Are you toying with the idea of moving to another country? Does the promise of travel, economic opportunities, adventure, or starting fresh excite you? Then, stick with me! People move abroad for a variety of reasons. For some it is to study. For others, it could mean a lucrative job offer or chance to reunite with a loved one. Some want to travel, experience a new culture, or simply learn a new language. Others might be escaping a terrible situation in hopes of a more promising future. Before jumping ship from your homeland, be sure to have a look at these 6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat.
Due to a growing cultural acceptance and more resources for expats, the number of people living abroad has exploded in recent decades. An estimated 9 million Americans currently live on foreign soil, and roughly 232 million people around the world have relocated outside of their home country of citizenship. In the 1960s, that number barely touched 73 million.
New endeavors are bursting with emotions. It's an exciting time for a plethora of new everything to come into your life, yet deciding to leave your loved ones and creature comforts behind isn't the easiest.
We've been through this swirl of emotional questions twice to live in very different countries and environments. Our first landing spot was the Little Red Dot of Singapore.
Second and current is Deutschland aka Germany.
These photos were taken mere months apart- departure from Singapore and welcome to Germany .
Without further adieu, here are 6 questions you need to sit with before packing your bags:
1.) Why do you want to move abroad?
This seems like a fairly easy question, right? Sometimes it's not as easy as one might think and can be quite vague. The reason you want to skip the country needs to be a positive and powerful one. Moving, in general, is a hefty order; moving abroad is an entirely different ballgame. You are essentially starting over on foreign soil- creating a new life for yourself. New job. New house. New circle of friends. New culture. And in some instances, a new language.
The memory making which lies ahead is indescribable, but be sure to flesh out exactly WHY you are moving first. When times get tough, you'll need those positive reminders of why you passionately wanted this experience. They will encourage you to keep pushing instead of packing up and heading back "home."
2.) How much do you REALLY love (insert favorite places)?
I've lived in four states around the United States, and each one held very different places which I didn't think I could possibly live without. Certain restaurants, shopping centers, bakeries, even grocery stores. Oh how I miss the ease of Trader Joe's and the super fresh selection of HEB. Cooking is totally my thing; I would much rather be food shopping than clothes shopping any day of the week, and I sorely miss those grocery stores.
How about you? Could you separate yourself from your favorite take out or local pub? It sounds silly, but we get attached to places of comfort equally as much as relationships.
3.) FRIENDS! Do you enjoy making them? Keeping up with old ones?
A sensitive and emotionally charged topic for many, but it's something to examine. Are you good at making new friends? This takes effort...a lot of effort and being vulnerable. How about old friendships? Chances are, you've lived in more than one place in your life. Think back to those days. Was it easy to stay in touch with friends in your previous town? Childhood friends? College buddies? Bonds you created with your first co-workers?
Do you go the extra mile to nurture those friendships? It's crucial to have familiar folks to lean on when moving. In the early days after arrival in a new land, the honeymoon phase is glorious. But on the days of overwhelm, it's comforting to have a dear friend at the ready.
Making new friends takes time and sometimes a strategy. For instance, finding the closest yoga class (if that's your thing) to hopefully connect with other yogis. Making adult friendships is much like dating-- finding commonalities and seeing who you mesh well with. And if not, move along. Wasting time on those who don't put in equal effort? Nope.
It's exhausting, but worth it to find your tribe!
4.) Do you have a healthy savings?
Even if your company is footing the bill for relocation, there will still be unexpected expenses and deposits. The last thing you want once leaving all your creature comforts behind is not having enough funds to get settled. Something as simple as restocking your pantry, fridge, and pharmacy cabinet with essentials will add up. Simple window treatments, new decor, and fresh linens might be added to the list as well.
Don't forget lingering costs back home. Some choose to keep valuable, bulky, or heirloom items in a storage facility which needs to be included- as well as anything else with existing fees such as cars, homes, and pets rehomed to a loved one.
5.) Checklists? Paperwork? Multiple steps? Do these excite you?
If not, then get ready. I thank the good Lord for my Type-A husband. We
might would be in a pickle if I had to keep up with the plethora of admin stuff for our family. Document after document will be searched for, filled out, copied, possibly notarized, and mailed off to now only sit on your laurels and wait for months. Yes, months. Visas, resident permits, driving license, and sometimes a birth abroad certificate are a few items that may keep you waiting for months. And prior to mailing them off, getting everything collected and filled out can be a searing pain. Oh, and don't forget translations. This wasn't required when moving to Singapore, but was a must when relocating to Germany. All of our documents: birth certificates, marriages license, diplomas, etc had to be translated prior to submitting them for approval.
Some documents take weeks to complete before finalizing.
Obtaining a local driving license is easily at the top of my list of most nerve-wracking expat experiences in Germany. It took me how long to pass the test?!
What about once you are settled in your new country? Fully research how taxes and insurance is processed. It's different in every country. And if you are from the States, double and triple check how much you still owe Uncle Sam every year being abroad. Yep, that's right! You still pay taxes in the homeland.
These can be harsh things to think about, but they are valid and quite pertinent. Each country works at varying speeds to process things. You don't want to be surprised by the time limitations.
6.) Is returning home the ultimate goal?
This is a general rule of thumb for most expats when they initially set sail. Some people relocate for a few years with plans to move back home. But you will hear more times than not, "yeah, our original plan was 3-5 years, but here we are 10 years later!" It's pretty common, because making a home in a foreign country takes A LOT of everything: time, money, effort, not to mention sacrifices. But once settled and accustomed to new cultural and language integrations, it's tough to imagine going back or living anywhere else. It's also tough to walk away from a life you've voraciously fought to make for yourself.
Have a family? It's even more challenging to pack up and move again. Your partner has also made a life for themself, as well as your kids. They are ingrained in their community with athletics and activities, not to mention friendships. Returning home might not happen.
"Cool! Got it. I'm ready to go!!"
Not so fast.
Don't forget the longterm effects of living in a foreign country. After addressing a few questions you should ask before becoming an expat, I highly recommend diving into what life will look like in a couple of years. Hubby and I lightly discussed a few of these topics before leaving the US five years ago, but oh how I wish we would have fully laid it all out first.
It's much more than missing a friend's wedding or the birth of your nephew. It can also mean stunting your career and how many children you might have. We have run into every talking point, and each one deserves attention before becoming official expats: Long Term Effects of Living Abroad and What To Do
Whew! All that being said, living in a foreign country can be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will undoubtedly forever change you. Your heart. Your mind. The way you view everything will be different- for the better. If you are skimming this article, I applaud you! Being curious and seeing what else is out there is exciting. Do your research and get out there. It's a BIG beautiful world, and I encourage you to explore it!
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Some may think the spring lockdown never quite ended- only lessened. However, I feel like the summer gave us a huge and much needed break in Germany. Sports were back in session, stores loosened their restrictions, restaurants opened back up for indoor dining, and country borders were released! Wahoo! The possibility of surviving Bavarian lockdown 2.0 never crossed my mind.
This meant traveling, sanity, and seeing friends.
Read further to see how we have navigated life in Germany during 2020, and how we are currently handling our déjà vu lockdown 2.0
Let's rewind, shall we?
The first weekend Germany opened its borders in June, we took off for a long weekend in the Czech Republic.
And the last full week in June, we headed down to Switzerland and truly felt like we DID Switzerland!
Being able to get out and travel was such a breath of fresh air!
That's who we are and the number one reason we moved abroad...and also relocated to another continent after a few years. Traveling is the life blood of an expat - at least for us.
However, all good things must come to an end. And an end did come. September ushered in tighter restrictions, and October clamped down even more. Over 6,000 employees of hubby's office were sent packing and set up for official home office. The boys' athletics and after school activities were also put on hold along with restaurants returning to spring protocol: offering take-out only. We were only allowed to hangout with one other family where everyone in the group equaled a number less than ten. The gyms, churches, theaters, etc closed their doors once again. If you were not a grocery store, pharmacy, doctor's office, bank, or post office, then you unfortunately must close up shop. No shopping, renovating, or DIY buying. Must be essential business. The newest regulations began yesterday. Déjà vu! Although, I keep wondering if and when we can exchange items bought for Christmas...hmm.
What did we do over Christmas break if we couldn't travel?
A few months ago, we booked tickets to Dubai in the UAE. After you've lived through one German winter, you learn to schedule a sunny holiday in January if possible. Ahem (the reason for the trip to South Africa I recently scripted out). You learn quickly the sun does exist in other places on Earth and does set after 3:30pm in January. I digress...
