Outside the Box: The ExPat’s Dilemma

As I walk through yet another cardboard maze on my way to the kitchen, I can’t help but wonder if there is some underlying issue in me that needs addressing. Should I have kicked up my feet on some black leather couch for an hour a week with a psychological counselor instead of TripAdvisor? Should I have been content at some point to embrace the sunset, the peace and finality it depicts instead of chasing the next sunrise and the hope of the new beginnings it promises? After so many relocations, how can I still feel the spark of excitement igniting within me as I grip a roll of packing tape and yet again seal our precious belongings?

Eight years ago, I gave up my career to stay home with my daughter who was almost three years old at the time. My husband was offered a higher level position within his company. With it came a fatter paycheck and the opportunity to pad his resume while gaining much experience in his field of expertise. It also came with a relocation, our first in a series of relocations for our family. My husband, born and raised in a military family, had a different perspective on relocations. I, born and raised in the same state, same town, same house until the age of seventeen, longed for my children to experience the stable comfort of the familiar. Yet, as much as I entertained those visions, a fire I never knew I had in me, was fueled. And so began my thirst for new adventures, next chapters, clean slates, and a passion for the unknown.

However, there are a few known facts about relocations. Facts whose presence makes me feel a bit uneasy each and every time the moving truck pulls away. A truck carrying my children’s christening gowns, our wedding albums, their first tooth and their first teddy bear – memories that fill each moving truck near capacity. What the truck doesn’t hold are those memories that fill my own heart near capacity when I take my trip down the latest memory lane. Those moments, feelings, memories that aren’t gently covered in bubble wrap and placed in a box labeled “Fragile” to be carefully transported to the next residence where more are sure to be created.

As we embark on each new adventure, I think of the fact that relocation is often the cause of divorce for many couples. On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale for adults, “change of residence” is considered a stressful activity, assigned 20 points (with death of spouse being ranked the highest at 100), although other changes on the scale (e.g. “change in living conditions,” “change in social activities”) often occur as a result of relocating, making the overall stress level potentially higher. I think of the effort we will all have to exert once again in replacing our social network. I think of the challenge ahead of finding new doctors and a new gym. I think of my son and daughter once again being the “new kid” in school and all that entails. A study conducted by Ahamanson Department of Pediatrics, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA covering 9,915 children ages 6-17, found “frequent family relocation was associated with an increased risk of children failing a grade in school and four or more frequently occurring behavioral problems.”  I also think of all the tearful goodbyes that come with each move as we leave behind old friends that were once new.

I place the last item in the last box, take a deep breath, and can’t help but let my imagination wander through the new residence we will occupy in just a short time. In my mind I’m already pulling these items outside the box, and seeking out the perfect place for each of them. I picture the wall that will hold our family photo gallery, and the corner that will hold my dad’s old worn out Ricky Ricardo drum. I imagine just where we will place the Christmas tree this year, and visualize my family gathered around it Christmas morning. I carry the last box to the front entrance, and catch a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. I don’t see the baseball cap, the faded blue t-shirt and cutoff shorts that through the years has become my moving uniform. All I can see is the smile that lights up my face with hope and anticipation. And, once again I wonder if this spark of excitement within me is normal.

My top twelve tips when relocating your family:

  1. Communication among all family members is key. Communicate with your spouse as well as your children.
  2. Hold a family meeting where all members discuss their pros and cons list. Really listen to all the cons and discuss them, trying to find the positive while making sure that family member feels like they’ve been heard.
  3.  Go to your doctors offices and request your medical records in a digital format that will be easy to share with your new doctors. Same goes for school transcripts.
  4. Be prepared to “camp out” in the new place for a night or two while you wait for your household goods to arrive (we have fond memories of these “camp outs”).
  5.  Forward your mail even in today’s day and age when we receive more virtual mail than snail mail. The act of forwarding your mail can you give the closure you need in closing one life chapter and beginning another.
  6. If you have children, balloons can keep them occupied for hours in an empty house while you await your items. It’s also the best time to pull out some Play-Doh as it’s easy clean up.
  7. Make sure your children are set up with friends and family members phone numbers, etc. so there is literally no break in their communication with them. Nowadays, there are many channels for staying in touch – FaceTime, Skype, Texting, FaceBook, Instagram (great way to share photos of the new place)
  8. Look up the local Newcomers Club for your area. It is a great way to meet people and also get recommendations for doctors, restaurants, etc.
  9. Bottoms up! Drink up your alcohol or throw a party before moving. Open containers of alcohol will not be transported by some moving companies.
  10. Label the side of your boxes so you can read what’s in them even when stacked.
  11. Expect that you will be thrown out of your routine for some time as you adjust to your new life.
  12. Be patient. In my experience it takes 10-12 months before it really starts to feel like home.

Do you enjoy moving? Do you have any other moving tips? 

