Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Frau: Do you miss the U.S. and your family?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about moving to Switzerland or life abroad, don't hesitate to contact The Frau. For previous Dear Frau posts, click here.

Dear Frau,

I came upon your blog as I was researching life in Switzerland. I wanted to know if you miss living in the U.S. and if you have intentions of moving back? Selfishly, as a mother with an only child who might end up living in Europe, do you miss your mom and family? I hope my child does not decide to stay over in Europe. I did travel there for work but would not want to live there as I have a large family here.

Thanks for your answer.


American Mom

Dear American Mom,

Originally the Frau came to Switzerland for three years with the full intention of moving back to the U.S. in 2009. It’s now 2011 and she’s still in Switzerland. There are many reasons for this, including that she and her husband have good jobs here, they enjoy the outdoorsy lifestyle, and until the baby came along, the travel opportunities.

Does she miss the U.S.? Well, she misses her family, the friendly people, the affordable food, and owning a house. But she doesn't miss her car, the crazy work hours, or the endless strip malls.

Are her parents disappointed she’s still here? Yes, of course. Especially considering there’s a grandchild in the mix now too. Does the grandchild change things? Perhaps. Time will tell. After all, Skype video calls only bridge the distance so much. And of course she misses her family. That’s hands-down the hardest part about living abroad. But consider this:

The Frau sees her family more now than she ever did when she was living in Virginia and they were in Illinois. When she was in Virginia, she had two weeks of vacation time a year. Her parents would come visit for a four-day weekend and she would come home for Christmas for a few days, but that was about it. She often worked weekends and basically had no life except for her job. Now she has five weeks of vacation and is living in a culture that accepts that a new mother might want to take six months of maternity leave instead of the standard three. In addition to her husband's six weeks of vacation time, her husband’s boss didn’t blink twice when he asked for an additional three weeks of unpaid paternity leave so he could be there for his new daughter and also have a week off when his mother visits.

In the last year, The Frau has seen her family more than ever. She was home at Christmas for two weeks. Her family was here in June for two weeks. Her father was here in September for a week, and her parents are coming back in December for two and a half weeks.

This is not to say that getting together does not require time, effort, and money for expensive long-haul flight tickets. And of course it’s not ideal to spend so much time together in big blocks with so much space in between visits. But unless the Frau and her parents lived in the same town in the U.S., she doesn’t know how the situation would be much different, except perhaps mentally knowing they were all living in the same country.

The Frau hopes this helps. Anyone else want to chime in on the topic of being far from family and how they cope?


Diana said...

Great post Chantal!!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for your new baby! :)

My personal situation has not improved as much as yours, but I'm quite certain I wouldn't be a father today hadn't I left my hometown to emigrate overseas. I wouldn't have met my wife for one thing, but even if I had I'd be living on a crappy budget and couldn't afford having a baby, or maybe even leaving my parent's house. That wouldn't probably the case if my hometown were in North America, but that gives y'all another perspective on how much becoming an expat can change your whole life.

Do I miss my hometown and country? Sure I do! But, hard as it may be, you can find products from pretty much everywhere here. The limits are how much time you spend searching and how much you're willing to pay, so I only miss a few things in terms of food and goods. Sure I miss going to some places "back home", but I may even get to more places now that I'm there on vacation than living there and having no time for anything except work. That is, assuming I were lucky enough to have a job, which 20-25% of people over there don't.

Do I miss my family? Sure I do! But ironically relationships can improve when you spend less time together. We all appreciate a lot more the time we have to be together, even if it's only 2-3 weeks a year, we (make sure to) enjoy it more than if we had 20. It's less, but it's better.

The hardest part is the baby factor.

Grandmas miss the baby so badly and videochat can only help bridge the distance so much. There is no easy solution to this that I know of, we all have to make efforts

While we're on the subject, let me tell you something in case noone has already (noone told me): make darn sure to book one week a year for you. You, your husband and your baby. On your own, Where there is noone to visit. And not too much new stuff to see. You'll likely end up needing this to relief a form of stress that family vacations won't help you to. And it doesn't need to be far away, just some quite place nearby where you can stay disconnected from everything and everyone, so that you can connect with yourself and your core family.

Looking from the child's perspective, living abroad in the first few years can be a very positive experience. Specially if s/he gets to learn another language, that's a skill to treasure in this modern world. Switzerland may be a country of too many languages, but that's only more variety to choose from! :D

I think I've writen on this more than you, dammit, when will I learn brevity.

Enjoy your baby! :)

Chantal said...

Wow, thanks for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your experience.

I ditto the week to yourself thing. That's the only problem with living abroad and also making time for relatives not abroad is that you end up not having any vacation to yourself.

Shalini said...

I totally agree. We're in the same country as our families and we see them maybe two weeks out of the year, and then we don't get a "real" vacation ever. It's just as well to be overseas as it is to be in a different state when the US is so, so big.

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