We were supposed to be in Dubai over New Year's this year. But alas, our flights were cancelled. And even though our typical holiday cheer found around Europe at the Christmas markets was also cancelled, we had a momentous amount of fun staying at home. We baked, we cooked, we painted, played games, suited up for frigid games of basketball in the driveway, went rollerblading, biking, scootering, running around the playgrounds, rebuilt all of the LEGO sets (there are many!), went sledding, made snowmen, and walked downtown more than I can count. Meandering around streets with medieval buildings is enough to keep one entertained for hours- even with small people in tow.
This lockdown blessed our friendships tremendously-
Per "one family" rules, we stuck to that and invited others over for dinner. The kids ate it up, because they got to play with their friends, and we also enjoyed adult conversation with other people outside our home. We mainly stuck to rotating dinner dates with three families. I know it sounds corny- but since our normal meet up spots were shut down, it forced us to foster these authentic relationships in our own home. Deleting social media was also a driving force in seeing other people in person as well. We cooked together, made drinks/desserts, and watched movies. We even played a few rounds of Twister with one family. Good 'ol fashioned fun!
We also joined up with others on snowy hikes or strolls through the forrest.
Mainly to let our boys burn their miles and miles of energy, but I can't get enough of the winter air in Bavaria. It's so crisp and refreshing - delicious, really! SO great for the entire family.
It was all a perfect concoction of goodness up until now.
Now, we hunker down. Now, we hibernate and have one friend over at a time. No more playdates. And since we now have a 9pm curfew, bff sleepovers
might have become a thing. They aren't only for kids. Sanity savers for moms and dads who can't go to dinner with friends or meet up for a drink after work.
My one saving grace until now? Germany kept the schools open!
Children above age six were required to wear a mask starting in the spring when moving about the building and playground. It eventually tightened down to an all day accessory, except for when they were eating. This made learning a bit challenging for my eldest - simply because German isn't his first language. He's fluent in Deutsch for a six year old (due to enrollment of public preschool), but it's still tricky with new vocabulary. And although I'm currently taking German courses, I'm nowhere good enough to assist with his homework without the help of Google Translate. Ahhh!
Fast forward to today-
Yesterday, began our journey with distance learning. Momma Merkel (among others) decided to keep schools closed after the winter break. We went to the school on Saturday to pick up what our son needed for the next three weeks...the time span in which they will be home. I personally believe it will be stretched longer. But for now, I can live with three weeks. Many of my friends and family back in the States have been navigating home learning since March.
Nevertheless, we have joined forces with the rest of the world in distance learning. It's not necessarily full-on virtual learning like some schools, but two WebEx calls a day is enough. And with momma not fully understanding all the teacher communication on the call, it is a lot of pressure on my son.
Homeschooling him in a foreign language never crossed my mind when we registered for school.
My First Grader's Schedule-
- Virtual Call 8:15am-9:00am
- Work Block 9:00am-10:30am
- seven German assignments, two math pages completed, and four pages read in a specified book
- Virtual Call 10:30am-11:15am
- Wednesdays Only- Deutsch Plus Virtual Call 11:15am-12:30pm
Keep in mind, children don't start formal education until first grade in Germany. This is age six, and some parents make the conscious choice to hold their kids back until age seven. Through the early years, there is a huge emphasis on learning through play in the German culture. Learning letters at the beginning of first grade to full scale comprehending a book by Christmas happens somehow. Same with adding and subtracting by the holidays. It blows my mind how quickly they learn things, and how much is taught during that short time. It shouldn't surprise me though, because the German mindset is very structured.
I often get questioned about the school being let out by 11am. What are they learning in that short time? I will tell you...all work and very little play. Kids are allowed to walk home after 11am, or they can stay for lunch, recess, and after school help with homework. All depends on what works best for each family.
...back to the school work. It absolutely amazes me what they expect the kids to complete within one hour and fifteen minutes of distance learning. Yesterday, we did everything but reading. Today, we crushed it!
It's difficult keeping one child focused on school work while little brother is going rogue. Keeping him occupied for three hours is quite challenging.
*Some have told me to turn on the TV.
*Some have told me to give him an iPad in another room.
*Some have told me to give him an activity book.
While all of these are great suggestions, none of them hold the attention span for more than 15-20 minutes in our house. Our fellas are busy busy busy. Luckily, my little guy is obsessed with LEGOs. But the attention span for that only lasts for so long as well. Anyways, we are only a few days in. I know we will get into a rhythm, but I also know it takes time. Are you in the same boat?? Open to suggestions and what has worked best for you in the comments!
The spring lockdown taught me : STRUCTURE IS KEY.
Even though neither of my kids were in traditional schooling back in March, it helped tremendously to have a schedule for most of the day. They knew what to look forward to and what to expect most of the time.
We will continue giving it our best every day.
And we will be digging DEEP for the proverbial patience each child deserves. Overall, I'm very thankful for our situation. We only have one child in home learning. We are fortunate to live on one income, so I can focus my attention on serving my kids during this season. My husband doesn't have an essential job, so him working from home is a blessing if I need him in a bind. We are safe. We are healthy. We have people in the homeland who love and support us from afar, and we have friends close by whom we can count on. This is a difficult chapter in life to be thousands of miles from "home," but I'm thankful for technology and the growing anticipation to go back this summer.
This season is one of perseverance, hope, flexibility, and resilience.
I pray you can look within and readjust the "I have to's" to "I get to's." It's not easy and won't be a smooth affirmation every day. But I pray each of us realizes we are here on Earth right now for a reason. It is a gift!
Y'all, God has given each of us a unique set of tools and equipped us to flourish with what we are being dealt right now. This is where I would tell you...YOU CAN DO IT! But I mainly feel I'm pep-talking myself. Ha!
What is your inspiration for 2021?? Let me know in the comments below! A girl has to diversify.
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Guys- I know I mentioned feeling incredibly lost without social media on day one...but unfortunately, it's not really gone anywhere.
When you have a fixation with something and it's been actively removed, your entire world is shook top to bottom. I feel it would be very similar to being told you would never walk again and then taking teenie tiny baby steps each day telling yourself- YES, I will! Rewiring your brain and retraining your physical habits is tough stuff.
I'm telling ya...every aspect of my life has been affected. The simplest everyday happenings like the way I cook, shop, shower, sleep, play with my kids, and even putting on make-up, to more thought out processes of reselling outgrown toys and used home goods, interacting with friends, planning get togethers, checking on family, and scheduling my days. Every little thing has been affected.
Here's a quick list of eye-opening moments from the week:
- When I put on a TV show for my kids, I actively watched it with them. We laughed together and discussed the plot of what would happen next. I was engaging with my kids instead of seeing it as an opportunity to scroll social.
- When we've had friends over for dinner, I have actively interacted with them instead of taking pictures to post on social.
- When taking a shower, I spent time praying and reflecting on the day instead of wondering who commented on my recent post.
- When cooking dinner, I typed in the recipe I needed through the search bar instead of searching through saved recipes on a social platform to find the particular one I needed.
- When going for a bike ride, hike, or playground adventure with my family, I embodied living in the moment instead of constantly keeping my eyes peeled for those perfect moments to capture in an Instagram story.
- When my husband found something funny he wanted to share with me, he physically showed me his phone and we shared the moment together instead of seeing it pop up in my DMs and laughing alone.
- When doing the bedtime gamut; shower, brushing teeth, reading books, and prayers/songs, I have found myself enjoying the process instead of rushing through so I could
relaxsit on the couch and pretend to watch a show while scrolling social media. Veteran parents will achingly plead with you - they are only little once. And this week, I've felt it more than ever.
- When wondering how someone was doing, I whipped out my phone to call/text them, instead of looking them up in "stories" to mentally check the box.
- and by doing the above, I noticed one of my sister-in-laws had beautiful new hair extensions, and my other sister-in-law had a gorgeous new do! Although, a bit embarrassing because these new hair habits occurred months ago for both of them; I've just been too distracted to notice. (FACE PALM)
- The biggest kicker has been how I've spent this Christmas holiday. All the above embodied every single moment of how I experienced this Christmas in a different way. I have truly savored the crafts with my kids, cooking heirloom dishes, baking tasty treats, having undistracted conversations with my husband, laughed until I cried with friends, and seen way more people over FaceTime than I have in a few months combined, instead of relying on a social media platform to do it all for me.
- My husband and I even had a tif over how something happened on Christmas morning. He asked me if I was going to take a picture of it, and I said, "no, not if I'm not going to post it."
Looking back, I cannot even believe those words came out of my mouth. I know that hurt his heart a little, because it was evident how the vast effects of "posting" had taken control of me. He was surprised I didn't want a picture of the moment for our family memories.
Deep down, I did.
But that wasn't my initial response, nor what I verbally admitted to.
The Happiness of Others
DISCLAIMER: These are 100% my opinions and my own personal experience. I am not judging nor will I shame you for staying on any social media platform. How, where, and when you choose to share your life with the world is your business - not mine. I'm simply sharing my story.
