2 Years Later
As I look back on these last two years so much of it was a blur. My husband always laughs at me saying I have rose colored glasses where I remember things in a much better light then I experienced them at the time. I think it's a good quality to have but I can easily disconnect with the raw and hard emotions I did feel at a specific time. That's one reason I love to journal and for this post I read back through a lot of my journal entries from those early months after moving.
To my fellow friends and people who are considering to move abroad this post is for you. These are just a few of the things I would go back and tell myself during those early weeks and months. Overall, it comes down to a few things. #1 Whatever emotions you experience are normal, and the stress and anxiety will pass. #2 The time will fly by, before you know it you’ll be nearing the end of your time away. #3 You will change for the better as you navigate a new culture, letting go of your own pride, and integrating into a new way of life that is not your typical experience. #4 Cherish the friendships you make along the way. #5 Accept the challenges as they come, because they will make you and your family closer. #6 Manage your expectations, work will likely have longer hours and family time will look different. #7 Be quick to find some fun family activities to do and date-night options, and go on dates often! I never thought I'd spend date nights at the mall, but we often go to Terminal 21 for dates, because there is lots of food to choose from, and fun things to see.
Looking back, I know so much of the stress I constantly felt was because we had young children and we were trying to keep some normalcy for them while navigating our new life together in a different culture. Not only did I have to work through my own emotional roller-coasters throughout the day, but I had to help them deal with their emotions as well. That was very hard some days. So give yourself the freedom to cry, to be overwhelmed, to feel all the emotions and not hide them or stuff them down. The better you can process what you’re going through at the time, the sooner you will feel like your feet are on solid ground as you navigate a new life. Give your children a lot of grace and snuggles. Some kids may be too young to understand or verbalize how they feel, so in whatever way possible allow them to feel as well. Early on we made a lot of comfort food, including enough cookies so there was always some in the freezer!
As much as I had traveled internationally and experienced a variety of cultures prior to moving, it was a completely different experience moving across the world with children. My husband grew up in Africa, so I think he was un-phased in many ways, but it affected me more than I anticipated. Normally when you go on a vacation, there is this desire to take everything in with wide-eyed amazement… soak up the feelings, the sights, the food. I half-expected moving to be the same, and yet suddenly I was overwhelmed with culture shock! Everything I saw and experienced in Thailand suddenly became part of me, not just something to enjoy for a week or two, but realizing that somehow it would all need to integrate into my own life. I noticed everything on a more personal level because this place was my new home, these people were my new neighbors and there was so much to learn culturally that it was a steep learning curve.
Every day will get a little easier than the day before. It took a month before I felt enough peace to deal with anything “extra” than keeping my kids fed and alive while my husband was gone at work. It took a few months before the idea of being out and about with a 4 year old, 2 year old and 6 month old didn't sound like the worst thing to do. Each day, each week, each month that passed I felt a little more confident, and like I could handle a little more. It will take time, but about 6 months in you will start feeling like your new place is “home”. We arrived during the summer, so by the time school started up 2 months later, my oldest was ready for some routine and I was ready for less energy at home – she is my rambunctious one with all the crazy ideas! But we tried to have fun, play games and do whatever we could so they were happy.
You will miss your family and friends back home. You will realize that life goes on without you, that people will go through things while you are gone that you miss out on being there for. Whether it is welcoming new babies, or them going through something really difficult that you aren’t able to show up for. You have to do what you can to stay connected, but realize that you will miss out on things, and that will be hard. My favorite way to stay connected is the Marco Polo app, because I can send my friends or family a video message when it works for me (usually in the middle of the night for them), and they can respond when they have time. We don’t have to wait until we are both available to chat, which is actually much more difficult than it sounds with a 12 to 13 hour time difference. But it is good to miss them! It’s okay to mourn the loss of how things use to be, while also being excited about the future. And if you're lucky, you'll have family visit! My parents retired soon after we moved, so they have spent 11 weeks total with us here over the past 2 years! My husband's sister was here for 2 weeks, and his parents have visited several times. Not only have we had the joy of spending time with them, they can better understand what life is like for us here as well, and we have made some amazing memories with them!
Getting connected with like-minded people will help your transition. I know I wanted to just be a hermit at first, and for a time that’s okay too! But the sooner you can make even one friend, the sooner you’ll start to feel comfortable in your new city. Now a days, if you move to a city/country with a decent group of expats it is easy to meet and make friends. If you don’t know where to start, search on Facebook groups for expat groups in your city. Look up the different churches and get out there and visit them. I have loved and appreciated the sweet friendships I’ve made over these 2 years. Some were just for a short time because people come and go every year, and other friendships have become like family because we’re all away from home, that you just naturally become family. There are many times I have sat with some of my dear friends here and realized that we never would have met if we both didn’t end up in Pattaya at the same time. It is humbling when you realize how big this world really is, and learn to cherish the relationships you gain along the way. And please, don’t be afraid to make friends just because you’ll be saying good-bye in a year or two. We all long for relationship, and I love that in a community represented by so many cultures we can all find some way to connect.
Grocery shopping was the thing that caused me the most stress of anything after moving. It took me hours to find what I needed… weeks to figure out what stores I preferred, and months to come to term that grocery shopping was a several-hour endeavor. I also want to say that the meat departments at the stores here are unlike anything I had ever seen before. Some have a meat counter to order from, but some just have piles of raw meat sitting out on ice… people setting the plastic bag on the raw meat, then putting the meat in bags with their bare hands with every anatomical part of an animal available for purchase. Talk about culture shock! I love though what a friend from China once said… she said that when she went to America, the meat department at the store was so boring! It was a reminder that there isn’t one right way for things to be, and that includes at the grocery store.
Shopping at a western style grocery store has its advantages, and its price. In Pattaya, there are many grocery stores that you can at least find one brand of most things you may desire. I was use to isles of choices about the type of canned tomatoes I wanted, or brands of canned beans, peanut butter, coffee creamer, baking supplies and breads. The list could go on! Suddenly you have 1-2 choices of those things, and isles full of types of soy sauces, cooking oils, peppers and rice. The first year I obsessed with comparing prices of food from back home. I would be personally offended realizing that our food budget was at least double what it was from home! But honestly… after a year, I just started to accept it and decided I would be buying and cooking what we wanted to eat as a family, and be happy if I could stay within my “new” grocery budget. I still refuse to pay $20 for 4 imported tomatoes, yes I saw that just this week at one of the stores. I buy local produce whenever I can, but certain staple food items that are imported I have no choice but to pay the price for it. I have come to love all the fruit stands along the roads, so that I know I can at least pick up fruit if we run out between trips to the store. You realize all the things you miss when you have visitors coming and they can bring some food for you from home!!! (Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hot Tamales candy, massive tubs of taco seasoning, girl scout cookies and the list goes on!)
I share all of these experiences to give a picture of how you have to adapt to a new culture. Choosing to move your family abroad, to a place you are out of your comfort zone in order to make friends with people who are so different than you, and yet so much the same as you is one of the greatest treasures I could give my family. These two years have flown by, and although we knew it would, we aren’t quite ready to accept that this may be our last year before moving back “home”.