For many years I have put off posting about schooling in Switzerland as there is so much to cover regarding the Swiss Public School system. When we first arrived in Switzerland our only option was to put our kids in the public schools as we were not on an expat package and simply could not afford private schooling. So, with that said, we jumped all in— totally clueless to how the system worked.Read more
It is hard to believe we have been living abroad for 11 years. Our kids are bilingual, one trilingual, and our life as an American family has been forever changed.
Sometimes it is hard to explain what to expect living life abroad. When reflecting back on our move abroad, there are some things I wish we would have known before moving.
1. It will not feel like a vacation
This should have been obvious to me, but I chose to let the excitement of moving abroad overshadow the reality that this was “real life”and not a vacation.
As much as we would like our vacations to last forever, they don’t. Overseas vacations are often characterized by funny stories about asking for directions or ordering food in another language. Our move abroad had a short honeymoon period, where we felt like we were on vacation, but this ended quickly. For the first few years there’s a constant friction in dealing with a new language and culture that makes everything in life more difficult. We anticipated stumbling through the language for trivial things like ordering food. We didn’t anticipate things like reading and negotiating apartment contracts, interacting with doctors, mechanics, and school teachers, or dealing with issues with service providers like the cable company. Also, we didn’t anticipate the persistent fatigue that comes with not understanding a language. This was most evident for the kids, who had to endure being pushed to comprehend and communicate for many hours every day at school. Our kids came home crying many times because it was difficult for them, or worse because they were ridiculed for not understanding.
2. You may feel like you lose your identity a bit.
In some ways, there is a sense of losing an identity, but do I feel like our life has been enriched by experiencing cultures outside of the one we knew. We still celebrate Thanksgiving and give our kids American traditions, yet, we also celebrate Swiss traditions. Our middle son was once told at school he was not American. To which his response was, “Of, course I am.” We feel a love for both cultures but also feel like we are floating between both. When we return to America to visit we feel somewhat out of place. But likewise, living in a country where we (at least as parents) will always have strong accents when speaking Italian, gives us away as foreigners. The sense for identity gets lost between cultures.
Everything changes. Before we moved abroad, as Americans, we felt as if we coming from one of the best places. Thinking we had the best of everything. The first couple years abroad were characterized by noticing things that we wished were more like they are in America. Now, when visiting America, we notice things we wish were more like Switzerland. There are things we love about both places, and we are able to pick out the things we like and dislike without the cultural biases.
3. Everyone can be a foreigner
I know it may have been naive of me to think this, but for some reason I just thought we would be accepted wherever we went.
Coming from California we felt like we came from a pretty open minded, accepting culture. However, it took living abroad to realize that, unfortunately, there are stereotypes about people from almost every nation, even *gasp* our own. Regardless of where you are from, you are subject to having to deal with those stereotypes.
I remember an experience when we first moved to Zurich. We were confronted by a man on the train that decided he needed to tell us why he didn’t like Americans. It was surprising to us at the time. We were just as surprised when we were turned down from renting an apartment because we were not native Swiss.
The feeling of being a foreigner helps you gain more empathy for those who are foreign in your own home county.
4. It will change your life in many ways
You leave your old life behind. Being immersed in a new culture enriches your life in many ways. The languages you speak, people you interact with, thoughts about your country, your way of thinking changes. You can see both your countries as an outsider looking in. See what you may have once thought was perfect, maybe is not.
When you move abroad the first few years are spent thinking, I wish this was like it is at home. But then a few more years of living abroad, you find yourself returning to visit ‘home’ and find yourself saying I wish it was like (they country you are now living in) Home will never feel the same.
5. Be Flexible
Eat pizza on the beach. Make friends with the locals. Integrate into the new culture. Learn the language and speak it, even when not correct. It is more important to try instead of waiting to be perfect when you speak, it will never happen.
The inability to communicate can feel very isolating. There will be times of loneliness and discouragement, therefore learning the language is very important.
Learn to roll with the punches. You need to be flexible as life abroad brings many things you do not anticipate. The way things work will probably be totally foreign. What might be seen as being rude in your country, such a cutting in line, may be an accepted practice in another country.
