Before we became expats and made the decision to move abroad, my husband and I would sit in front of the TV and watch HGTV’s House Hunters International. Each week a new family was featured relocating across the world to a life unknown.
We marveled at how they did it. Left their familiar hometowns, packed up and shipped out – either because they had to or because they chose to. And of course every episode ended with happy smiling faces of parents and kids all settled in and thriving in their new foreign country.
“Yea, right!” we would laugh. It can’t be that EASY! I mean, this isn’t the “backpacking, sleeping in hostels” type of life abroad that hippies and college students dream of. It’s real adult life with financial responsibilities and parenting demands!
But then we wondered, what if it IS that easy?? What if the rumor was true – that kids really do adapt as easily to life changes as everyone says they do? And what if after all the logistics and details to move were over, families did truly find happiness in their new life?
We realized the only way to find out would be to take the plunge ourselves. My husband accepted a relocation for his job in Barcelona and our adventure began!
And the truth is, living abroad with kids is BOTH amazing and challenging! (Can’t say we were overly surprised by this.) Sure, you have the headaches of car seats, strollers, toys to pack, public transportation, language obstacles, moods and tantrums, and the like. All of which have nothing to do with being expats. It’s about being parents, ya’ll!
But then you have these experiences along the way, these moments of sheer joy that personally make my heart skip a beat. You know, pinch yourself type moments when you look at your kids’ faces and realize how awesome it is to take this journey with them.
It’s during those moments when we truly remember all the reasons why living abroad with kids is so very awesome!
1. We experience the adventure through their eyes.
You’ve never experienced Big Ben in London until you’ve done it with my 7-year old son. This was the number one thing Anthony was most excited about seeing when we traveled to London last February. He loved how iconic it was, the clock tower overlooking the Parliament and River Thames.
Who wouldn’t get goosebumps seeing it? And unfortunately at the time we visited, Big Ben was covered in scaffolding and under construction. But even then, it still struck my son with awe. Now when I see this massive tower, I remember that moment and his sweet little face filled with excitement.
2. We try new things we otherwise might not have.
Learning to ski for the first time in France (at almost 40 years old mind you!), hiking two hours along a cliff to catch a glimpse of waterfalls in Rupit or riding a frightening cable car to the top of Montserrat mountain – just a few examples of how we push ourselves for our kids.
Was I scared to death during these experiences? Suuuuuure.
But we want our little ones to overcome challenges, conquer fears and live a life of excitement. As parents, we have to practice what we preach! Our kids are watching and listening. So even when I’m afraid and would rather be behind the camera taking pictures from afar, I push myself to live in the moment and be a part of it.
3. Meeting many other amazing expat parents.
I attended a women’s luncheon at my church in New Jersey right before we moved abroad. And one of the dear pastors prayed a special prayer over our family. She asked for the safety of our relocation and our new life in Barcelona. She also prayed that we would meet other wonderful families throughout our journey.
What may have taken months of finding other expats and building relationships with them, happened in a matter of days thanks to my children attending international school here. It seemed as if overnight, we had this amazing community of people welcoming us and saying, “We’re expats too and we’re here for you.”
When my kids are ill, they’re the ones that jump in to help. When I’m feeling homesick, they’re right there to relate! Our Thanksgiving table abroad is filled with friends from other parts of the globe who don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving! We’re family to one another.
4. They’ve been our best teachers.
I mean this in a philosophical AND literal way! I’ve learned a lot about myself through my children. They’ve taught me to stay positive in tough situations, bite my tongue when my instinct is to snap back and find solutions where hope is lost. We’re all better versions of ourselves because of our kids, aren’t we?
And in a literal sense, my kids are constantly teaching me. Everything from Spanish songs, Catalan phrases, even Russian words! They’ve corrected me when using the metric system (which if you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know I loathe!) and helped me find my way around the train station if we’re lost. It’s downright hilarious and also pretty incredible.
5. They keep us strong at our weak moments.
I often say, becoming an expat isn’t for the weak! Your wit and resilience will be tested. And tested again. And then tested once more. There are days when you’ll want to just say, “F- this!” and book a flight back home.
But we always say, the only way to lose at something is to quit. And living abroad is no exception to the rule. We must push on. For ourselves and the experiences that await – but more so for our kids. So that someday when the opportunity comes for each one of them to pursue their dreams and see the world, they grab hold of it with confidence!
I’d love to hear about your experiences living abroad with kids. What have you found to be the best part? What has been the most challenging?