Caroline’s Moving Story starts with her first expat move to The Netherlands when she was just 27 yrs old. Since that time she has moved more than 15 times, 6 times moving countries! A very well-travelled British expat currently spreading her time across three European countries, Caroline is just the person to ask:Is this expat life really all it’s cracked up to be?
And.. Should I give it a go?
Why did you move originally and where are you from?
Originally from the UK, I moved when I was 27 to a pan European Marketing job based in Amsterdam. I moved lock stock and barrel, on my own, at only 27 yrs old, leaving behind me, my family, friends and a one bedroom flat. My stint in Amsterdam lasted 2 years. It’s where I met my hubby and when he was relocated back to the UK just 6 weeks after we met, we continued this distance relationship, me in Holland, him in the UK for a further 18 months before it was all change once more and off to Athens.
Can you recall the time before you left and what your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?
Before I left, I was (as everyone is) just caught up in the move. The logistics, tying up the loose ends, renting the flat, furniture to leave, furniture to take, the removal company, change of address, the usuals. My major concern was where I was going to live, and what was the company and role like? The biggest challenge: proving to the company they’d made the right decision. I luckily had financial support from the company to help settle faster, but the worries are always there.
I remember lying in my hotel room – having just hours previously landed at Schiphol airport and been whisked by taxi to Amsterdam – the curtains were shut as I had a major migraine and was all alone with the single thought “What have I done?” I called my best friend on the hotel phone – an outrageous extravagance, which shows how desperate I was – and she helped calm me down.
What did you think you would miss most, apart from family?
Being so young, I didn’t think too much about what I was leaving behind and all thoughts were about what was ahead. This had always been my dream: living overseas, hopping on planes, jet-setting about on business.
I did miss certain foods, but you kind of get used to that and try out new foods, and embrace those instead. Even so, I will always hanker after Branston Pickle and Vegemite (I know, that’s not British at all!) And luckily being geographically so close to the UK, you can receive all British TV – that’s partly why the Dutch speak English so amazingly well – so I still managed to keep up with all the UK soaps, the news and so on.
In those years, I missed some major landmark family and friend celebrations and the sad thing is, you can’t get that time back… Those events come and go. As much as possible, you make the effort and travel back but sometimes, work commitments get in the way or the costs are just prohibitive. The best kept secret is it rains more in Amsterdam than in the UK, but they cover it up well with their cafe culture, which I love, so I could hardly say I missed the British rain!
Do you see your old age in this country or back home, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?
Athough Amsterdam was an amazing experience (I learnt Dutch, I fell in love) and not long enough, I decided to leave with my boyfriend who had been offered a great Marketing role in Athens. Of course I was young and naiive and believed my only barrier to landing a great job myself in Greece was the Greek. But the reality is that in Greece, it’s all about family, who your family and more importantly Father is connected to, so it did not quite turn out as I had thought. We lived in Greece for 3 years, I learnt Greek, our daughter was born there, and then we moved on for a year-long stint in the UK until my hubbie was then offered a role in Poland.
We did the “look see” visit, and I remember thinking “no way, this for sure he will pass this one up. It’s way too communist for us…”
We lived there 5 years and two sons were born in Poland.
After Poland we returned to the UK for 6 years, but not long after arriving we wanted to leave. Well, to be honest, we were so settled in Poland that no-one wanted to relocate at all. Just my hubbie with a bit of a mid-life crisis…
So these days we now split our time between the UK, France and Greece. Who knows where we will grow old… Hopefully all over!
What positives about life in your new country can you tell us about?
The biggest positive is embracing different cultures and different languages, they add so many different dimensions. Life in the UK is now too two dimensional for me. I love languages, and speak fluent German, French, good Polish, Greek and some Dutch. I firmly believe it’s essential to learn the local language, because it helps you integrate and know what the weather is like and what’s happening in the community around you.
When I think about moving with children in the mix the easiest move was to Poland. Tuna was 2 and so popping her into Polish nursery was relatively a breeze. OK, she screamed for the first 3 weeks, each day I dropped her off, but once over that, she then cried when it was the weekend, so there was no pleasing her! She now speaks any foreign language with a Slav European accent and I truly believe it opened up her mind, as expat experiences did for all the children. I’m totally curious as to where they will live when they are older. Already Spike, the middle one, wants to live in the Alps; King Julien (the youngest) wants to settle in the UK whilst Tuna (the oldest) wants to study at university in Paris. We shall see…
What surprises have you had – good, bad and funny – about setting up your new home?
Surprises: – we keep forgetting how much we hate moving, unpacking, sorting, setting up home all over again. We also forget how stressed we become over the simplest of things, such as being unable to locate the sellotape… Hidden in a box somewhere!
If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?
Normally he’s managed to be away on a business trip for most of the house moves, and I have done most of them alone with the removal companies. Clever man I say! Now though, we realise that the best way to resolve conflict is NOT to just shout at each other, but to sit down and calmly talk things through and work out the best way forward.
When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?
Split really. Part of me’s in Greece, part in the UK where most of the family and friends live, and part in France. Tricky… Also because of the many moves we’ve now got friends all over the world, and the downside of that is, we hardly ever see them now.
In what ways do you think your family life and your relationship/marriage has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?
We are a closer knit family for sure as we are the ONLY common denominators in all this!
Would you recommend your expat life to a close friend of yours? If so, why? If not, why not?
If you hate change and disruption, this life is definitely NOT for you. We’ve made lots of compromises along the way and currently do not feel firmly established nor settled anywhere.
What’s more, the older the children get, the harder the move. They become more vocal and their resistance becomes that much greater as they have their own opinions and thoughts and needs. Integration gets harder and expectations on them at school get more demanding the older they get. It’s not just hard for the kids though, I do think that the older you get the less resilient you become.
Having said all of that, I have been known often to say “Go for it! Never say never! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Or if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.”
If you are prepared to take the plunge (and reap the rewards from a world of opportunity) then go for it!
Caroline and her family have moved more than 15 times and have lived in Greece, UK, The Netherlands, Poland and France with their three children. Caroline blogs at Madame Expat and runs Lunchbox World.
Do you think moving gets more difficult the older your family gets, and how much say should older children have in where the family lives?’