I received a lot of well intentioned push back from loads of people about disconnecting. Friends and family loved us, and it was an easy way to "see" our life abroad. They could experience life through our eyes and see how our beautiful boys were growing up: in local schools, speaking a foreign language, and adapting to a childhood they knew absolutely nothing about. I did feel sad taking that away, but I also realized I was making my everyday, life mission to keep others appeased by knitting together our family story for them.
I ran across this graphic a few days ago, and it was a pretty hard pill to swallow. I had heard this quote pretty much my whole life, but it never became crystal clear until two weeks ago. Seeing it paired with the background image was a smack in the face. I felt relief, guilt, and sheer happiness all rolled up into one. It may seem selfish. But can I tell you how much happier I have become since then? It's been a slow unveiling, but I feel LOADS lighter.
When it came down to it, I wasn't doing any of this for myself.
Sure- I enjoyed the creative outlet it gave me, but I could create and publish content about anything. I still feel a bit of the guilt, but I've also come to terms with fostering authentic relationships. Those who truly want to "see" us and know how we are doing will reach out in a personal way. And they have!!
Like I mentioned above, I have talked to more people over the phone and seen more people in real life than I have in the past month. And if I'm being completely honest, it's damning to admit.
On the other hand, there are folks whom I had grown to adore and loved to follow on Instagram. Free-spirited backpackers, travel bloggers, fellow expat mommas around the world, chefs dolling out brand new mouth-watering recipes, a few celebrities, and of course all my beloved friends and family.
It's tough to shut that out as well. I thoroughly enjoyed getting new tips and advice from individuals who were veterans in areas we shared in common. But you know what else I realized, I can look up this info on the great world wide web! Haha - it's funny but true. Umm, hello? Think of how we existed and did life 15-20 years ago! All of these individuals I admired had websites, blogs, published articles, and email lists I could join.
There are other ways of keeping up with people besides social media.
This is a big one! I do not have medically diagnosed depression or anxiety, but I do know that I struggle with it here and there like every one else. We are all human (and even if not diagnosed), we all have our ups and downs.
Social media will not lessen your anxiety nor relieve depression. If anything, it will make it 10x worse. Again, this is my experience and 100% my opinion. But...
The bitterness which festers in seeing a group of people out doing something you are missing out on is horrible.
The anger that bubbles up inside when you see a friend doing something they promised you they would never do.
The sadness and frustration that encapsulates your whole body when you can't take that trip, buy that car, decorate that house, or have that family. The constant feeling that you're not good enough. What you are doing is not "right," because you are choosing to do things differently.
If you put your device down and look around, you'll realize you have a pretty epic life!
The anxiety that comes with scrolling-
I need to do this.
I want to have that.
I must go there.
I'm doing that next!
The depressive state that follows-
I have no way of going there.
I don't have the money for that.
I'm too busy to plan that.
I just can't...therefore, my life sucks!
Peppered throughout past years, I've had several people explain the above to me. I, however, thought I was immune. I had a great life, and I loved being connected. Why would I be jealous of others?? I was happy everyone was doing well in different ways. But deep down I was jealous. Remember, real living breathing human being over here? Even scrolling over the littlest things would put a damper on my day. Living abroad can magnify those feelings even more. You see family hanging out together, and you're instantly sad because you are missing out. You see a friend eating your favorite food from back home, and the bitterness sets in. Or how about a group of your old pals going out for some spontaneous fun? Oh, hello there sadness and frustration.
It's terrible. And I know these feelings don't only come with a one way ticket to another country. We've only been abroad for five years, and I logged onto social media a solid ten years before we left the States.
My friend sent me this article, The Great Conjunction Is Upon Us, when she linked my rash decision to the timing of winter solstice + lining of the planets to form the Christmas star. Gave me goosebumps. An interesting read for sure, especially if you are a spiritually celestial person.
If I'm being completely transparent, a few fellow bloggers/Instagram friends turned me on to the new terms and conditions being rolled out on December 20th. One friend took it upon herself to comb through and read them line by line. Who in their right mind does that?? Umm, where can I click "I understand" so I can get back to my scrolling and posting? It also takes forever. Literal hours can be sucked from your life. Who has time for that?? Well... after she peeked my interest, I wanted to see how much was fear mongering and how much was truth. You guys, I didn't like what I was reading one bit. The algorithms, artificial intelligence, what can be seen&heard from your devices was all a bit too much for me to swallow. It's too much to keep up with, worry about, and causing a hella amount of unnecessary stress for me.
Social media IS fun, keeps you connected, and the endorphin rushes are wildly addictive. But when it comes down to it, this momma couldn't stomach it anymore. Obviously, it is a massive distraction from my kids and husband. But the more the world knew about me and passed info, pictures, location, and contacts along to others was simply off-putting to me.
Remember, 100% personal opinion and no judgement from me about how you choose to handle social media platforms. Just being transparent with y'all. Without going into heavy details, it's all there for you in black and white under "settings" should you find yourself curious and wide awake in the 3am hour like I did.
Although, what feels like curiosity and a bit of judgement from others is also a tough pill to swallow. Going against the grain. Not running with the popular crowd. Keeping your hands down when everyone else is raising theirs. It's tough. I had a few friends, when we first joined Facebook back in college, who decided not to do it. And since then, I've had friends who decided to delete their accounts for various reasons.
I never in a million years thought I would be one of those people.
But, here I am! Beginning week two of zero social media. It's odd. It's weird. I feel like an outcast. But I will say, there is more good that has come out of the past week than bad.
It's refreshing. I feel lighter. Happier. My life feels like it has a clearer purpose now. The trap of the comparison game is kaput. I enjoy my kids more. I have found myself actually wanting to be around them. My husband and I aren't as snippy with one another. I've been reading an actual book - one that you get to flip real pages. I savored moments, many many moments. I've even vacuumed more than normal. Yay for a cleaner house! LOL
To wrap up this week, it's been good. It's been weird. It's been utterly eye-opening. Overall- I'm thankful I'm doing it, and I'm even more thankful you are here for the journey. I'm learning loads about myself and curious to see how this continues to play out in my life, especially as an expat.
Curious about how it all initially went down? It's not pretty, but here it is. My First Day Without Social Media - What Happened?
If you want weekly updates on our life abroad, click below. Email it is, because (duh) no social anymore.
This is going down in history as one of the most interesting days of my life. Not the worst, not the best, but definitely one of the most interesting.
I can't even believe I'm writing this...
In short, I felt lost. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. My nerves were shot. I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t eat anything all day except for a few bites at dinner, which I had to choke down. …and then, I felt nauseous.
Guys, we are talking about social media. Not a real person. A house. Or pet. We are talking about a website. But can I just tell you, I felt like I had broken up with someone. I felt like I had thrown away a scrap book of my adult life. I was an original OG. I joined Facebook my spring semester junior year at Clemson University. My first post was a night time pool party at our apartment clubhouse. Man, I was skinny. Haha- don’t we all think that looking back 15 years ago. ...and had spiky hair! Wait, what??
Social media truly is a virtual scrapbook. Graduations, engagements, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, baby announcements…heck, being able to document and watch other people’s children grow up. I mean, how cool! …and creepy, at the same time. It’s wild if you really think about it. WILD.
So, about the day- the first few hours, I spent the majority of the time reassuring people I was okay. Seriously. That my husband and I were fine. I wasn’t leaving him. He wasn’t leaving me. He hadn’t lost his job. We weren’t being kicked out of Germany. Nor, were we moving back to the States. These were only a few of the things I was asked. Mainly people thought I had gone off my rocker. Honestly. And for good reason, I (mostly) understand. Like, what normal sane person would get rid of social media??
love loved social media! I am a super extroverted person who enjoys being connected and staying in the know. I’m not as active on Facebook as I once was, but I was posting daily on Instagram via my Expat Actually account…and 8-12 stories a day. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative outlet it gave me. And in retrospect, I appreciated the positive attention I received. Even though we’ve been abroad for five years, I would get new questions almost daily about random things. I loved helping people. And as a former educator, it thrilled me to shoot a video, document a process, or capture a gorgeous photo for someone who had previously asked about it. “Friends” would regularly tell me how much they loved living vicariously through me. Of course, it was a mighty confidence booster, but it was beating me down at the same time.
You’ll often hear of the pressures of social media. Pressure to look a certain way, dress or act a certain way. Even if you aren’t the one posting, watch out, because someone else may capture you, your home, or kids in a certain unfavorable angle. And then, BAM, you wake up to it plastered on a social media platform accompanied by random comments or What’s App messages about the happenings from the night before.
Y’all…that wasn’t even my biggest concern. I’ll get into my reasons for leaving social media next week. It’s all over the board. Some I’m sure have crossed your mind, and some I’m sure you’ve never thought of.
