Trouble in Paradise!

Who hasn’t been dreaming about moving abroad for a period of time, living the good life in a new and exciting culture. However, reality might hit you like a boomerang in the forehead before you even land!

Going to exotic places for vacations is great, while moving to these places is completely different. Suddenly you have to deal with the everyday life, extreme challenges and changes. The holiday feeling does definitely disappear for a while. It’s no secret that we expat wives have to pull the toughest load when our family is moving to a new country, and the farther away from home you get, the more challenging.

You always have to start from scratch, like taking the driver’s license with both written and practical tests. I have never been as nervous as I was when I did the driving test in Texas. My husband got a nice officer while I, however, got a not so nice lady…. I could hardly understand what she said, singing on the vowels in a strong southern accent, while cutting long intonations. She either thought I had a serious hearing problem or was stupid as a log, because I had to ask her over and over again what instructions she just gave me.

I can still see her lips curling like angry worms while shouting at me. But I got through, even though she tried everything she could to make me fail, like when she asked me to back for 500 meters. Hah, I thought and smiled inside, because what she didn’t know was that my grand dad had a farm with a long one lane road leading up to the house. From I was nine years old until I was 18, I had driven one way and backed the other. Gotcha!

Challenges ahead

Your husband usually gets consumed by work as soon as you have arrived. Looking for houses or apartments, enrolling your children into schools and comforting them after stressful placement tests -that’s mom’s job! After finishing what feels like a million forms and vaccines, your children can finally start school.

Then it’s time for moving to the place you’ve found and finally succeeded in getting, often in competition with other expat families. Dealing with carpenters, painters and other handy men is the next phase. At the same time you have to support your husband, plus ease and help your children in getting adjusted at school.

I remember the second time we moved to Rio and I was going to my first lunch with the other Norwegian ladies. My husband was in the US, so I had looked forward to this event for weeks, but just as I was leaving the house I got a phone call from the American School. I had to pick up Andrea, because she had a stomach ache. On our way back from the school we passed the restaurant where the Norwegian ladies sat and I shed some tears to a confusing glance in the mirror from the driver.

Tears and laughter are not far away when you’re feeling stressed and far outside your own comfort zone.  It’s difficult, because we women have to put our own life on freeze until everybody else in the family has settled. However, this Friday ended well after all, as we were invited to a Norwegian family for pizza on their roof terrace.

After some time everything is going smoothly and your new life is getting into shape. Yet the downs hit one after the other at different times. When will the good life really begin, you might wonder, because your family might not share their ups with you, only their downs at work or school.

The reward

Zumba has been my therapy during all my expat years! I guess I’ve become a zumbaholic!

Suddenly, often unnoticed, the good life begins. Even mom is happy with the new life she has created for herself, by getting a job, taking further education or enjoying having time for hobbies. Meeting new and interesting people, learning to know your new place and even being invited! Invitations are an important issue, always accept every invitation when you are the new kid on the block. After a while you can pick and choose, but it takes time to establish your own social network, so never get caught in your own trap!

Don’t ever be afraid to ask other expats for help or advice. We’re happy to help, because we have all been there. You’re not alone! We have felt so silly and done the most hopeless things – and had minor or major meltdowns. We have been there several times and will be there again the next time we move. Do not think you’re the only one not to succeed!

Then it’s finally time for the reward. You have grown on all the experiences and challenges you have been through – with success in the end. You meet interesting people and learn to know exotic cultures. You see new places and even speak languages you’ve never thought you would learn. You blend in and feel like you’ve always belonged there. You’re living the good life while expanding your horizon and enriching your life.

Living abroad gives you special memories. Andrea graduating next to the movie star Ahmao Sweeny, who played one of the main characters in “The Big Miracle” (If you haven’t watched it, please do! It’s a great family movie based on a true story.)

However, it’s one thing I have to do before I move back home, and that is to live up to the expat women’s reputation: drinking lots of champagne with my friends in the middle of the day without a single thought about tomorrow!

By Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, May 2013