar to your regular cellphone call application, so check twice before placing any international calls…

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerNext up is the Rebtel app – all the features of Rebtel, with the ease of an app. The calls are free to other Rebtel users and (Rebtel claims) 98% cheaper to non-users. We love the easy-to-use contact list, with clear labels about which calls are ‘free’, and which are ‘cheap’, and has the cost of each call displayed before you press ‘Call’.

Trailing in third place is Skype – the most well known (and widely available), but also the most clunky to use (you have to search for Skype user names or emails) and the least transparent in terms of cost. Like the previous two, calls are free to Skype users, and there is the added advantage of video calling for those of you with camera phones, the ability to using instant messaging and to send photos. The bad news is that video calling eats data, so make sure you either have unlimited data or are using wi-fi when making those calls, and that all of your Skype contacts are notified that your are ‘available’ unless you remember to change your settings. And its SMS feature is a pain to use, and at least in my experience, pretty unreliable.

For free international video calls, iPhone, iTouch, iPad and Mac users can benefit from Apple’s FaceTime application which again uses the internet to connect the call. For those of you using iPhones, be sure to click FaceTime rather than Call, unless, of course, you enjoy three figure phone bills…

 

 If u prfr the writn wrd… International text messaging for free.

Viber is still up there for its free global messaging to other Viber users, but in terms of functionality, WhatsApp has to win the international messaging prize. It uses your existing contacts list to find other WhatsApp users, who can then be bombarded with texts, images, videos and goodness knows what else, for free. For those of you with TCKs, CCKs, global tweens and teens, it’s your passport to peace, family harmony, international communication, financial sanity and probably, Repetitive Strain Injury. Four out of five ain’t bad.

As a final note to those of you who travel frequently – consider getting your phone unlocked. While all of these features will help you save hundreds on communication costs, the savings are quickly overtaken by overseas data charges, and free wi-fi access is not always easy to find. An unlocked phone allows you to buy a Pay As You Go local sim card (cut it down to micro-sim size if necessary – instructions here) and stay in close contact with your network for less.

It’s good to talk. Or, for the more musically inclined…

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.

 

 

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Really Useful Cultural Orientation – How to Make Friends and Introduce People..

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.

 It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.

It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..

Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.

Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people.  Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.

Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.

Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.

At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.

In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
Self Introduction:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”;  and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions?

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Expat Communication with Friends and Family.. What We Really Mean by “Fine”

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Conversations about resilience and coping strategies at FIGT 2012 prompted a great deal of thought about the role of the people who we leave behind when expats relocate. In my ‘7 Habits of Successful Relocation’ seminar, we talked about those who have invested time, energy and emotion into relationships with us, despite knowing that we may not be around for the long haul. Ruth Van Renken, author of “Letters Never Sent”, described it as “all of the grief, with none of the anticipation”. News of an impending transfer creates anxiety, stress and  uncertainty in more than just the immediate family.

It’s a communication no-win situation. When we try to put a brave face on it and focus on the positive, it sounds like we are having a wonderful time and not missing you one bit. When we moan about how miserable we are, we can almost hear the phrase “sure, living a life of leisure in the sun with no work and plenty of help – it must be awful” sarcastically running through your mind. And if you have enough patience and understanding to let us vent for hours without telling us to shut up, at some point we start to hear how whiney and unpleasant we sound and really wish you had.

The good news is that we do get though it, and the support of the people we leave behind is something that we value above all else. We may not speak to you on a daily basis, but I can promise we think about you often  and talk about you to our new friends, wishing you were there in person to join in.

So for those of you who are leaving people you love, or are finding it difficult to explain how conflicted life is as an expat, I’ve put together some pointers that you can share..

 

We are a confused mix of emotions right now, so please bear with us.

Some of us are excited to be going on this adventure, but we are also quietly terrified of what lies ahead, and can’t show it for fear we won’t get on the plane. We feel guilty about leaving you, but it’s like going into school for the first time – we are trying to put a brave face on. It doesn’t mean that we love you any less – the opposite in fact. If we didn’t have you as a safety net, we’d never step out into the unknown.

 

We need you more than ever, but it may not seem like it.

Remember when you started school, and it took all of your energy just to keep track of where you should be going, what the rules were and who and where to avoid? That’s what relocation is like. We hardly know what time of the day it is, let alone our own phone number.We are just barely holding it together, and a text or email make a world of difference, especially if it makes us laugh.

 

If you really love us, forgive us if we don’t answer immediately.

