I wanted to write a post that analyzes both what you give up to be an expat and what you hopefully gain. I’m first going to discuss sacrifices, not because I want to highlight the negative but because these were my thoughts before we ever agreed to come to Colombia. Moving overseas with young children did bring up a lot of thought-provoking questions for me, what will we sacrifice? And is it worth the gain? Obviously, we are here so that answers the question but I thought I would talk a little about what went through my head.
We left our families behind. Always and forever, this will be the number 1 sacrifice. I include our friends who are like family in this category. We have some wonderful people in our lives, and moving a continent away was and still is the hardest thing about living abroad. We have shed many tears over missing the people we love. I try to talk a lot about why we moved, and how we will always try to visit often, but it doesn’t in any way come close to the daily involvement with the people you love and need. Thank goodness for FaceTime. We spend a lot of energy keeping these relationships alive and well.
We gave up “normal” suburban life, for a little while. This has upsides and down, but for a few years, we gave up our “American dream.” No cul-de-sac, no t-ball, no small town street festivals or neighborhood Halloween’s. Now we do have versions of normal life here that are not so far off and a community of families looking to give their children all those wonderful experiences, but we are living in a high-rise in the middle of the City, so it looks a little different.
Our pets. This makes the list because I am obviously an animal lover, but I have seen how leaving behind our pets has affected my children. (Don’t worry, they are happy and safe with grandparents and still very much a part of our family) It is as if we left part of our family members behind, and truthfully, that was a very difficult decision. We see animals on the street here and other families with pets and it stings. We are a pet kind of family.
School and Extracurriculars. We cannot participate in the same way. I came to Colombia speaking no spanish, so learning my way around the schooling system has been difficult. Many of the teachers speak English but many of the parents and administrators do not. Therefore, communication isn’t as open. Where at home, I may volunteer or be a part of a parent group that organizes activities, here, I am unable to build many of those relationships. I do see this improving drastically each year we stay and as we learn more Spanish and continue to build relationships with other parents.
The random. We miss bathtubs, backyards, and buying last-minute Holiday supplies at Target. These are no more. I had to purchase a blow up tub for Brynn because she hates the shower, and I have to think ahead and order any speciality items I need a month in advance from Amazon.
Independence. Not only did I move to a country in which I didn’t speak the language, but where I also knew there would be some physical boundaries as well. We have travel and driving restrictions and while I have never felt unsafe, I am not free to roam. I am unable to have most in-depth discussions with just about everyone so I have to rely on my husband or google translate(not so great) to get the job done. I am used to handling the contractors, utilities or extra curricular needs for the family.
I think it’s important to note both sides of this coin. Moving here was a great opportunity both physically and financially, but it has caused us some emotional growing pains. It is easy to showcase the travel, the exciting new places and activities, but we must also recognize the difficulties we experience, especially on our kids who didn’t make this choice. Next, I am going to talk about what we have gained and what I still hope to gain from this experience.