I can probably count on one hand the number of people I know who moved abroad after college. Unlike me, whose childhood invincibility is already on the decline, they were at the height of young adulthood. I’m sure that moving away from the people, and things you know and love are scary no matter your age, but they had the benefit of being childless and full of youthful optimism.
When my husband and I made the decision to move, we resolved to go as far as we were capable. Bangkok, Thailand – approximately 8,700 miles from home – seemed about as bold as we could get, amirite? I mean, living in the U.S. with small children, when would we have the time or money to see that part of the world? Our kids would be in college before we could even consider it.
I’d like to think that being a little older when we moved meant that I had carefully constructed a detailed plan – with contingencies built in. Sounds nice, right? In reality, nothing could have been farther from the truth. The months before we left were bedlam: managing a home in need of renovations (still a work in progress), packing, working, caring for the kids, and every other detail with a fixed deadline. The reality was I just needed to prepare as best as I could, hope for the best and be OK with that.
When the moment of truth finally arrived, my biggest concern (the 20+ hour flight) wasn’t a complete disaster. More on flying long distances with little ones another time. I was fortunate to have my mom join me on the flight and stay with us as we settled in the first three months. Good thing too, because no one could have prepared me for the circus that was our first month. Regular things one would generally take for granted felt like an episode of “The Amazing Race.” These are the top four from the first month and how we got through.
- JET LAG: It had me and my two-year-olds awake at the craziest hours. We spent almost an entire week waking up between 2 and 4 am because the girls thought it was morning. Then we struggled all day to stay awake to get on something that resembled a regular schedule. Only time fixes this situation so just be patient. Set a schedule for you and the kids and in time everyone will get with the program.
- DAILY TASKS: This is closely related to the jet lag struggle because for almost an entire week I barely had the energy when my husband went to work to do necessary things like, purchase a SIM card for my cell phone, walk around the neighborhood or buy household items. Luckily we have a grocery store directly behind the apartment building; though the confusion of a Japanese store in Thailand for someone who relies on Google images to tell the differences between herbs is a tangent for another post. When the combo of jet lag and cabin fever became too much, we finally worked up the courage to climb into the building’s free tuk-tuk shuttle downstairs and take the girls to the nearest mall (they’re kind of a thing here). However, shortly after arriving they had an epic meltdown, and I quickly brought them home traumatized. Stuff like that will happen. It’s inevitable, but it shouldn’t stop you from pushing yourself to get out there. Make sure the kids are reasonably well rested before going outdoors and that you’re well fortified with liquids and snacks.
- MAIL: I signed up for US Global Mail, a service that would receive our forwarded mail while we were gone, which I preferred over relying on family/friends. We submit a request to the USPS to send our mail and the company stores, scans and even ships our mail as requested. Simple right? Well after a month of having the service (and two weeks in Bangkok), the company was still not receiving the bulk of our mail. The only way to find out why was to contact the USPS, which required multiple, nighttime long distance calls, waiting on hold to speak to a representative who couldn’t do anything except a promise to look into the matter and update me via email – since, you know I’m no longer in the US. I’m still waiting for that email update, btw. Only when we returned to the U.S. briefly in April did I finally learn that all of our mail was still being delivered to our old apartment. We had to leave a note for the mail carrier in our mailbox with our forwarding address to finally receive our mail.
- HOLIDAYS: We moved about a week before Thanksgiving, which was a blessing for me considering my turkey mishap the year before when I cooked a rotten bird (don’t ask, I’m still pained by the epic adulting failure). The real problem was making Christmas happen in a Buddhist country, i.e., where to get a tree, decorations, buy presents. I was clueless, knew no one to ask for advice and felt pressure to make it memorable. With the help of Google conjuring the wisdom of the internet, I managed to find a Christmas tree factory and decorations in Chinatown. It was such a fun adventure to get me out exploring the city and getting accustomed to my surroundings.
Looking back, it really wasn’t as bad as it seemed. That’s the beauty of hindsight right? Everything can feel overwhelming before and directly after a significant change. Things are bound to fall through the cracks. You may even question why you uprooted your entire life, but it’s ok. The doubt, the worry, the fear – they are all ok. They’re necessary even to triumph in what you’ve ultimately accomplished.