I have had many friends mention that they are “jealous” of my family’s opportunity to live abroad and many more that have said how, “fun and exciting” it seems. I can definitely understand the sentiments: A year ago, I myself was jealous of my friends and acquaintances who had the chance to live abroad, and I can now say–two months into our experience–that it is without a doubt fun and exciting. However (and this is a big however) there are so many things that are tough about life as an Expat. I’m sure I will discover many more as life continues here (hence the “Part 1” in the title), but here is what I’ve noticed so far:
We are immensely blessed here in Denmark that almost every Danish person speaks English. We knew this going in, so it was somewhat of a surprise how much our lack of Danish has continued to be a problem. Simple things like being unable to read bills or papers that come home from the kids’ school. Not to mention trying to help kids with math homework (math terminology is definitely not part of a beginning-Danish-learner’s vocabulary), or figure out tax or immigration paperwork.
The simple act of paying a simple bill becomes monumental. Not only are we unfamiliar with the process, but the language makes it next to impossible to figure out. And Google Translate just doesn’t cut it. My thanks to the Danish-speaking friends who have helped us out so that we haven’t incurred massive late fines right off the bat!
Dealing with this has been beyond a headache, and I haven’t been the one primarily responsible for it since John has taken lead on it and been in communication with HR at work, although they have proved less than helpful.
Thanks for that information, Lord of the Rings Meme Guy, you’re quite right–
Step one was procuring passports for all 4 children (John and I already had them). But when actually trying to live abroad, passports are only the beginning. We had to apply for work permits, visas, CPR numbers. This process involved lots of forms, emailing back and forth, “biometrics” where we all had to be fingerprinted, pictures taken etc, and lots of waiting (we’re still in the waiting part).
Being far away from family
John and I left my husband’s family behind in Colorado. My family is spread across the U.S., but I generally would see my parents a couple times a year and a sibling or two a couple times a year as well. At this point it is looking like we will get one visit a year from my parents and who knows when we will make it back to the States. For John, myself and the kids to fly to the States we’re looking at about $6,000 USD–kind of a big deal.
I am still using my U.S. phone and phone plan, which is kind of stupid, but what with the time difference as well as the cost of making calls, we have not figured out a good way to stay in contact with family. I know I need to figure out something with Skype, Facebook calling or something of that nature, but it has yet to happen. It is tough not being able to pick up the phone and just chat with friends and family back in the States whenever I feel like it.
Good Old-fashioned Homesickness
Of course there is a general sense of homesickness to contend with and specific things that I miss about my most recent home in Colorado and about the United States in general. I love travelling and seeing new places, and so far I am relishing the chance to live abroad; however, nothing could ever change the fact that I am an American. Nothing could ever change the fact that for me, the U.S.A. is “home.” And so this month, we will wear our Halloween-themed attire proudly–We are who we are.
Shopping is also one of my favorite things about life as an Expat. It is interesting to visit the different grocery stores and try out new foods. But it’s true that if there is a specific thing I’m looking for, it can be overwhelming to try to find it. Not only do I not know the word for it, but I have no idea what store might carry it. Random things that have been hard to find: flyswatters, shoelaces, sandpaper. There’s also things that just aren’t available here. For example, Arabelle was missing Kraft macaroni and cheese so much that her grandmother had to send her a box. Also, most medications that Americans take for granted being able to purchase at any grocery store in the U.S. are not available without a prescription here: Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Neosporin, cold medicine. (And now I’m realizing I need to do a separate Grocery Store post because I’m reminded of several hilarious Grocery-store-related instances…Some were fun, but some were scary…)
I know every human has worries. And if you have kids, you have a set for each of them. But moving abroad will bring on a deluge of fresh ones: Can we afford to live here? What is our budget? (Hard to say because we have no idea what anything costs.) What about our savings–will we be able to save for retirement and kids’ college? How will our kids adjust? Will they make friends, or even “a” friend? Will they learn the language? Will they resent us for making them start anew? What if some sort of disaster strikes and we have no idea how to handle it and no family to turn to?
I’m just being funny with this meme–luckily we have sufficient for our needs. However, it’s true that things are expensive here in DK.
Imagine a world where everything costs a lot, and then you must pay an additional 25% of that cost to the government almost every time you make a purchase.
That world is Denmark (and it’s called the VAT tax).
Be they important or be they trivial, I feel like I am neglecting many aspects of our lives that I was quite on top of in Colorado. Just living here in Denmark is an adventure and it is all-consuming simply trying to figure out the basics, so “extra” things start to slide by and not get done–piano lessons? Hasn’t happened yet (even though this is very important to me, and I plan on teaching the kids myself, just haven’t been able to track down a piano). Much less dance, soccer, art, all things that my kids did in the States. And then there’s my own painting career that I would like to start up again…
Thanks to some tips from Danish friends, I think I at least know where and when to take my kids to gymnastics now. It’s actually very simple because the entire class of students just troops over to the nearby gym right after school–evidently gymnastics is basically a required thing here. So there’s one activity for my kids–now I need to figure out what the process will be to pay for it!
When starting over in an unfamiliar country, there is an overall unpleasant feeling of incompetence.
Feeling like a fish out of water, like a child, like you basically have no idea what is going on.
John and I are used to being fairly independent people. We might not enjoy taking care of bills, paperwork, taxes (who does?), and I would even go so far as to say we are not the most organized of people, but when push comes to shove, when it’s matters of importance, we sit down at the table and take care of bidness–ifyaknowwhatimean. We are careful with our money. We’re good citizens–I think most people would consider us quite responsible! Right now, though, as newly arrived Expats, it’s hard to feel responsible and independent. We have depended on Danish friends on multiple occasions to translate bills for us, or even to make phone calls for us (Most Danes speak English, but it can be hard for some to understand over the phone). Many forms and paperwork come only in Danish. Also we just don’t know or understand many of the rules and norms around us. I know I’ve already committed my share of faux pas. I’ve sent my kids to school with the wrong clothing or supplies, packed the wrong thing in lunches, picked them up at the wrong time. I’m the mom–I should know what the heck is going on! I’m sure that at some point I will have a better grasp on it.
So to sum it up: Life as an Expat is an exciting adventure, but it comes at a price. Is it worth it? At the moment I would say yes…but ask me again in a year 😉