For the rest of the day, that original “lost” feeling never went away. It only strengthened and deepened. In the following hours of my first day without social media, this happened…
- My husband and I were talking about a friend from back home but couldn’t remember where they went to college. I thought, “hmmm…I’ll look him up on Facebook real quick.” Nope. Wasn’t available.
- I was cooking dinner later and wanted to revert back to a recipe I saved on Instagram. Nope. Wasn’t available.
- My family was decorating Christmas cookies, and I thought what a CUTE photo op for a story! Nope. Wasn’t available.
- We went for a walk after dinner, and wouldn’t you know there were TONS of amazing moments I wanted to share with my Expat Actually community. It’s all about showing the outside world about our life in a foreign country, right? My eldest son is learning to read and had stopped to sound out road signs of nearby cities. It was an amazing momma moment, but also expat moment as he had flipped from the southern English dialect to the Bavarian dialect of German. It’s still amazing to me, and I so desperately wanted to share it with my Instagram community. Ahhhh! But alas, nope. Wasn’t available.
- Since my phone is usually in my pocket, I will undress in the bathroom and place it in the same spot while I’m showering. Only this particular evening, it hit me that I wouldn’t have any missed likes, comments, or messages. By deleting social media, I made the conscious choice of plugging in my phone to charge in a separate room. When I got out of the shower, I didn’t run to see if I had missed anything. And while normally washing my hair, I’m planning content in my head. But that day? Nope. Wasn’t available. I actually took a second to think about what I would be doing with my kids the next day.
- The month of December, I created an Advent Calendar and had committed to sharing these unique, inspirational graphics with my Expat Actually community on Instagram. Each one had a specific Bible verse for the day and mini-devotional. As I sat down to craft the post (like I had each night after the kids were in bed), it hit me. Nope. Wasn’t available.
It came crashing down on me like a truckload of bricks… I couldn’t fulfill this activity which brought me so much joy any longer. But did it really? I was staying up until 1am or later- figuring out the right words to compile in the caption, researching the best hashtags to reach the right audience, etc. And then, I also had a daily, Christmas market themed series of posts going on as well. These contained the same metrics but also taking time to choose the right photo, edit in Lightroom, resave and structure in Instagram before posting. I enjoyed it, but it.was.a.lot.
Thinking of flying right now? Read this first! Q&As for Flying During A Pandemic
But you know what I was able to do? Sit next to my husband and enjoy one of our favorite shows. In fact, we watched a couple of episodes together. We even went to bed at the same time. This NEVER happens!
- And when I did decide to go upstairs around 11pm (instead of 1am), I settled under the covers to habitually scroll Facebook, watch Instagram stories, and generally see what everyone had been up to for the day. Nope. Wasn’t available.
I clearly remember thinking, “what else is there to look at on my phone??” I checked the weather for tomorrow. Read the daily verse in my Bible app, checked email, and then put it down all in a matter of ten minutes. I leaned over the side of the bed and picked up an actual book to read. The mornings usually start fresh with my devotional book, so I chose a book I’ve been putting off finishing. And instead of staying awake diving deeper into the black hole of social media for a solid hour (generally around 2am), I read a few pages of my book and could not hold my eyes open for the life of me. I was hard asleep before midnight. What?!
This never EVER happens. You know why? Because I had been engrossed in social media. Designing stories, crafting engaging copy for posts, finding the best editing tools, while also commenting on my “friends” content as well.
- And when I went to sleep, the social media attachment wasn’t over… if I got up in the middle of the night, I would typically lie back down phone in hand to see what I had missed from the few hours I was asleep. Not from people here, but from loved ones back home. You know, time difference? Folks back “home” were eating dinner when I decided to close my eyes for the night. I could have missed six hours of “stuff.” WHAT?! Do you realize how ridiculous this all sounds?? But nope. Wasn’t available.
- Needless to say, the same vicious cycle would start over again in the morning. Reach for the phone, open social media, see what everyone else was doing…FACE PALM. Nope. Wasn’t available.
Guys, this was only the first day. I’m intrigued (and also terrified, if I’m being 100% honest) to see what the coming days and weeks will look like. I haven’t decided when or if I’ll ever get back on social media. But I will tell you this, after I decided I was deleting all my social channels… a wave of relief washed over me in an instant. I deleted (not deactivated but deleted) Facebook first. And when I opened Instagram to do the same, I felt dirty. Seriously. This odd grimy feeling took hold of me when I started clicking stories of friends. I was excited to see what they had been doing the whole 12 hours I had been away from Instagram (🙄), yet I felt yucky on the inside. I immediately closed the app, and I thought to myself I need a minute to come back and properly shut it down as well.
I know all this sounds utterly silly, but I wanted to share it with you. This is real. Real raw human emotion. And I know I’m not alone. This was one day. One 24 hour-ish period without social media. I’m sure I’m missing a few moments, but it’s easy to see my rollercoaster of emotions. It’s a struggle for sure, but one I’m determined to power through.
I will share next week why I decided to shut it off. To kiss all social platforms goodbye for good. Cold turkey. No deleting apps off my phone and only using my computer. No deactiving my accounts, but hardcore wiping them clean. It was an easy, yet very very difficult decision as well.
Watch this space next week to see how it unfolds…or reply below to make sure I haven’t completely gone off my rocker 🤪 as I know this will get much harder before it becomes easier.
See ya back on the 29th!
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You’ve finally decided to solidify the move and make the jump abroad. Congrats! Now to clear the lump in your throat and cross off the next hurdle (if you have kids) ...where to enroll them in school. Should you go the private route or localize them into a public school? There are private institutions in most countries which speak the local language. But for the purpose of this article, I'm speaking of private international schooling. And unless someone has made the decision for you, it’s a tough one. Here are seven tips to hopefully make the choice a little easier. Private or Public School? How to Choose When Moving Abroad?
First things first...
Research country parameters. Truly, this should be one of the things you look into prior to moving. I say this because in some countries, foreigners don't have a choice. There can be varying reasons: safety, religion, or not solidifying permanent residency are a few factors that would hold you back from choosing local education. If you have the ability to explore further, then check out the seven factors below!
1.) Age of the Kids
The age of the children makes all the difference in the world. If they are in the younger elementary age range, it’s easier to transition into a local school. Kids are resilient at any age- but the younger they are, the easier it is for them to integrate.
2.) Length of Work Contract
If a relocation to a foreign country is two years or less, you might want to think about enrolling kids into an international school. The curriculum, culture, and language will be similar to what they are accustomed to. Although, I’m scripting this from an American viewpoint where choosing an international school would be most aligned with what a parent would experience in US schools- whether public or private.
Placing your kid into a local school with weird-to-them customs and a language they can't comprehend doesn't exactly set them up for success. But if you think you'll be in your new home country for more than a couple of years, you might lean into giving it a shot. Not only does it fully integrate the children, but it gives them the opportunity to make friends in their specific community. I've seen this make a significant impact on children feeling more comfortable and settled in their neighborhoods.
3.) Who is Picking Up the Tab?
To some, this can be controversial. But honestly, it’s probably the biggest factor in the decision making process. Some employers will write it into the employees’ contract. It sweetens the deal. Others, it can be a blatant deal breaker.
It can come down to several thousand out of pocket or none at all. A lot of people cannot afford to fit that into their monthly budget. My biggest piece of advice on this subject would be double and triple checking your contract. If it is a non-negotiable for you, then rework those finances to make it happen.
Note: Every company is different. Some will only cover tuition costs for one child and no siblings. Others have calendar limits - even if you don’t have a local contract. For example: the employer picking up the educational fees for only three years, even if the employee decided to stay for ten years. At the end of those three years, you will be faced with this decision all over again. Do you pony up the funds out of pocket or make the switch to local schools. Lots to consider.
4.) Language Barrier
This one is huge and kind of goes hand in hand with age. The mind of a child is a complete sponge. The younger they are, the easier it is to adapt to a brand new culture. From my experience, we put our boys in local play schools at the ages of 2.5 and 4 years old. The younger one was in more of a baby/toddler class where they weren't expected to speak much. However, he absorbed everything the teachers were saying. My eldest was placed into a pre-K type of class where he was expected to speak back and hold conversation. No doubt, it was more stressful for my eldest. The first six months were rough. It was difficult for him to make friends and challenging to express himself to the teachers. It was terribly hard on my momma heart, because he is my outgoing child who LOVES being around others. It wasn't long after that, though, that he was inviting friends over after school and they were communicating strictly in Deutsch. Simply amazing to observe! I feel like because my youngest was exposed to a new language at such a young age, he sometimes now prefers to speak in German over English. Utterly dumbfounds me with happiness for him.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THIS: How are YOUR language skills? Are you taking a class to learn the local language? If integrating your child is important to you, also think about the effect it will have on you as a parent and your home life. Could you communicate properly if volunteering at the school? What about talking to athletic coaches or mentors for after school activities? Can you actively help your child with homework in a foreign language?
