In the first of our expat interview series, we chat to Karin, mother of 3 (17, 12 & 12). Originally from Sweden Karin, and her family embarked upon an expat life first in Russia, before further international relocations to Estonia, Denmark and the USA.
What prompted you to make an International move?
My husband’s job as a Swedish Diplomat
How did you prepare for this move? Were you offered support?
The Swedish Foreign services allows you to go on a “fact finding trip” - to allow the diplomat connect with his/her new work place and the family to find somewhere to live, schools etc. The Embassy sets up a program for the diplomat to meet work contacts and together with the spouse (and from this year also the children) to look at schools and houses. Both the spouse and the diplomat can get approx 10 lessons in the language of your new country before moving.
What were the most difficult element(s) about leaving your home country?
Leaving family and friends. Also for our last postings - leaving my work place and becoming a full time spouse took some adjustment...
What were your first impressions of your new environment?
Very different in all the different postings off course, but it has always been a very positive feeling full of energy, excitement and curiosity for the new place.
Did you have any concerns or even regrets in those early days and weeks?
Actually no, never.
How long were you living in your host country before you felt settled and more at home’?
That is very different on different levels of life. Finding your way to the grocery shop, to the kids schools etc - things you NEED to get up and running is often faster than you think. But to find a good grocery store, the nicest way to school takes longer. And to find friends... If you’re lucky to be at an international school there’s often very many openminded and helpful parents around which makes your life sooo much easier in the beginning. And if you’re lucky, some of them will also become your friends!! Don’t rush getting settled – let both you and your family miss your old home, talk to old friends and family, but encourage and facilitate playdates with new friends! I think it actually takes a year before you feel really at home. Not that you’re not happy or enjoying your new life, but to feel really “at home” you need to do a thing for the second time – start school, prepare for Christmas etc etc
How did your children cope with the change of familiarity, culture, language?
They have been amazing!!! In all our moves they have been the ones feeling at home the fastest. Finding friends, but managing to keep their old ones. I’m beyond words impressed!!!
What do you think are the most important elements to make an expat experience successful?
Make it a family adventure!! You're in this together!! Do fun things together. Encourage your kids to both have contact with their old friends and find new friends. If they are younger (or older and let you...) engage in arranging playdates or do fun stuff together with other kids and families.
Do you believe an expat life can enrich your children, if yes why?
Yes, definitely! They experience first hand that people are different, different world cultures and despite differences you can find friends everywhere. The fact that they know they can manage big things like moving country helps knowing they can manage pretty much anything/any changes in life
If you have since returned to your home country was it easy or difficult to adjust?
The most difficult move is moving back home! You, and everyone else, thinks that you are just coming back and should be up and running your “normal” life very quickly. Actually in my case, I think I thought so even more than family and friends... Our kids settled in much faster than me. Probably in my case it is connected with me totally changing car!