What once was just a crazy idea to move abroad has since become a life changing event for us. We wanted our children to grow up and see a world outside the one they knew. A world that would broaden their perspective and open their eyes to new languages and cultures. Moving abroad has forever changed who we are and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you are flexible with your holiday planning and destinations you can find some amazing airline deals. Recently my brother introduced us to an email service that emails you incredible airline deals. Sometimes the fares are mistake fares but more than often they are 24-hour promotions.
We had no intentions in flying to the United States this year but when we received an email for flights from Europe to San Franciso for $195 round trip, it was too good to pass up. The website with the incredible deals is called Scott’s cheap flights. For a minimal subscription fee, you can receive weekly deals throughout the world.
We also like to use Skyscanner as it allows you to search any date going to every location, which is convenient. But if you are up for anything and willing to be flexible, we can highly recommend checking out Scott’s cheap flights.
Airlines usually offer a limited amount of seats at discount prices and they get snatched up fast. Some are last minute deals and you need to be flexible with the dates.
Since we just returned from vacation, I would like to explain how we picked our destination. We frequently let prices dictate where we travel. About 3 months ago we sat down and searched Skyscanner for our vacations this year.
We like to search Skyscanner for ideas. It is our favorite discount airline search engine. Skyscanner has a great set up allowing you to search any date going to every location. Often we find ourselves flying to random places because the deal is too good to pass up.
You can even download the Skyscanner app for up to date flights at your fingertips.
If we plan at least a few months in advance we get the best deals, flying mid week also helps. Airlines usually offer a limited amount of seats at discount prices and they get taken fast, so plan ahead. Last minute deals are there but you have to be flexible with the dates.
Air Berlin, Ryan Air, and Easy Jet, are a few of the discount airlines we have flown on. With discount airlines there are some restrictions. If you want to check a bag, you pay extra. If you want to book with a credit card, you pay, etc.
We were able to book out 5 holidays this year, each holiday for under $100 round-trip for the flight. What a deal! (Milan to London>Copenhagen>Lisbon>Barcelona>Athens)
When you are a family of 5, vacations can really add up, but with Skyscanner we feel like we are able to find amazing deals and travel economically. Last year, we flew to Bucharest round-trip for 5 people and paid only $20 round-trip a person. We love being able to travel all over Europe for incredible prices
Here are a few examples of other trips we took just because we couldn’t pass up on the amazing prices…..
($24) RT Basel to Alicante
($55) RT Zurich to Portugal
($40) RT Milan to Paris
($47) RT Zurich to Spain
Honestly, how do you beat airline deals like these? So there you go, people ask how we are able to travel so much. Thanks to Skyscanner we can easily find deals to travel around Europe. Where are you off to next?
We’ve had our fair share with medical emergencies abroad, from a spider fish attack in Portugal, to severe dehydration in Spain, to a staff infection in France, and everything in-between. No matter what the health issue it can be quite frighting in another Country, especially if you can’t communicate.
I am going to try and give a few pointers that helped us when unexpected medical issues arose.
*Before you leave on holiday check with your insurance to see what is covered abroad. I watched an lady argue with a hospital in Spain regarding her US insurance. Her insurance was refusing to pay the medical bill because the bill was in Spanish. End result she had to foot the bill on her credit card before leaving the hospital in Spain.
*Make sure you have your medical cards and contact information for your insurance. Find out the procedure if you need medical attention. For example, I had to contact my insurance before having my daughter admitted to a hospital abroad, had I not followed the simple procedures, we may have not been covered.
*For minor issues there are Pharmacies all over Europe. Look for the Green Cross. We have found Pharmacies being the most helpful for finding, clinics, doctors and hospitals. More than once we have popped in to get addresses for pediatricians.
*For language barriers I have thought of buying one of these. Many Doctors speak English, but that is not always the case. We’ve been in France, Italy, Spain & Portugal and found ourselves in situations where we can not be understood. It’s a very frightening feeling when you have a sick child. A small book with health phrases can come in handy.
*We usually are in holiday homes without contacts so I always make sure we know the emergency numbers for the country we are staying in. If you are in a hotel, this will not be an issue.
This is a good website regarding health when traveling abroad. Hopefully you won’t find yourself in a situation when you need medical help abroad, but in-case you do, it’s nice to be prepared.