5.) Wait List
If you are leaning hard towards a private institution, check the enrollment deadlines. If a company is sponsoring your move, they *might* work magic to get your brood enrolled. It's not always the case though. And it can be especially tricky if you are doing it all on your own. Public schools are much easier to gain enrollment, especially in your zoned area of housing.
If you are affiliated with a certain type of religion, this could alter your choice of schooling. While there are plenty of faith-based private schools out there, the public school system in Germany is very much so centered around religion. This took me a minute to wrap my head around, because separation of church and state happened decades ago in America. If we desired a faith-filled schooling option for our children back home, then we would have 100% chosen a private school. Here in Germany, it's a bit different. There isn't so much of a division between church and state. I was surprised when enrolling my eldest that he had a religion class, and we had the choice of Protestant or Catholicism teachings. Ethics class is also offered in place of religion. But I was still shocked a religious class was an option in public school, especially in the primary years.
7.) Transfer of Credits
Important for all but mainly teenagers. Double and triple check how the credits are recognized globally and how they could transfer back to your home country in case of repatriating. The curriculums do not always align. If it's a possibility to send your high schooler back "home" for university, then I would spend some time researching how current grades/credits will be accepted. For example, the global curriculum and testing scores of International Baccalaureate (IB) schools are generally acknowledged anywhere in the world.
Leaning more towards the international route? Check out this article from expat magazine, Yay For Today. Make an informed decision on these beneficial talking points. Questions to Ask When Choosing an International School
All in all, deciding how to educate your child in a foreign country can be a heavy decision. Just as every child is different, one school might not be the best option for all in your family. While one might thrive better in a local school, another child might be better suited for a private institution.
Lots of options to weigh, but I hope this quick list helps with the process!
*note- I am not against homeschooling. In fact, I was previously an English/History teacher for the middle school years prior to moving abroad. I love all things about education, but it is illegal in Germany. The sole content of this article is to discuss weighing the important factors when choosing private versus public schooling when moving abroad.
A solo trip? You mean, by yourself? Isn't that scary? What do you do? Don't you get bored? Hahahaha is all that comes to mind. My very first solo trip was booked when my youngest was 18 months old, and my eldest was just over three years. However, being fully responsible for two under two is no laughing matter. If you are a parent, I'm sure a thousand thoughts are swirling through your head right now. If you are an expat parent, you know the additional layered struggles.
While I did have 5,000lbs of mom guilt cemented to my shoulders, I was also about to break. Mentally, physically, and emotionally- I was wiped! The toll of being pulled in 20 different directions 24 hrs/day, stressing about feeding schedules, juggling nap times, constantly worrying about my one year old accidentally ending his own life, while comforting my newborn, all on a drop of sleep...ahhhh! I would frequently ask myself why I had a master's degree if this is what I'm doing with it.
I needed away. I desperately needed a break. But I was so ashamed to admit it. Plus, hello mom guilt. Ugh, I want to hide under my desk replaying that reel through my brain. I mean...do you spend your days wiping butts, cleaning up spills, breaking up fights, and taking deep breaths during tantrums? This was my life. I'm sure dealing with adolescent attitude and teenage angst makes a momma just as looney. Does any of this sound like your twilight zone?? Well, I have good news! You can run away! Escape the 24 hour madness while you still have a chance!!
"How?!" you may ask.
Are you married? Have a partner? Grandparent within driving distance? Trusted friend? Nanny across town? Favorite aunt? If you answered yes to any of the above questionsons, you are in luck my friend. These people are what we call a village, and it takes a mighty healthy one to raise a human being. Go over a weekend or bank holiday, or when businesses close for weird things. Somehow you can band together that village to watch your wee ones for a couple of days.
You deserve it, momma!
You may also say, "I can’t afford that!" Easy peasy. Do you receive gifts throughout the year? Birthday? Christmas? Anniversary? Other randomness?? Say "NO" to material things and take a rest! You’ll thank me later. Also, utilize the countless tools online to grab great discounts!
If I’ve caught your attention and your wheels are churning as to where you would go if this elusive dream were to take place, then take a second to answer these questions...
Do you truly want to relax?
Do you want to go someplace you’ve never been? Do you want to explore?
Do you want to drive or fly?
What is your budget?
Do you want all-inclusive on an island, AirBnb in the countryside, resort in the mountains, boutique hotel in the city?
How long do you want to be gone? (psst, I recommend at least two nights and two hours away)
The answers to these factors will point you in the right direction as you prep for your solo journey.
Four years ago, I took off on my first solo trip and landed in Malaysia. We were living in Singapore, and it's the neighboring brother country. (Literally, two brothers divided the land and founded the countries) Why didn't I go somewhere in Singapore? Um, maybe because I can travel from one side of the island to the other in 45 minutes?? I wanted to get.a.way. We didn't have a car, so I had to book a flight. And those AirAsia flights? Cheaper than a meal at Cracker Barrel!
As much as we travel as a family, I was baffled to be on a plane by myself. Not having to keep small ones occupied, sitting down, not kicking the seat in front of them, or throwing snacks and toys at others...hmmm, 1.5 hrs by myself on a plane?? YES, please! I'll take two!
This particular trip, I wanted to do nothing. Nada. I wanted to take care of nobody but myself. I didn't want to plan nor sightsee for nothing. To sit down at a restaurant, order food, have it delivered and enjoyed hot, and then have the dirty dishes magically disappear...what?? What is this sorcery?? There was nobody climbing on me, nursing, or throwing food in my face. Honestly, I kept hearing phantom cries throughout my dinner the first night. No one warned me those spooky phantom cries would never go away. Blasted children - stuck in my brain - following me to another country.
Aside from having a peaceful dinner. I was slowly realizing this solo trip would be the single best thing I could do for myself as a mother. This maiden voyage would soon turn into an annual non-negotiable.
So why go? Here are my top three:
This speaks for itself. Volumes. Having littles ones (multiple little ones) pretty much sealed the deal of not sleeping soundly. Even if the babes were sleeping a solid 10-12 hours, I was riddled with anxiety throughout the night. What if the baby suffocated on something? What if the toddler climbed out of his crib? What if the preschooler wakes me to pee at 3am? Or they simply just need momma in the middle of the night? Oh the worry and stress. It was a tough pill to swallow during motherhood, because I am not a natural worrier. It's easy for me to let things roll off my back and take advice with a grain of salt. But these tiny living beings I created knew nothing and needed me.
You see...I had a one year old who not only didn’t listen to the instructions I gave him, but he actually didn’t understand most things I said– simply because he was ONE. And even though I was trying to force independence on him, he was still needy, very very needy. Remember, he was one. Poor chap. All the while I banged my head against the wall trying to teach him things while nursing a wee one around the clock. Ay yi yi... If you’ve been there, you totally understand. Oh those first six months of having children so close in age made me question every decision I had ever made in life. The combined exhaustion and frustration is indescribable. Versions of this went on for almost year before I finally had a nervous breakdown. Hubby thought it best to send me away before I truly lost it.
I needed a breather. You need rest, momma. True uninterrupted quiet rest. You deserve it! And a bed to yourself isn't so bad either.
What are some hobbies or activities you enjoyed pre-motherhood? Practice yoga three times a week, avid hiker, or simply completing that thrilling novel? Reverting back to an old habit and digging into something I truly enjoyed was magical. Something for me and only me?
I chose yoga and scheduled a massage.
I also skirted off to explore the highest cable car in the world. I mean, why not? I know I said I wasn't going to leave the resort, but my adventurous self got the best of me.
What is your traditional work/life balance? Are you a stay at home mom? Do you work full time? At home? At the office? I found this time away from my traditional day-to-day routine gave me space to reassess my goals and vision for the future. Not having little people run my thoughts and actions gave me adequate time to sketch out a plan for my own future.
Where did Whitney want to be in the next year? How did I see myself five years down the road? What did my personal + professional life look like even ten years from now? It certainly wasn't at a European wellness resort lounging in a bath robe like my solo trip in Germany. But taking these trips afforded my mental space to open up. I could dig into my brain prior to it turning into motherhood mush.
Previously, I was a public educator but also enjoyed writing full time. As the boys grew, could I see myself back in a classroom teaching middle schoolers how to formulate a five paragraph essay? Could I make a steady income by solely focusing on writing? These precious days I had all to myself gave me a chance to get inside my own head. To truly break down what I wanted out of life. It allowed me to accept the love I had for my precious family, but also explore passions I had outside of being a wife + mom.
Tag, You're It!
Once you are back home - inside the walls of your life, discuss how your partner can also enjoy this sacred time away.