We are overwhelmed, we don’t know anybody here, the paperwork is bewildering and every waking moment is spent trying to keep our heads above water. When we finally get through this transition phase (and we will), we will remember for ever the fact that you stuck with us.

 

Birthdays and celebrations are always the hardest, especially for the first year.

Remember how I moaned about having to cook the Christmas turkey, or that every birthday card reminded me that I was getting older? I was wrong. All those things reminded me that I have friends and family to share my time, my home and my life with, and without them, it can be very lonely. We do find new people to share them with, but if we could have one wish, it would be to have everyone we have ever shared those times with all together in one room..

 

I may say ‘it’s fine’, but I’m being brave.

Please don’t be fooled. But I also don’t want to waste precious time talking to you by sniveling about the woman at the school, and I want to hear what is happening in your life. Just talking to you makes everything seem a whole lot better, and hearing about your day helps to put mine back in perspective. It reminds me that we all have our good and bad moments, and the trick is to have friends to laugh, cry and share them with.

 

You don’t have to write an essay – three words will do.

Or a photo, if that is easier. What we miss most is the day to day interactions with you all – the smiles, the snatched conversations in grocery stores and school yards – the sense of connection and belonging. So don’t think you have to send a three page letter for it to be worthwhile (although we love those too) even the smallest contact lets us know that someone, somewhere is thinking about us, and is missing us too.

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

Repatriation

Up until now, this site has focused primarily in getting to your new location with your health, your family and your sanity intact, but has not said much about the return journey. This is a guest post from Ayesha, who currently lives in Nairobi, but who has experienced repatriation and the issues that it raises, which we will be discussing in an ongoing blog series and a section of the Basics and In the Know.  

 

When we moved back home after three years in a foreign land, I was shocked to discover that I felt I didn’t really ‘fit in’. Some of my friends were still there, but when we got together for coffee or dinner, I found I couldn’t join in their discussions. I didn’t know what they were all talking about, what specific events had taken place in my absence, the movies, the books, the culture, the work environment, places to visit, to eat at, all had, of course, been in flux through the years. Some things were the same but many were new. Strangely, this first hit me when I realized I couldn’t share in the conversations revolving around a new TV series (Oh, how this evil machine has taken control of our lives!) I had never been an avid TV watcher, so I was surprised to find this to be my sticking point. I had never really discussed TV shows with my friends before, so why did I feel the need now?

One day, the day comes when you learn that you are going back home – whether it is  the end of an assignment or you are being posted back to your country of origin, and it is amazing how many different types of reactions that news elicits. One would think that it would be good news for all. Finally time to go home, to go to the familiar, to spend time with family and friends you have been missing all this time. If this is what you have been waiting for, feel free to stop reading.

Changes have been taking place while you were away. Family and friends may have moved too in your absence, if not from the country, perhaps from the city. New roads would have been built (or broken, in some cases). New buildings may have come up or old ones taken down. Even if there have not been many changes to the landscape, the fact remains that it really isn’t so familiar any more to those who have been living in a different part of the world for a number of years.

As a friend who was moving back to her hometown in Europe once explained that her home had been in Africa for over ten years. Her children had known no other home, no other way of life. They couldn’t even imagine leaving this for anything else. But, in the end, one has to, because your or your partner’s job dictates it.

Truth is that every new place you move to,  if you end up living there for a considerable period of time, inevitably shapes itself into your ‘home’. You strive to make it comfortable, you decorate it with the little things you have carried with you from place to place. You make friends, you find activities for your children to take part in, you eventually have a favourite place to shop and a location for your choice cup of coffee. And then you get your marching orders and you have to re-programme yourself that this isn’t really home, it never was, it was just a stop-over. You now have to go ‘home’ and, essentially, start over. And you will. You will find a place to live there (if you don’t already have one). You will once again endeavor to make it special with some old treasures and some new. Perhaps, with photographs of your ‘homes’ and travels around the world, of your friends that still live where you’re moving from and of those that have already moved on to other adventures.

It will take a while but, one day, the new house will become your new home. Like any other place you have moved to, it takes time to adjust and find your own special niche even in your hometown. For me, the simplest solution was to find out the timings for the next episode of that TV series and make a point of sitting down and watching it regularly, until I got a hang of what it was all about; just enough to be able to take part in the next conversation relating to it. It turned out not to be just another show but a radical look at one segment of society, and sparked endless  discussions.

(Note to self: next time I move back home, I make sure I know what’s playing on TV before I reach there! It’s easy now, thanks to the World Wide Web.)

