Today’s Wednesday story is so fun! I met Laura at BYU in the Dietetics program. Those were some of the best years of my life. We had such a small group and we had classes together for two years. Laura is one of those people you meet that radiates joy! She has such a kind heart. I hope that you will enjoy her story as she and her husband made the decision to take family of four kids and move to Europe. What a journey!
“Had you asked me a few years ago what I thought I would be doing at this point in my life, living abroad with my family may have squeaked in dead last on my top 10 list of ideas. I was supposed to be living with my family in our beloved town in northeastern New Jersey. I was supposed to be settled into the routine of my stay-at-home-mom life, with easy access to essentials such as Amazon Prime and Target. Maybe I would have been thinking about furthering my education or going back to work part-time–who knows. What I do know is that even though I’m not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life, my family and I are exactly where we need to be at this point in all our lives.
July 21st, 2018 marked the one year anniversary of the day my family and I said good-bye to American soil and boarded a plane headed for our new home across the Atlantic.
A year or so prior to this departure date, my husband, an accountant with one of the Big Four accounting firms, had been presented with the opportunity to complete an overseas assignment serving clients in the London and Amsterdam areas. He had been presented with a similar opportunity a couple of years prior, but after things failed to come together for that, we determined New Jersey was where we were meant to be, and we were in it for the long haul. We had even started working on plans for a major home renovation when this new work opportunity really started to pick up speed. And even though my husband became famous for saying, “nothing is a done deal until you’re on the plane”, I knew we were going.
When it came time to break it to our kids, especially from the oldest, we were prepared to hear the complaints of missing friends, changing schools, not knowing anyone, and experiencing all of this WHILE IN A COMPLETELY NEW COUNTRY!! What we weren’t prepared to hear was the almost complete lack of dissent from any of our kids as they took in what we had to say, digested it for a bit, and then said, “Yeah, okay. That sounds kind of cool. But do I get my own room, and if so, can I decorate it however I want?” The thing that we all agreed on was this: we wouldn’t regret going, but we would definitely regret not going. We understood that what we were undertaking would be hard, but it also had the potential to be life-changing. And we could also just feel that it was time for a change. Now, a move around the world might sound a bit a drastic as a way to shake things up, but…that’s how it worked out.
And work out, it really did. After we settled on relocating to The Netherlands instead of England, we were able to line up schooling and housing in a way that we can say, after a year of being here, was just right for our family. We also thought a lot about what to do with our house in New Jersey, and after we decided to put it on the market, we received and accepted an offer on it shortly after listing. I won’t lie. The day that moving sign went up broke me a bit. But I couldn’t deny the way things were coming together or the continued feeling that this really was what we needed to do. So ideas became realities, and “ifs” turned into “whens”, and whether we were ready or not, a moving truck would eventually be showing up at our door.
Don’t let me fool you though. While all of this moving stuff was going on, so was life. Our move date was scheduled for about a week after school let out for the summer, and as almost anyone can attest, the end of the school year is ugly all by itself. Add to it the responsibility of sorting your life’s possessions into piles of “goes in storage”, “goes in air shipment”, “goes in boat shipment”, and “goes to I-don’t-care-where” (all while secretly chucking stuff your kids have been hoarding for the last five years), and there is a good chance at least one person is going to have a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, after lots of tearful goodbyes, one last times and a couple of weeks traveling to see family, we and our 15 or so bags got on a plane and headed out.
And by “we” I mean myself and my four children. My husband had left a couple of weeks before us to start on his new assignment, and though this was not exactly ideal and there may be a kid or two who requires therapy in the future for having to witness all of the crazy that transpired, we made it work. Ten hours later, we were touching down in The Netherlands on a sunny Friday morning, just as if we were traveling on vacation or for work like most of the other passengers on our plane.