Related articles: http://www.blogexpat.com/en/summary.htm

39 thoughts on “Outside the Box: The ExPat’s Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Sometimes you just have to cry | Firenze Moms 4 Moms Network Expat Group

  2. I love moving because it gives me a chance to purge..I live with a family of hoarders, you know! 🙂
    Your tips are wonderful, and it seems that you’re very successful in making each move and very positive experience for everyone!


    • Ha ha hoarders! I call my husband a technology hoarder because he hangs on to all kinds of strange cables and computer parts that I don’t have a clue about. One of the things I love about a move is the purging I get to do. I seem to simplify more and more with every move. Amazing how much stuff we accumulate! Thank you for stopping by!


  3. So what is “normal” anyway? lol
    On an individual level, moving is exciting. It represents opportunity for more, different…”newness” that can foment all sorts of personal growth.
    I don’t have kids so I can’t address the responsibility of uprooting them from the familiar but it seems to me there is great opportunity to foster within them the excitement you feel(about moving).
    Sounds like you have an excellent handle on the situation:)


    • You’re right! “Normal” is undefined and overrated! lol That level of excitement is the one I experience with every move…the excitement of clean slates, exploration, and new chapters. I’ve grown immensely with each move as has my marriage as well. I see that sense of excitement in my children and individual growth as they get older. I just hope it lasts! Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my “excitement.”


  4. Great article. I’ve actually been told on more than one occasion by family members that, if I want to have a successful marriage, I should MOVE AWAY from the rest of the family. Possibly unconventional advice, but even so – the records among my extended family, at least, seem to back this up. So, my husband and I moved abroad just 6 months after getting married. We’ve found it to be challenging, at times, but also a blessing because in adapting to a new culture we are each other’s best and only ally (and an ocean lies between us and all the family drama back “home!”). Cheers!


    • That’s funny you say that. My mom always told me it was healthier for any married couple to live far enough from family that they learn to truly depend on each other. I’ve seen it in my own friends’ marriages where one side’s extended family is so involved in the couple’s every decision, every move, that they alienate the spouse or cause marital issues that maybe would never have arisen otherwise.

      I wish you and your husband many years of happiness! Thanks for stopping by!


  5. I was an ex-pat kid, lived overseas from 12-18. Assume you’ve read the TCK book, which I didn’t discover till I was 40. It blew my mind, it was like someone had written my biography, my life was on every page. It was totally life changing to realize that many of my struggles (depression, anger, drinking) were rooted in my overseas childhood. Some kids dealt with it just fine (my brother) and others really suffered (me). The grief from loss was the worst of it, and not being able to talk about how much it hurt because we were on “adventures” and were supposed to be having fun. Some of it was fun but I wanted my friends to stay in my life, not more trips.

    The danger is that you might not know if your kid is doing okay until later in life…I behaved myself until college when my anger at my parents exploded. My advice: get your kids continuous counseling…give them a place to say what they really feel and think without worrying about hurting you. I learned as a young teenager to stuff my fears and tears, to stay away from intimacy because it hurt too much to say goodbye again, and felt displaced and lost in this world until I moved back to my childhood home in my 40’s.

    Sorry, don’t mean to be a downer, but I’ve read a few of your posts and you seem to want honest feedback. At this point in my life (now 50) I’m very glad to have seen the world, I know it has given me a unique, global insight that few people have, and many memories I cherish, but it was very difficult to get to this point. God healed my heart through the TCK book, talking to my parents about it after all these years, writing my own book, and finding my long lost friends on Facebook. I can imagine it’s better now with social media, but there’s still loss.

    My best to you and your family 🙂


    • Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a well thought out comment. I wholeheartedly appreciate you sharing your personal story with me. You’re right about my wanting honest feedback. I realize everyone handles these moves differently based on personality, age, etc and technology today may help to keep friends connected on a deeper level. I know my 11 year old daughter has maintained a friendship with her best friend since they were 4 years old because they’ve been able to maintain consistent communication. We’ve also been able to have her with us every summer and taken trips back to the states to visit on occasion. That all helps too.

      You won’t believe I haven’t read the book you mention nor had I ever heard of it until your comment! I’m going in search of it today!

      I’m sorry it was a rough time for you when you were younger. I do worry about that for my children and hope to be able to settle down somewhere as they get older. I’m happy to hear you’ve healed. Is your own book about your personal journey? I would love to check it out as well.

      Again, thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience with me. It means a lot.


      • I REALLY hoped you wouldn’t be offended, so I’m so glad to receive your reply!

        Here’s a link to the book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds: http://www.amazon.com/Third-Culture-Kids-Growing-Revised/dp/1857885252.

