So here we are in Sweden. We have begun our second year with Think Global School, traveling along with them to three different countries in one school year. It’s an unusual experience for a family living abroad. Most families have a country they can call home-away-from-home. We did this when we lived in Qatar for two years. Jamie and I both worked for Qatar Foundation Schools and the kids went to school there. We had a house provided for us in a compound with other Qatar Foundation employees and their families. It was an expat community experience working and living in the Middle East because we were all in the same boat. We were from different countries, but all living in the same place, experiencing the culture and the day to day living, figuring it out together. But it’s different this time. Now, we move in, start to get to know a place and then BAM! Time has flown by and we are on the move to our next country.
In order to do this, we are beginning to see the patterns of transition we go through as a family. We have to re-learn certain things and get used to a new culture each time we move. Way back when (say 25 years ago) I used to be an Outward Bound Instructor. One of our favorite sayings was “It’s time to step out of your comfort zone” meaning, it’s time to feel uncomfortable, confused, maybe even a little frightened. And that’s OK. It’s what propels this family forward. It’s part of learning and growing. We have to do it. Here are just some of the things we have to do over and over. Sometimes it’s daunting, but at the same time it’s exciting and fun to figure out the pieces of a new puzzle.
I’m talking from the viewpoint of an American English speaking citizen of the world. From my experience, I can’t assume that everyone will be speaking English throughout the rest of the world. Depending on the country, it usually is not the first language spoken. I brace myself for this. I have to be prepared to feel uncomfortable and silly at times. Like the time when I had to purchase a plunger for our toilet in Orosi, Costa Rica. Without going into too much detail, lets just say I resorted to charades (which clearly wasn’t working) and finally finding a picture of a plunger on my iphone. The salesman found this to be quite funny, because plungers are embarrassing, right? I mean, we use them to unclog a toilet. What could I do? I laughed right along with him.
Not only is speaking the language tricky, but reading it as well can really throw us off. Print is all around us. When I see it every day in my language, I don’t really pay attention to it because I know I can read it. But when I can’t read it, I seem to notice it even more, because I can’t access it. Thank God for Google Translate. I can use this nifty application on my phone to translate text when I need it. I’ve used it to translate menus and items at the grocery store.
Getting around in different countries has been varied. Driving in Qatar, the key was to drive defensively. I had to drive without hesitation in my decision making. This is the key to surviving round-abouts in Doha. When on the highway, drive in the right lane so that the race cars can easily pass you on the left. Seriously, they will run you off the side of the road while flashing their high beams at you, so always be looking in your rear-view mirror. In New Zealand we rented a car. This was perhaps one of the biggest traveling challenges of my life. I had to re-learn how to drive – on the other side of the road, on the other side of the car. I was pretty terrified. It took me a good two weeks to get used to retraining my mind to everything I was doing. I often would talk out loud to myself, or Jamie would narrate exactly what I had to do next as I made my way through city streets or on the highway. In Costa Rica, we put our trust in the skills (sometimes lacking) of other drivers of buses, boats and army jeeps. Your bus is about to scrape the side of a mountain road? No worries. Avert your eyes and pray that it won’t happen. Riding huge swells in a metal boat on a stormy sea and wondering if you’ll make it to shore alive? We had no choice. It was the only way out of Punta Mona, Costa Rica that day. In Greece we became experts at riding the rails in Athens. We made a few mistakes, but you just get off and turn yourself around and get on the next train. In Sweden, we are without a car again. The buses here come every 5 minutes in either direction. Google Maps helps us get to where we need to go in every country.
New country, new grocery stores. It’s not too hard. Almost everything has pictures on it. Many things are self evident, like a loaf of bread, fruits and veggies. It’s things like milk, or a specific dairy item that can get tricky. Once I thought I was buying milk and I ended up with a yogurt milk. No worries. I saved my receipt and brought the Filmjölk back. The cashier was really helpful and let me exchange it for a Lättmjölk. See the difference there? Some items are really hard to find and you just have to go with a substitute when what you really want is not available. I needed some vanilla extract and had to settle for crushed vanilla beans instead. Here in Sweden we have discovered a grocery store that delivers right to our doorstep. We use this service once a week and order our groceries on line. This way we can see all the items translated to English and we can take our time and not feel rushed. It’s also easier to order all the heavy stuff, otherwise we are walking our groceries home.
Banking and Money
Every time we move we must get to know the new currency. I am terrible with conversions in my head and I am constantly using my conversion app on my phone to figure out how much something is worth in US dollars. In Sweden I am facing sticker shock. Eating out is something we won’t be doing a lot of. On one of our first days here the kids and I went to check out the climbing gym in Sickla. It’s inside a beautiful building with a library, a museum and a cafe. We decided to have a little lunch break there and spent $30.00 on 2 muffins, 1 latte and 3 soft drinks. Needless to say, we pack our snacks and lunch on our rock climbing days now.
Finding the library is important for our family because we love to read. We also homeschool so finding resources about the country we are in is helpful. This can be difficult at times. The library in New Zealand was awesome because the books were in English. Even the Maori literature was translated to English. In Costa Rica, we were on the go the entire time. We had access to books at the libraries of the Research Centers we were staying at. In Greece there were not many libraries close to us. I did find a book about the Odyssey in English at a tourist book stand near the Plaka in Athens. I grabbed it right away. Sweden is another case where most of the books are in Swedish. They do have sections of English books, but not many for researching the county. Most of the available books are fictional here.
Don’t laugh. Jamie and I both have very short hair and need haircuts often. Thankfully the woman who is renting us our house has left us some suggestions of places to get our haircut in town. Jamie’s haircut is Thursday. Cross your fingers for us.
Doctors and Clinics
Thankfully we have been pretty healthy and have not had to use the clinics much. A few times people have actually told us “just ask the pharmacist” and we’ve had pretty good luck with that advice. We save our yearly check-ups and teeth cleanings for our time home in the summer.
These are just some of the things we have to get used to each time we move to a new country. I’m not complaining at all. I’m just giving you a little insight into the life of a global traveling family. Sometimes we feel a little crazy re-training our brain yet again, feeling uncomfortable yet again. Stepping out of our comfort zone one more time. But we do it, we adapt. It’s all part of the adventure.