My husband and I both enjoy solo trips but for very different reasons. This mainly stems from our love of travel yet having polar opposite ways of enjoying new places. He would take off first thing in the morning and easily clock 20,000 steps sight-seeing. I received a pic of him doing this exact thing in Vienna on a solo weekend. He went to Jordan earlier in the year to ride camels and see the ruins.
Me? Last weekend, I was nestled in the Austrian Alps. Perfectly content and cozy. I like seeing the sights, but you'll catch me sipping coffee at a cafe or being in nature. He much prefers the energy of cities. I, on the other hand, am happiest on top of a mountain...preferably near a lake.
We rest and recharge in different ways. And that's a-okay! Our family also travels frequently, which is a blessing and a curse. It is extremely humbling to have already experienced such a vast amount of our gorgeous planet. However, it can be stressful, exhausting, and overwhelming to do it all with small children in tow.
These solo trips allow us time to rest, revert, and reassess in our own ways.
And for the one left behind? Think of the quality one-on-one time your children are getting with your significant other. That bonding time is priceless. When I took off to Austria last weekend with our one and only car, hubby had to be creative with the boys. He set up the tent in the front yard, and they cooked dinner over the fire pit and capped the night with s'mores. They had the time of their lives sleeping under the stars and having a special weekend with dad. Something tells me I wasn't missed!
What about group trips?
I am a huge fan of girlie getaways or guys' weekends! We fit them in when possible. For me, they are a different animal than what I get out of a solo trip. Traveling with my girlfriends is loads of non-stop fun. The chatting, sightseeing, shopping, and late nights are all welcomed. It's belly laughing. It's deepening friendships. It's also rejuvenating but in an entirely different facet.
Solo trips are about YOU. Going where you want. Eating when you want. Sleeping as long as you want. A bit of an indulgence. But whew! Momma can't take care of others unless she has taken care of herself.
*traveling during Covid times*
If you are worried about the risk of transmission, here are a few tips to limit exposure.
- book an AirBnB instead of resort
- drive over flying
- opt for a hike over shopping
- order room service or take out
If you are like me and want to relax as much as possible - doing minimal work, it is still possible to get away!
What did it for me..? I had peace knowing it was the first time in three years, I wasn’t nursing or pumping. The boys weren't literally attached to me. They were eating the same food, on the same nap schedule, attending the same school, and playing with the same friends. Not to mention, they adored playing with each other. If you truly don’t feel like you have it in you to leave your kids in someone else’s hands for a few days, pray about it!
Honestly, they *might* have way more fun while you are away 🙂 They will probably stay up later, eat more junk food, and watch a lifetime supply of cartoons, but I promise they will be a-okay! Don’t beat yourself up about it or the wonderful, glorious caretakers in charge of them while you are gone. Let loose of the reigns and relax. Your house will be standing and the kids will be in one piece when you return. Promise!
This took MONTHS for me to swallow. You’ve hired babysitters before, right? It’s the same thing. Leave a schedule, instructions, emergency contacts, etc... and walk out the door. Or, have full trust in your spouse that they will be just fine! Pack a backpack (because that’s all you’ll need for a couple of days away), get in the car or board that plane, take a deep breath, and r-e-l-a-x. The hours are yours. The space surrounding you is yours. No one is touching you, asking you for things, or questioning your ability to parent. You have put the proper people into place to care for your minions, and you only have to think of yourself. Imagine that! When was the last time THAT happened?? Years for most of us!
Still have questions?
Feel free to send me a message!
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Gasp! We flew back to the States. Say what?? In the middle of a global pandemic? Yes, you read right. I have received countless questions about our trip, so I thought I would do a quick Q&A run down for flying to the States during a pandemic.
1.) Aren’t you worried about being asymptomatic and passing the virus onto your parents?
- Of course, I am. I’m a human being with flaws and worry. It’s odd, though, but I feel like becoming a mother has caused my emotions to become deeper towards my own parents. I am a believer with substantial faith. And while I’m not letting that replace common sense, I still have abundant faith in the instincts God gave me.
- Saying all that, my eldest is starting school in September. If we don’t fly home now, then we’ll have to wait until next summer to visit. It is illegal to pull kids out of school in Germany unless you have a written doctor’s note. Parents are heavily fined thousands if caught, and it has happened. True homeschooling is also illegal, so there isn’t an option of keeping them home to travel. We have to abide by school holidays. This means, if we wait until next year to visit it would be over two years. My heart can’t handle that, and neither can my kids.
2.) Aren’t you worried about your boys catching it?
- Of course. I am worried about everything happening to them. I’m a nurturing momma bear, and my boys are my world. Anything and everything has crossed my mind at some point. When they were babies, I feared they would stop breathing in the middle of the night. Toddlerhood kept me hyper-aware they they would choke to death or unknowingly jump to their death. Getting hit by a car on their bike, kidnapping predators, and negative friend influence always swirls in my head. Mommas ALWAYS worry about their babes, but I absolutely cannot live in fear.
3.) What happens if you get sick?
- I had hubby triple check with our insurance what would happen if we did indeed get sick while in the US. We have public insurance in Germany, but anything that arises during international travel will be covered up to 56 days.
- What happens if you get sick post-56 days??
- Well, we’ll deal with it if it happens! This is the point I just give it all to God because I cannot sit and spin on constant worry and what-ifs. I would have to be committed from crazy anxiety and panic attacks. I mean, crazy strange things happen and could happen anywhere we go. One of us could have severe food poisoning, be involved in a tragic car accident, or our flight could crash. A number of things “COULD” happen every single day that would leave us in the hospital for more than 56 days! But, I don’t let all the what-ifs keep me tucked under my covers 23 hours a day.
- What happens if you get sick post-56 days??
4.) How will you get back in Germany?
- Surprisingly, I’ve been asked this the most in conjunction with how in the world will you get into America. First of all- we are US Citizens, and citizens are exempt from Covid travel restrictions. I believe most were confused because we are living in Europe, and Europeans are currently banned from traveling to the United States.
- Along the same lines, we are allowed back in Germany because we are residents. Hubby has a work permit (working visa) sponsored through his company, which allows all of us to be residents. And we have little plastic ID cards as proof to present at customs when we land in Germany. Same as showing our US Passports in America.
5.) Do you have to quarantine?
- Nothing was said to us prior to landing in the States, but it is suggested to quarantine when back in Germany. Hubby is required to work from home for two weeks upon arrival per his company’s request. All four of us took the Covid test prior to leaving Germany (results were negative), and we will do it again when returning home to Deutschland.
- Both tests were/will be voluntary for our own peace of mind that we aren’t spreading the virus if we have it with no symptoms present. If the test is negative when we return, then we will return to our normal lifestyle. If positive, then we will keep our butts at home! Common sense, y’all.
6.) How was the flight?
- First of all, “third time is a charm” is 100% correct here. We had two flights prior to this get canned, and one of the routes was completely cancelled with zero flights coming or going. Therefore, the flight we did end up taking departed out of Germany and landed in America in different cities with a different carrier than originally planned.
- The flight was absolutely fine. If you are an avid flyer, then it was really no different than past trips. They gave us a Purell wipe to sanitize individual areas to our own liking, masks were mandatory for the entire flight except when eating, and seats were sold every other one.
- Honestly, it was one of the better flights we’ve experienced because of the extra space for us to stretch out. The meals, beverages, and snacks were delicious and the FAs served everything with gloves. They also kept masks on the entire time. We filled out this form prior to deplaning, but were never stopped for screening upon arrival.
7.) How is it in America?
- Well, for starters…America is really freaking big. According to everything being blasted around the media outlets, it’s horrific. Zombie-Apocalypse type horror. Not the case. Like I mentioned earlier, I do believe Covid is real. However, I (my personal opinion) believe it has been grossly blown out of proportion.
- Back to America being far and wide…the infection rates vary greatly depending on the region you reside. The southern states are on apocalyptic levels compared to other regions. We’ve been here a few days in NC, and stores that were requiring masks are not anymore. And those same stores were not mandating masks in the beginning of the pandemic. It’s all over the board.
- I’m not standing guard at the local ICU, but maneuvering around town seems the same except seeing folks in masks. It doesn’t seem so strange to me though, because masks have been mandated in Germany since all this went down in March.
8.) Overall thoughts?
- If you live outside of the States, stop watching the news. It’s painting a terrible picture of America. If you live within the US, stop watching the news. It’s instilling an unnecessary amount of fear. Don’t let Satan win!
- Wear your mask, wash your hands, and go about your business. Don’t do anything drastic out of the ordinary, but don’t live in fear. I am a believer; therefore, I lean into His comfort and the peace He provides me on the daily. Sure, I have my overwhelming moments where I want the Earth to open up and swallow me whole. But I press on for my kids and try my best to be a good role model for them. And to me, that is praying and following my God given-instincts that He will give me clarity and guidance. Even before the pandemic, this behavior was paramount to my beliefs in being a good momma.
