A Wish for a List

By: Shelby Reynolds - Also see author's expat blog listing

A bit over five years ago, I sat in a Seattle coffee shop under gray cloud-cloaked skies exhibiting their typical autumnal drizzle. My son and daughter, then two and four, were next door at a weekly play date. On the table in front of me were multiple mind numbing lists labeled 'to pack' and 'to storage'. Our young family was about to move to Bangkok, Thailand and start a life overseas.

My emotions were all over the board. On one hand, I was nervously excited to see what would happen in our soon-to-be new life half way around the world from my Seattle coffee shop. On the other hand, I was deeply sad to leave the life I had carved out for myself, close to friends and family, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Previously, my husband and I had lived overseas together, but this was the first time we were venturing into expat territory with kids in tow. As the emotions built inside, the good-byes started. First to our belongings that went into storage, then to my kids' friends, and then my friends, followed by good-byes to our extended family members. And, then we catapulted ourselves onto a plane, buckled up and hoped for the best.

After 19 plus hours in the air, with time spent in Tokyo on a short layover, we arrived in what would be our new home at some crazy middle of the night hour. We piled our overstuffed suitcases into a car awaiting our arrival and began to make our way through steamy, humid, always up for a party Bangkok. As the sweat rolled down our temples from our yet to be acclimated bodies, we watched the rice paddies near the airport turn into a bustling metropolitan gem packed with tin-roofed rolling food vendor carts and plastic chairs hosting noodle gobbling patrons. The music thumped, the neon lights pulsed and the smell of curry was intoxicating. This was home now.

What did I discover and learn in the weeks ahead? If I could go back in time and have a conversation with myself, I would say: “You are about to start a life changing journey that will, at times, tear you up and spit you out. But, you'll get back up and dance until dawn in the excitement of the life you will now lead. You will gain a vocabulary of foreign words, exotic scents, unbelievable friends. Along the way, you will carry and welcome a new son who will be born to you overseas. You'll experience more than just one foreign land-- both through shorter travels and in another future move to a country beyond Thailand. You'll find what is exotic to others to become your family's new normal. The world is about to become your playground.”

Today, as I write this, I'm sitting at the window of another coffee shop. I am looking at a main avenue in the Eastern European city where I now live. Not unlike the day my journey started, I am staring at a constant drizzle dripping from a gray cloaked sky and thinking about the future. Gone are the 'to storage' and 'to pack' lists, but in their place a new list is forming.

A friend recently inquired about dealing with the start of her own journey. She too is about to begin a life overseas and, like me, she will also be moving with her young children. Her emotions are at a fever pitch in the same way mine were almost five years ago. And, she too, is wanting the same thing I did at the time. After scouring local bookstores and the internet, one quickly realizes that the resources for families moving overseas is limited. One finds plenty of information for the single professional desiring to live overseas. And, travel guides that provide statistical information, hotel recommendations and sights to see create rows and rows of shelves. One will even find books and sites that provide psychological analysis on how children are affected by such moves. But, it is very difficult to find the one thing that all young families in this situation want. We want a short, practical list of how we can best prepare for moving our family internationally. What six things can I do prior to my move and initially upon arrival to make this easier, more fun and more rewarding in the long run?

With my friend's needs in mind, the list that sits next to me today is entitled Ways to prepare for expat life and, once jotted out, will be sent to her wrapped in a huge hug and a knowing smile that I understand what she is going through. I'll close and share the same list with you, hoping that the journey ahead of you will be smoother for having a list that wasn't available at the time of my family's first move overseas.

A List for My Friend: Ways to Prepare For Expat Life
1. Take advantage of the on-the-street knowledge available to you. Research and find a blogger living in the country you will be moving to. Bloggers are a chatty, and helpful, bunch. Read their blog, send them an email and ask the questions rattling around in your brain about what life will be like in your new home country.
2. Pack extra of the things that make you happy. Until you're acclimated and find new versions sold of the things you enjoy, take a small stash of the tea you enjoy most or the spice that you like to add to your favorite meal or the cosmetic that makes you smile when you put it on your face. The comfort those items bring in the early months of your new life will be valuable to you.
3. When traveling with kids, pack a secret stash of things from their home country. Tiny toys, a favorite non-perishable food item, some holiday-themed supplies-- all of these things can ease any homesickness or culture shock they may experience.
4. Acknowledge now that your life is about to change and your relationships will change as well. Plan how you will communicate with those dear to you and make sure people know how to reach you as well. With technology there are many ways of communicating, but you may need to help some of the less tech-savvy members of your life get set to talk with you in ways that are new to them. Put those measures in place before you leave your home country.
5. When you arrive in your new destination, seek out a bookstore, professional organization or Chamber of Commerce and discover if there is a book of resources compiled for expats. Many cities have a local group of expats who have come together over the years to create such a resource book. These can be invaluable in your early weeks as you seek out the items you need to create your home.
6. At a certain point, realize that you are moving. Stop researching. Stop thinking. Stop packing. Sit back and enjoy the journey ahead of you.

About the author:

Shelby Reynolds is an American currently living in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, by way of Bangkok, Seattle, Paris, San Francisco and one long, cold winter in Philadelphia. A mama to three lovely little bohemian spirits, she's a rememberer of every good moment.
Blog address: http://www.anewbohemia.com Twitter: @anewbohemia
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Contest Comments » There are 6 comments

Shelby wrote 10 years ago:

Thank you all for your wonderfully complimentary comments! I had a great time writing this article.

Claire wrote 10 years ago:

This is exactly what I wanted when I moved overseas with my husband and son! She's right there is little useful information for people moving with kids. GREAT writing and great article!

Kari wrote 10 years ago:

Great practical advice and it comes to life in Shelby's writing. It makes me want to hear more stories from her experiences.

Trudy wrote 10 years ago:

Making lists and preparing is such a huge part of the excitement of travel. This article is so great giving wonderful practical advice for those moving overseas. The best part, I thought, was to enjoy the journey!

Ken wrote 10 years ago:

A perfect mix of storytelling and great advice giving. As a non ex-pat, but an international traveler on three continents, with Shelby's stories and her very practical list in hand, I am certain I would be well equipped to start an adventure of ex-pat life.

Katie wrote 10 years ago:

What a wonderful and practical list of advice. Shelby's writing style is enthralling and comforting.

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