Now, I’ll spare you all the little details of getting situated, but let’s just say that no matter how many times others say it and you tell yourself “It’s going to be great!”, the truth is, it’s not always going to be great. We definitely had some really great times in the first few weeks after our arrival, but to balance it out, we had some really crappy times too. And I’m sure it may sound ridiculous to some, but it was actually the little things that were the hardest to handle–going grocery shopping, doing laundry, taking the kids to do an activity.
These things had been second nature back in the States. Now these tasks were taking hours as my best friend, Google, and I tried to translate instructions, ingredients, and directions from Dutch into English. I remember on one specific occasion sitting on the floor in front of my washer and dryer, and for two hours, trying to figure out how to work the things properly. Between my attempts to translate the physical instruction manual (with almost every major language in Europe EXCEPT English) and trying to find a similar manual in English online, I was on the verge of tears. Having the easiest and most mundane tasks of my life become the most difficult was a hard concept for me to grasp, and frustration was usually close at hand. Of course, I laugh now when I think about this, but that’s mostly because I’m on the other side of it and have a greater perspective. Anyone right in the thick of it has full permission to do whatever it takes just to get through and be as irrational as they need to be in the process.
Fast forward a year, and life has become pretty normal again. We’ve had to work at that for sure, but as is usually the case, where you put in the most work you get the most reward. Our kids have thrived. When our oldest daughter regularly reminds us that back in the States all of her friends are getting their driver’s permits, we remind her that she’s essentially been driving for a year—on her bike. A bike is like a car here, and with it, our daughter has enjoyed the increased freedom that comes from being able to get herself around.
She has also learned greater responsibility by helping me in running errands or shuttling her younger siblings to and from activities. Our second child had to attend a different school than the rest of our kids this past academic year due to waitlist issues. It definitely got tricky at times juggling the schedules, and while I occasionally found myself thinking that we wouldn’t be having this issue had we been back in the States, it was the best thing for this particular child. He had an amazing teacher that really helped him work through some issues he was having, and the delivery of the curriculum at his school gave him increased confidence in his abilities. The two youngest kids have had great experiences too. Our third child has some special needs, and we were lucky enough to not only have him in a one-of-a-kind school class but to be living on a street where he has multiple friends his own age that really help him out. And for our last child, she’s excelling at independence and surprises us daily with the things that she observes. Our family has been able to take stock of what is really important to us and not to underestimate what we are capable of. We have been able to observe how different yet similar this world is as we’ve visited a combined total of 12 different countries so far.
In each, we have experienced new foods and cultures, heard different languages, met really great people and of course, seen some remarkable things. As we’ve earnestly tried to keep ourselves open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, one of the most valuable lessons we’ve learned is that just because we are used to doing things the “US way”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way or the best way.
Different cultures do things differently–that doesn’t make it right or wrong; it just makes it different.
We’ve also learned that smiling is a universal language pretty much anyone can understand, and that kindness and humility will get you a lot further than acting like you’ve got it all figured out. We’ve learned that if we let the fear of doing something the “wrong” way stop us, then right there, we’ve done something the wrong way. And we’ve learned that wherever this rag-tag team of 6 goes, that is where our home is.
When I consider all we’ve experienced and done in our first year abroad, it definitely makes me miss life as we knew it before we moved, but it also makes me extremely grateful to have the opportunity to try something different.
This is an incredible world that we all share together, and by unexpected twist, our family is able to see a little more of it. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried…at times we’ve gone a little crazy. And do we regret it? Not. A. Single. Bit.”
I hope that you enjoyed today’s Wednesday Story. I hope that if you are feeling inspired that change is coming, that you will draw strength from Laura’s story. Pray. Seek to know where Heavenly Father needs you and your family. Maybe you don’t need to move, most of us don’t, but maybe you just need to reach out and develop a new talent right where you are. Meet new people. Give service to a new organization. We are each given the opportunity to learn and grow. And when we accept those opportunities, they always come with up and downs. And with those ups and downs, there is always the learning and growing, and memories to last a life time.
Life is Good. Share the Good.