- I have other expat, American friends living in Germany who have flown back to the States during the pandemic, and all has been okay. I also have friends in the same boat who have cancelled their once a year trip home. In the end, you have to weigh your options, risks, and ultimately decide what is best for your family. And for Heaven’s sake...stop listening to everyone else (good or bad) and trust your instincts.
Further questions? Feel free to leave them below!
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Holy cow, you guys. Holy cow. As my friend said, "my feet may be in Germany, but my heart is in America." And holy cow is all I can manage at the moment. Maybe because that's common language around a household with small children, and maybe because I am simply at a loss for words. Either way, holy cow.
I have so much guilt in my head and hurt in my heart, and no idea where to start; I just know these words need to get out of my swirling brain and into the air. So here it goes:
We have white privilege. I shamefully acknowledge that. If we didn't, I highly doubt I would be typing up this article in a small, German village at the moment. We've had enormous opportunities growing up in America. My husband and I are both college educated, even hold advanced degrees beyond that, have a savings account, our parents are still married, we don't have family members currently sitting in jail, and above all else...we CHOSE to move abroad.
Let me explain...
There is a vast difference in being an expat versus being an immigrant. And we are expats, simply because we were presented an opportunity to move to a foreign country. Two foreign countries at that. For unique jobs. To travel and see the world. To expose our children to other cultures. Learn multiple languages. We CHOSE this, and we chose the countries we have lived in. Many people couldn't visit Germany or Singapore if they wanted to due to the nationality of their passport - forget moving there...or the US for that matter.
There are many many folks out there who did not want to leave their home country. They were forced out. Due to the color of their skin. Their religious beliefs. Or a variety of countless other topics. People flee their countries to find safety, run from persecution and genocide...still rampant in the world today. My husband and I were lucky; we weren't fleeing for safety or a better life for our children. We wanted this and chose it for ourselves as a fun opportunity. Expats generally have a timeline in their heads of how long they will be away before moving back to their home countries. A choice. Immigrants leave with the intention on never coming back. It's not safe. Also a choice, but more of a life or death decision.
How do I know this? I have made friends in the countries we've lived and also traveled who have openly shared stories. Stories that would make your mind want to shut down.
A friend, my age, from the Philippines who witnessed her parents sell her sister in front of her as a young girl. To this day, she has no idea where she is. We have Indian friends who were told to their face the landlord would not rent to them because of "where they were from." I have another friend who was (denied) harassed about getting his driver's license because of the color of his skin- it is subjective in certain countries. We have friends who lived through Apartheid in South Africa, because it wasn't that long ago. And a good friend of my husband's who grew up in eastern Germany (before the Berlin Wall came crashing down) had a drastically different childhood than mine. There are atrocities we have witnessed ourselves in other countries that churns my stomach to think about; forget typing it out. People flee for certain reasons and search for a better life for their families. Some find it; and unfortunately, some do not.
Injustice is Everywhere in This World
It still exists today. I completed my masters degree in a majority African American university, where a few of my classes made me a standout as one of the few white students. I have taught in inner city schools of major cities and ritzy suburb schools. The differences in those school settings is mind-boggling.
I have witnessed local politicians go to bat for splitting counties where the dividing line would cut the upper crust from the low income. They claimed it was due to funding for public schools and how local taxes are accessed and distributed. Why did this catch my attention at the time? Because of my students. They already came from geographically disadvantaged areas. Stripping their schools of funding would limit educational resources making it even more difficult to provide an enriching learning environment for them.
Why does this bother me so? Because it's the children. The children are our future. Don't punish them. If you take money from their teachers to teach, then there are less resources to better their education. The "opportunities" for anyone begins in childhood with education. My students of color had more parents in gangs, in jail, only one parent at home, living with a relative, or homeless.
While my white students had more parents attend teacher conferences, in attendance at sporting events or club sponsorships, they were more likely to come to school with full bellies and money for field trips. Most of those students had better grades, because they had adults supporting them at home instead of working countless jobs or in prison.
The systemic racism has funneled down for generations, and it's the kids who suffer. And those kids...they grow up to be adults in our global society, and the cycle continues. Long before I had kids of my own, I had meetings with school counselors and social workers that were more than enough proof for my heart. Children are impressionable and curious. It has to start with them.
Guys, there is so much we can do right now. But I firmly believe the change we need...the generational change...is rooted in our children. If you are a parent, then you have an extraordinarily vital responsibility to not tolerate hate and discrimination in your home. Don't only teach your kids but model the behavior.
We've experienced discrimination in countries where we've lived and also visited. We constantly have foreigner hanging over our heads. I can't imagine being branded with that label and continuous feeling in my home country. Feeling like an outsider. Like I don't belong or fit in. Not feeling comfortable. Having people stare, follow you around, or stop to ask you your intentions. If you feel you are being discriminated against...SPEAK UP. Ask the person across from you WHY. It's intimidating and often challenging, but being quiet will perpetuate it further. Saying something, especially if your kids are with you, is an immense learning opportunity for them. No matter the age. Model the behavior.
What Can You Do?
Struggling for ideas? Here are a few places to start:
- If you don't have kids, volunteer in children's programs or community events. Don't have an affinity for the youngsters? Know that teenagers need all the love and support you can give as well. I know this from teaching them.
- Enroll your children in programs or sporting clubs where diversity exists
- Set up playdates with kids who look, act, and talk differently than your own
- Don't only work on your kids, but invest for yourself. Remember, model the behavior. Invite families over for dinner from different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds
- Purchase or rent books from the library about our differences and read them WITH your children
- Show them news clips and discuss
- My husband did this with our four year old. It's never too early, and you can present the information/answers in four year old language. Those heartfelt discussions are priceless.
- Don't say hate in your home. Erase it from your vocabulary. Try saying, "I don't like that." OR "It's not my favorite." Kids listen, even when you don't think they are.
These situations may be uncomfortable for you, but they are necessary for the future of America and our world as a whole.
Being Singled Out
One of my boys was invited to a birthday party where he and I were the only white people in attendance out of about 20. Did it make me uncomfortable? Kind of. Did it make my son uncomfortable? No, not at all. Those are his friends, and I like all the mommas. So why was I uncomfortable? Because I was singled out. I was the different one. This had happened to me in graduate school many times, but this was different. They were talking about their country, cooking their favorite foods, and unique cultural experiences. I knew nothing about any of this, so I asked. I discovered a few things about their culture and how to make certain meals. And before the kids had cake, I noticed the extra mile the host went to provide a few American edibles to make me and my son feel welcomed. It was so thoughtful.
I want to encourage you...say yes to these invitations. Get outside your comfort zone, then ask yourself why. Why is it my comfort zone? Why stay in a bubble? Why limit my kids to people who walk, talk, and act like them. The world is far from a bland bubble, and it is our responsibility to teach our kids that. You are fostering a love and comfort of diversity. You might not see it, but it will leave a drastic imprint on them.
We are not perfect and still have a ways to go, but it makes my heart soar when my kids are introduced to people who don't look like them and they ask what food they eat, language they speak, and sports they play. Those dinnertime conversations and social gatherings do have a lasting impact on those tiny minds. At the end of the day, kids are kids. They want to run, play, imagine, and have fun! Children are not born with racism or hate in their hearts. It is learned.
Please, I beg you...teach your children to love. To be curious and compassionate towards others. To NOT be colorblind. They SHOULD see race. They SHOULD see color. They SHOULD celebrate it! You come from a different country, have different color skin, worship on a different day than me, and eat different food? COOL!! Let's talk about it.
I feel God has given me an incredible opportunity. I am raising white young men. Whether we are living in Cambodia or the United States, I want their bodies to exert a positive presence. I will do everything in my being to empower them to love and accept like Jesus did. I'm a firm believer in Proverbs 31: 8-9, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice."
Want More Tips on Raising Children Abroad?
And while our future does depend on our children, it also depends on us right now. If you are floundering with what to do, take a look at 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice . It's comprehensive and covers many interests.
If all else fails, remember the Golden Rule. To all people. In all countries. Of all religions and backgrounds. Plant the seed. Red and yellow, black and white...
As any expat will express, our emotions yo-yo between happy to be here and can't wait to get out of here. But the recent global pandemic has drastically changed my views on living in Germany.
Under normal circumstances, we would be moisturizing our freshly sun-kissed skin from Greece and prepping for our annual trip home to the States next week.
However, Germany began to close its borders and the US halted all unnecessary travel from Europe a few weeks ago. Even though we can easily prove our citizenship, catching a flight home suddenly isn't so fluid anymore. Our local airport is currently shut down to passengers. Only freight is allowed through.
Cancelling our plans to celebrate the long weekend in Greece for my birthday was a downer, but facing the reality of not hugging loved ones back in the US that I hadn't seen in over a year was heart-wrenching.
