When people find out that my side of our family live in a different country, they often ask “how is that?” I’m often stumped by how to answer this question, as there are many different thoughts and feelings that it triggers for me. So, I thought here would be a good place to untangle a few of those thoughts in the hope that other people experiencing this lifestyle might relate. I might even start being able to give a decent answer the question whenever I am next asked!
I am going to start with the Lows, get them out of the way…
• The expense. We are lucky that we are able to travel a few times a year to go and see our family, but it does make us close our eyes as we book our plane tickets. Visas and the immigration process were also something that we needed to take account of and save for.
• Starting your social network again is hard and takes a few years to build up. It took me about 2 years before I would say I found my own set of friends, without having to rely on my husband or his family to hang out with. It does happen though, just give it time.
• Driving on the other side of the road (I know this isn’t the case for every international family!) But it took me a while before I felt confident navigating a new place, while making sure I wasn’t on the wrong side of the road. It surprised me how that knocked my feeling of independence and my confidence for a while.
• When a family member or a friend back home is having a tough time. In my culture, popping round and putting the kettle on for a cup of tea is one step closer to helping someone feel better. Being so far away means that I cannot do simple things to help cheer up my loved ones. This can be hard and to be honest, this is something that I struggle with a lot.
• Maintaining relationships with friends from home. Family is here to stay no matter where I end up. Friends though need to have some care and attention. I have lost some since I moved and I miss my friends who I’ve grown up with a lot. Now my daughter is born, even maintaining my friendships in Madison is a challenge. So, I have to be really conscience of giving time and checking in with my friends from home. We all know we have our separate lives but thank goodness for FaceTime and Skype to help us at least say “hi” to each other when we can. Then the baby starts to cry, so this is another work in progress.
• I just miss everyone. There is no sugar coating this, as it is always there. Just the way you cope with it is a way to ease that constant feeling. For me, being busy helps. Also, focusing on the positives is a way to counter these feelings (something to aim for at least.)
The Highs (which make it all worth it!)
• I’ve grown as a person. I am lucky to be able to live in a different place to where I grew up. Even though there are many similarities between England and the USA, there are also differences. By living in a new country, I have learned about a different culture and have been exposed to other perspectives. This often makes me think differently about things.
• I have tested and broken some of my self-imposed boundaries. I never thought I would live in a different country. I love travelling, but I never thought it would be something more long term. But here I am! Moving was really hard (a lot because of the above.) Challenging myself in this way has been a journey and one that made me realize that I am capable of anything that I want to do. It may take time, but I can get there.
• My daughter has a lot more options than I did at her age. She has dual citizenship and so has a wider choice of where to live, to go to university and work. More importantly, she gets a rich experience of growing up with two different cultures to explore.
• Having endured a few years worth of Wisconsin winters, I am never cold when I visit back home.
• The accent my daughter will have is going to be a surprise! Will she start out talking like the Queen? Or will she be full on Wisconsin? Probably somewhere in between but it will be fun to listen when she is older.
• My husband. He’s the reason I’m here in Madison. Being with him every day and sharing our life together is the ultimate high.
Perhaps you are just about to embark on a similar journey or you might already be a seasoned international family. Anyone else have any tips or tricks for managing the lows along with the highs?