        If you Google Third Culture Kids, you will find other websites with counselors, web sites for kids to talk about their experiences, a Facebook page, all kinds of stuff. I agree, people react differently..but after getting in contact with many of my overseas friends again, it’s clear that we were ALL indelibly marked by those experiences…for good and bad. Many parents feel a lot of guilt and tend to hide from the “bad” and don’t encourage their kids to talk about it because of that.

        Yes, my book is my own personal journey from when we left for Saudi Arabia when I was twelve, through my boarding school years in Rome, Italy, and through my twenties/early thirties. When I get it finalized and available, I will send you a link.

        Thanks so much for being gracious 🙂


  6. I moved a lot when I was younger even though for the most part it was withing 10 miles. But I went to several elementary schools, and 3 high schools. I turned out just fine but the process can be stressful and it can take awhile to start to feel at home.
    My husband and I are getting ready to move to a new apartment and I will probably be posting about it a lot this summer!
    Stopping by from More Than Mommies Mixer.


    • It does take time before each new place begins to feel like home. In my experience unless you’re just moving to a new house in the same general neighborhood, it takes about a year. That’s a long time and there is definitely an adjustment period for everyone. Congrats on the new apartment. Heading over to follow you so I can read all about your transition! Good luck!


  7. Leo,

    Wow, lots to say on this one, I could offer advice, tell you how well written this was, argue about beating statistics as I am always the 1%, or tell you what my son told me not so long ago. I will go with the latter, I used to feel bad moving my now almost 17yr old almost every year for very different reasons. Last year he and I were chatting and he told me that he used to hate being the new kid. He used to get pissed every time we ” started over” and it sucked leaving his teammates in his respective sporting events. Now with a GPA of 3.7 almost 17 and about to start Junior Year in HS, that moving made him a better person, a better sportsman, a better communicator, and more apt to succeed in a world where change is the constant.


    • Thanks Amy! It warms my heart to hear that Athen believes moving made him a better person in the long run. You know we’ve always thought highly of him. You’ve done an amazing job raising him! Mike and I both feel our moves are providing good experiences for our kiddos to learn new cultures and be exposed to many different types of people. Our most recent move stems from the fact that we feel they are way too isolated currently and are missing out on so much. I appreciate your thoughts my friend! Love ya!


  8. Pingback: Outside the Box: The ExPat's Dilemma | Muses fr...

    • I do love introducing my family to new cultures and sites with each move. It’s definitely an adjustment and more effort as the kids get older, but I still think it’s worth it! Thank goodness! 😉


  9. Oh, I love #4–the camp out! My children would absolutely love to rough it a couple of nights. As for moving, my husband and I haven’t moved much at all. I give you so much credit for always handling each move with zest and fervor. There is clearly a SPECIAL grace over your life!
    Hoping this move goes smoothly. I pray you can call this new place ‘home’ sooner than you think! 🙂


    • Thank you Anka. I feel so good about this move for all of us. If we had a choice, we would leave Puerto Rico. However, I believe this move will help us get through the rest of the time we have here. #4 is definitely my kids favorite part of the moves! They’ve also loved the times we’ve been in a tiny corporate apartment while we house hunt. Amazing how they prefer for the four of us to be in such close quarters. I’m enjoying that while I can as I’m sure that won’t always be the case.


  10. Good advice. I would add a couple. Do research on the new place before you go and show online photos to the kids. If it is an expat assignment, find the American Women’s Club and get plugged in ASAP. The FAWCO website often helps locate women’s clubs. They can be lifesavers when settling in to a new place!


    • Thank you Terry. I do believe the older I get the more I will see as “work” too! And truth be told, I still hope we will be able to settle down and stay put once the kids are a bit older. Hope the weather isn’t treating you too badly out there!


  11. I spent my childhood moving from home to home and school to school. I hated it. I hated starting over every couple of years. I hated losing my friends and having to try to make new ones. I honestly think that becoming numb to the feeling from the constant moves is one thing that stunted my social growth.


    • This is one of the uneasy feelings I get with each move…for my children. I think everyone handles moving differently and I worry about them. They’ve been great and well adjusted with each move thus far, but I fear it will become more difficult as they get older. This recent move is driven by us wanting them to have more social interaction, extracurricular activities etc. I’ve been homeschooling them for the last year, and there are no organizations where we currently live to support homeschooling families. There are also zero children around, and my kids don’t speak the local language. I feel like the three of us currently live in a bubble. The kids are super excited to start attending school again, making friends, and getting involved. Send us good vibes as you are one of the few that gets it!


  12. We moved a few times when I was very young, but since the age of 5, we’ve been in the same place. I think it would’ve been hard for me to adjust to moving around a lot.


    • Katie, I lived in the same house until I was seventeen. I never imagined I would enjoy moving, but there’s something to be said for learning new cultures and exposing my children to them. It’s definitely an adjustment each time, and there are definitely places I’ve enjoyed more than others.


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