Updated: Jan 9, 2020
When we moved to Switzerland, we started out with the typical story: “Let’s stay for a year and a half or two and see how it goes.” We moved with an eight-year-old that didn’t know any German and we threw her into the public school system. I also started my journey down the German acquisition path, tried to figure out the right place to recycle wine bottles, and to fill my stay-at-home-mom time, taught myself to paint by watching YouTube videos. Our family did our best to figure out this new land and not just survive but thrive. You see, my husband was not forced to take a job which would take us away from our hometown, we were not pulled from the only place we’d ever known, and we sure did not move without any notion of what living abroad would be like.
As Sundae Schneider-Bean puts it, we are Expats on Purpose. After having made it through the most difficult move of our lives when we moved to Paris at the age of 24, turned it around and was sad when we had to leave, we knew we wanted to give this gift to our future children.
After some research into language acquisition, I learned that if a child isn’t exposed to a second language from birth, the second best time to start is between the ages of 7 and 10. Their mother tongue is firmly set and their vocabulary knowledge is enormous. They already know HOW to learn how to read and learn vocabulary, therefore, learning how to read in a second language isn’t quite as difficult.
So here we are, six and a half years later, finding ourselves living in the same place longer than any other home in our adult lives. Do I have the itch? You bet I do. But now we have an almost-fifteen-year-old and if we can avoid pulling her out of the only home she has known in her logical processing life, we will do everything in our power. But making that decision has been a process and it continues to be a process.
A couple of years ago my parents were in a time of great transition. My father had retired from being a middle school band director and my mother knew she was going to teach elementary general music for one more year. Their children were scattered all over the world and they were feeling as if their 6-bedroom house was too much. On what seemed like a whim, but I’m sure was something brewing for a long time, they purchased a piece of land just three miles from my sister and her family and started fantasizing about building a home on a virgin piece of land.
The spanner in the mix was that neither of my parents was completely sure they wanted to move. They brainstormed about all the different configurations their retirement lives could take, but they didn’t seem to come to a mutual agreement. One day, my dad called and wanted to chat. We spoke about all the typical topics, how his granddaughter was getting along, his last round of golf, and an upcoming trip. But it soon became clear that he had something he really wanted to ask: “How did you decide to stay? How should we make the decision about what to do?”
I must say that it was quite humbling to have my father ask me for advice. And not just if he should use a nine iron or a wedge from 100 yards out. This was based on a massive life decision. So, I told him our story.
Every six months to a year at the beginning of our move to Switzerland, we would do a check-in. This check-in would consist of asking everyone in the family how they are feeling about living outside of the US. We agreed before we moved that this was not about one of us being fulfilled or learning. It was about all three of us being fulfilled and learning. Of course, we were aware that there would be ups and downs in work, school, and social lives. But overall, we were each individually happy enough to continue our living situation? Setting a time frame for this decision was the best way for us.
Which is exactly what I told my dad on the phone that day: Set a time frame. Pose a question, let the question ruminate, let it knock around inside your head for a while, and then come back together with your individual decisions.
My parents have now been in their new home for seven months. It was a labor of love which involved starting from scratch, agreeing on details as minute as drawer pulls, and it continues with planting grass seed and deciding on wall hangings. But they made that decision individually and then together. They both allowed themselves the time to fully process the possibilities but set a time frame in which the decision needed to be made.
What big family decisions do you have coming up? How will you be sure that everyone has their voice heard?
April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link: www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com