Double Life

We’ve just arrived back in the US, after spending Thanksgiving in the UK. And it’s very very strange. For one thing, the word ‘home’ is forever used in inverted commas, because it’s never really clear where home is. The old adage “Home is where the heart is” is absolutely no help whatsoever, because there are people I love and memories I treasure everywhere we have lived, with the small exception of a two bedroom apartment in Playa Del Ray.

This one was a tough visit. It seems we will be transferred to the US on a more permanent basis, and so our home in Wales is now on the market and our whistlestop visit there was eaten up with the practicalities of what to take and what to leave, and trying to capture all the happy memories on camera before we leave for good. The Less Wiggy One pointed out that everywhere we go, we just “get rid of everything”, which in material terms, is startlingly accurate. And while I don’t miss many of the ‘things’, we are in danger of losing the memories that come with them.

Yet again, our family and friends saved the day. A chance Facebook message from a cousin who my children don’t even remember meeting morphed in to a mammoth tea and tale telling afternoon, full of laughter and stories from three generations of people who are an integral, if no longer immediate, part of our lives, but who between them can paint hilarious pictures of our family foibles for seventy years. My sister pulled out all the old, out-of-focus photos from our childhood, inciting two days worth of retelling of adventures in early parenting, while my mother had the black and white proof that yes, indeed, being un-photogenic was a family trait. And an evening with my brother and his family, where we picked up our stories exactly where we left off a year ago, without so much as a pause for thought, was a timely reminder to the children that it’s the people that are the custodians of our memories, not the bricks and mortar. Unless you count Julian and Gill, who have the children’s handprints immortalized in cement on the floor or their greenhouse, another discovery that the rest of us had forgotten.

Relocating is a double edged sword. You experience new places, and meet people that you now can’t imagine not being part of your life, but you also leave behind those very people with every move. We are really lucky that we have friends and family who are incredibly tolerant of our nomadic ways, who regardless of how long or how many visits it has been since we have seen them, still stay in touch. We didn’t get to see most of people that we wanted to see this time, but there is something incredibly humbling about having messages left on a phone that is used for one week a year, or Facebook messages or emails, that offer a welcome, a bed, a meal, or most importantly, security of knowing that we may be gone, but not forgotten.

 

Courage

courage does not always roar. sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.

mary anne radmacher

 

I always wonder whether she had experienced relocation firsthand. For me, her words sum up so many days of the first six months of relocation, especially the first time around. You spend such a lot of your time feeling utterly out of place; the proverbial fish out of water, that you begin to think that panic and desperation are a way of life.

The first relocation I underwent involved renting out our house, which we had just spent a not so small fortune and eight years of our life renovating. We were lucky – a prospective tenant arrived who was being relocated in exactly the same way that we were, only it was probably nearer to her tenth relocation. I liked her so much that I left the house exactly as we had lived in it: books, photographs, art, the whole nine yards. In return, she gave me the best relocation advice that I received.

“The first six months are the worst”.

Those of you who are still considering relocation must now be rolling your eyes in horror and resolving to stay put for the rest of your working life. But, she was right. The first six months were the steepest learning curve I have ever encountered; a blur of tedious tasks that seemed impossible, of wondering whether I was ever going to make any friends, of feeling lonely, isolated, and just plain scared. But you also discover your courage. The ability to get up and keep going when all you really want to do is go back to bed and never speak to another soul, the sheer force of will it takes to plaster a smile on your face and go and meet another roomful of strangers or try and get life’s basic necessities with barely a word of the language. It also taught me that people are kind, and that the world is not the crime ridden, corrupt place that is often portrayed in the media. Sure, there are those out there who delight in making you feel uncomfortable, but hey, we went to high school with plenty of those too. What I found when I finally ventured out of my hiding place was that there were plenty of people just like me, who were just doing their best, and feeling pretty stupid while doing it.

It reminded me of learning to surf.  There are those that are only concerned with how fabulous they look on the board and will abuse anyone who interferes with that. And while they are good at what they do, in their quest for perfection, they’ve taken all the fun out of it. There are those that are out there for the sheer joy of the ride, and treat every moment as a challenge. And there are those of us who are still paddling about in the shallows, being buffeted by the breakers and beaten by the board, but are still paddling furiously and knowing that we look ridiculous. But also knowing, that if we stay in long enough, we’ll be out there riding out the rough stuff, and having the time of our lives doing it.

So here’s a picture of Jamie, who the day after losing half her tooth in our second surfing lesson, just got back in, paddled out, and did this..

Congratulations, Jamie – Henry is lucky to have such a fabulous Mom.