I've wallowed in ALL the what-ifs while simultaneously trying to figure out how to entertain (yet keep quiet) my 4&5 year old boys, so hubby can work. Nowadays, my glazed over facial expressions might often read traumatized more so than at peace.
My love/hate relationship with living in Germany has stared me in the face in recent weeks, and it's developed into more of a thankfulness than anything. While mulling over the multitude of what-ifs, I've come to realize how truly fortunate we are to be where we are in this moment.
Five Reasons Why Living in Germany is a Gift RIGHT NOW:
1.) Sick Leave
If I were to become ill and unable to care for our kids, hubs has six weeks of paid leave + 10 extra days allotted per child that he could use to care for our family. The best part...if he becomes sick beyond his paid leave, he would still receive some level of paid sick leave for up to two years if need be. Very generous from all aspects.
A benefit to paying higher taxes is having faith in the government that they will take care of you. Not only in times of crisis, but in the general everyday times. Kindergeld is one way the German government looks after the welfare of it's citizens and even immigrants. Think of it as Social Security for kids. Every month, we receive a few hundred bucks from the government to assist in costs of raising children. This is huge in times of uncertainty. Knowing you will have money to help feed your children if ish hits the fan is priceless. Those funds do not discriminate either. Everyone is equal. Every household receives the same amount for each child every month. You do receive a tad more for each additional child after the first two, though.
We are not German citizens nor permanent residents- only common tax payers and fulfilling our legal obligation of living in Deutschland.
Want the full scoop on Kindergeld? Child Benefits in Germany
3.) German Works Council
This organization was founded to protect workers in Germany. If your role is diminished, then you immediately become a priority for any available position. They will work with you to get you re-hired as soon as possible. In the US- most companies will walk you out that same day, or graciously give you a two weeks heads up. I've experienced both back home, and neither are fun. Here in Germany- you have several months notice, and the employer will still help you as much as possible.
"The GWC is also the organization responsible for making it illegal to work more than 40 hours in a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Hello, quality of life!"
My heart aches for those losing work back in the States though. The lucky ones receiving a week or so notice. Others, being told that same day their job no longer exists and they have to go elsewhere for work. Our situation would undoubtedly look vastly different work wise if we were currently in the US.
4.) Our Personal Situation- let me paint a picture for you...two pictures in fact:
- In the States, I would be teaching, our eldest would be in kindergarten, our youngest would be in Pre-K, and hubby would more than likely have a long commute and even longer (expected) work days. The reality over that situation in quarantine looks like this...I would be stressing over the kindergartner’s e-Learning, formatting digital lesson plans for my (130) 7th graders, while simultaneously figuring out how to entertain my four year old quietly, because hubby would be working from home all day. Madness. Pure madness. I have teacher friends back home who are living this, and it is utter chaos. Stressssss!
- In Germany, I am a SAHM. The boys are in public preschool every day. The youngest goes half day, and the eldest goes full day to prep him for real school in September. And the boys' school is essentially free through various government programs. Much the opposite back home! In Germany, it's incredibly common to be a SAHM with kids attending the preschool. It's amazing, really. I can take care of all housing tasks, run errands, manage doctor appointments, etc and still have free time to intentionally be with my kids in the afternoon and spend quality time with my husband in the evening instead of doing laundry. The quality of family life in this culture is sacred.
- Mandatory schooling starts much later here than back home, so no distance learning lessons for our eldest right now. I do a few educational activities here and there. But for the most part, we play all day!
5.) House Doctor- this is ridiculously huge at the moment, but it wasn't invented due to our current global crisis. This unique service is provided and built into our healthcare system for everyday use. It's brilliant, really, and I actually used it last year. In fact when I used this service, grateful couldn't possibly touch how thankful I was for her. The call was made at 11pm, and she was at our house examining me at midnight. She wrote me a prescription to be filled for the next day and gave me a shot in the bum for instant pain relief so I could get some rest.
Right now, if one of us is feeling sick, it is recommended to call the house doctor instead of making an appointment with your regular doctor. If indeed anyone is confirmed with Covid-19, it limits exposure and increasing spread of the virus by the doctor making house calls. Thankfully, we haven't had to call the House Doctor while we've been home, but I bet they've been busy! What a blessing that service is - not only during this time but year-round as well.
We have our ups and downs with German living much like we did while living in Singapore. However, our current life and times have given me a fresh perspective on my unique reality.
I have safety. Job security. Incredible health care. A government force which cares for her people. Precious family time without unnecessary additional stress. Access to the outdoors and nature. Simplistic freedoms which I will never take for granted again.
"Thinking about moving abroad? Be sure to check out this life-changing post below!"
And even after our curve is beginning to flatten, the government is extending lockdown restrictions a while longer. Honestly, I don't mind the additional measures and extra precaution. Germans are known for their efficiency, and this pandemic has solidified their cultural norms even more.
Unfortunately, it took something as heavy as a pandemic to straighten up my thankfulness... but it did. And I'm grateful for my kick to the face attitude adjustment. It rubs off on my kids, my marriage, and breathes new life into my every day.
How has this situation changed your perspective on where you live?
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As expats, we are no stranger to the digital age. Normalizing technology into our everyday way of life is typical.
FaceTime dates. Skype calls. Utilizing video chats through WhatsApp. It's the common way of communication for those of us who live abroad.
I might call someone on the fly to ask a simple question, but taking the time to sit down and have a proper face-to-face chat through the phone is normal when your loved ones live in Timbuktu.
It's entertaining to watch the rest of the world set up Zoom calls for family game night, Sunday school class, or a catch-up with little friends. Everyone else seems fascinated by the virtual world of communication. Even predators and scammers are catching on to the digital ways.
I realize it's depressing to not see your Aunt Susie in person when you are used to making potato salad with her every other Sunday for family get-togethers. I get that; I truly do. That was my childhood.
But this. This way of communicating through virtual video conferencing is a way of life for our family and many others.
Nowadays, you may call up Aunt Susie to "see" her over video chat. This is how our kids maintain and grow a relationship with their grandparents. If not, they wouldn't know them the next time we visited. Family members would be complete strangers to them.
The other day, my mother-in-law read a book to the kids before bed over a WhatsApp video call. They will call their cousins to showcase their latest drawing or newly discovered way to make a fart noise. They will discuss cartoons and superheroes, and run around the house with the phone in hand like they were side by side in person.
"It's heartbreaking but incredibly cute at the same time. Bittersweet indeed."
I've had wine night catch ups with high school girlfriends and "in person" prayer dates with college friends. We also set up a family hello to dear friends from college the other day to banter about the current madness we are all experiencing. They said they didn't realize how easy it was for us to connect like that. Mind-blown, you guys. Only because that is our normal.
If we don't live like this, then we would literally never "see" anyone for an entire year...maybe longer. It shatters my soul to think only decades ago families left grandparents and best friends behind not knowing the next time they would see them.
"The virtual world makes living away from loved ones much easier to deal with."
Because of time zones, we have to be strategic about it though. Dinner time for us is the lunch hour for folks back home. When we were living in Asia, it was a 12 hour swing making it much more challenging. 9am at grandma's house in the States was 9pm in Singapore. Syncing up time frames for the kids to have interaction was incredibly hard.
Weekends are generally the golden timeframe to catch up. Work, school, hobbies, evening activities and commitments make it challenging to line up schedules during the week. But this current crisis has made it easier than ever to call whenever. Calendars are wiped clean. Commitments have been cancelled. Most people have nothing but time at the moment.
"And for us, on this side of the world, it's glorious!"
Can I encourage you to keep using video calls? Introduce your children to it if you haven't already. Even if you don't believe in much screen time, this is the way of the future. Your son or daughter might be expected to have face-to-face chats with a co-worker in Peru one day.
-What To Focus On-
Teach them manners
Why body language is important
Where to look into the camera
Be aware of their background
Not run or spin while talking
Turn off the TV or any other distraction while on the call
How to focus and ask interesting questions
Are they talking too loud or not loud enough
It's a fabulous learning tool for the next generation, and will hopefully steer them away from this out-of-touch texting way of life!
Losing steam? 8 Creative Ways to Survive Quarantine
In a previous life, I used to teach public speaking to 8th graders. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for kids to learn the art of communication. Involve them in planning and prepping a virtual play date. What time is best? What should they wear? Talk about? Things to do and not do on the call? And how to know when it's time to say goodbye.
And while you are at it, schedule that virtual dinner date with your bff. If you've been jonesing for your weekly catch ups, then make it fun over FaceTime. Whip up some fettuccine alfredo, swirl together your favorite cocktail, and prop up that phone for some visible laughs.
"It's a beautiful way to stay connected and fully present during these challenging times."
Want more tips on how to prepare for life abroad?