Feels like home to me!?!

March 25, 2010

“What an experience the last 48 hours have been – the trucks (yes trucks) drove up to the house and started unloading our possessions.” I wrote that sentence just after our shipment arrived in Shanghai several weeks ago. My level of excitement surprised me; ditto my children’s reactions when they arrived home later in the day. At the time, you would have thought we won the lottery. Expatriate friends commented that “move-in day” is like Christmas, which a very accurate description. It is even more than that though. Those days were the start of a period of very intense and conflicting emotions.

On the one hand we were ecstatic. The house was finally becoming our home. It was immediately warmer and more comfortable. Everyone felt more at ease and we could finally entertain, something we all enjoy doing. The whole family started planning our first dinner party, we invited several neighborhood families to celebrate my spouse’s birthday.

The arrival of our shipment has made the move feel more permanent. We are not tourists anymore. We can’t just grab our suitcases and hit the road. We are in the process of establishing ourselves. We are finding our way around and things are not as overwhelming as they were the first few weeks. The kids have made friends and can now invite them over to the house to play. We are settling in.

However, the arrival of our furniture and numerous boxes also set off some mixed emotions. First, self-doubt. Why were things that I had lived without for months and in some cases years making me feel so elated? Am I that materialistic? We had been surviving in Shanghai with the suitcases we carried over on the plane and some very basic furniture. We had previously moved to Lima with only suitcases. We had been operating quite well with a borrowed “start-up kit” consisting of 5 plastic totes with basic kitchen supplies and household linens. Did we really need a 40 foot container full of “stuff”? For survival, of course not. But when you move away from everything you know – family, friends, favorite foods, schools, shops – your “stuff” is a link to that earlier life. Many of the items we brought with us are connections to and reminders of family, friends and great experiences in other places.

About a week after the arrival of our shipment, we were hit with our first bouts of homesickness. I was well aware that this stage would come, but why did homesickness hit so close to the arrival of our personal goods? Coincidence? I think my son put it best when he said: “having our stuff makes me miss Lima even more”. Perhaps we were expecting our friends to arrive in the boxes too? Perhaps we thought receiving our shipment would help things return to “normal”? Normal being all the things we used to do – the same daily routines, the same after school activities, the same group of friends. Opening boxes brought back a flood of memories of good times and cherished friends who are now very far away. The arrival of our shipment had driven home that things would never be the same.

We are sorting our way through this jumble of emotions. These ups and downs are part of the adjustment process. We still have a few boxes to unpack. The initial euphoria is gone; but once in a while I am pleasantly surprised, like when I recently unwrapped the kids’ formal baby portraits that had been in long-term storage. All of us are organizing our personal spaces – finding the perfect places for cherished photos or mementos.

It is definitely starting to feel like home.

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Hello world!

March 24, 2010

My goal with this blog is to recount the bizarre, funny and even mundane aspects of living abroad. I am a “trailing spouse” as they say in the expatriate community – the person who “tags along” when their spouse is transferred to a foreign country. We also have two “trailing children” and “trailing pets” which makes this journey even more interesting. My stories may not be unique to those who are in the same situation; some may not differ from those who choose to stay closer to their birthplace. This is simply a way for me to express myself and capture the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things about relocating to a foreign country.

While at times I may compare or contrast living abroad to life in the USA, this is not meant to be negative, critical or judgmental of either my birth country or my host country. If anything, nearly five years of living abroad has taught me that every culture is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Different isn’t necessarily good or bad – it is just different.

Also, while at times I may recount our travels, this is not meant to be a travel blog. Others are more adept at that. It is also not a “parenting” blog. There are many forums for each country which are more suitable for those seeking advice on day-to-day living. This is a place where I will attempt to weave my experiences into an interesting tale. At times I may talk about family related situations, but my aim is to have this be an outlet for me, not a place to air my family’s dirty laundry!

In the end, I would like this blog to be a lens into what it is like living in a foreign land. No more, no less. I hope you enjoy it.