Wednesday, March 9, 2016

This ol' expat life

Another March; another year of living internationally. Six consecutive years now, almost seven years in total if you count the time we lived in France over 2007/2008. When I think about it, we've spent more than half of our married life living internationally. Sometimes I feel strange saying I'm living the expat life nowadays - because honestly, California doesn't feel all that foreign after four years nor do I feel like a foreigner most days (especially with my American accented big boy!). In fact, Australia feels like more of a foreign country to me these days. Sometimes just the idea of moving back does make me nervous, because we've never lived there as a family and a lot has changed in the time we've been gone. As much as I want to call the land down under home for our family, realistically I know that it's going to involve a bit of re-acclimatization for Mitch and I as well as culture shock for our kids, who know nothing else but the American lifestyle. The bay area is the only home they've known. Just this past weekend Ollie randomly piped up from the backseat of the car with DAD I don't want to live in Australia. They have redback spiders! 

Since the great visa debacle of 2015, Mitch and I have been talking a lot about where we want our family to be in the long term. And yet I blinked, another year passed and we're still living in some kind of limbo land. Trying to figure this out is not an easy decision as there are so many things to consider and processes involved - and also just the fact that we're here for career purposes, Mitch really loves his work and it's been the one thing keeping us in this crazy area as he works in such a niche field (well that and my close friends for whom I am living in denial that I will ever have to say goodbye to. That day can never come. Nope. Denial until the last moment and then meet ups in Hawaii perhaps?). We always said we'd decide where we wanted to settle by the time Oliver started school, but somehow I found myself registering him for kindergarten (prep) just last month at our local elementary school. And can I be honest? I didn't want to do it. I'm ok with him doing his early schooling here, although in the long term we want our kids to have an Australian education. I just felt this frustration at being at the point of primary school registration and still here, in the bay area.

Living in so called 'Silicon Valley' has a lot of perks, that's for sure. Incomes are significantly higher (although I have to say, that's balanced out very quickly by the high cost of living), there's a lot to do as a SAHM with all the beautiful parks, museums, zoos, mothers groups, playgroups and so on. Working in tech, the jobs are far more interesting and it's a fantastic place to further your career as the options really are endless. Californian weather is amazing, we have beautiful beaches and ski fields and national parks all within a few hours drive, and heck - we can take the kids to Disneyland just for the weekend!

Yet this is an area where you are forever seeing people come and go. Few seem to put down roots for the long haul, and four years in I'm really discovering why: you just get burnt out. As anyone who has ever lived here knows, this area is unique. It's not like the rest of the USA (or so I'm told) in many respects. Although the job opportunities are fantastic, the work/life balance is seriously skewed. It's just the norm, because why would you live here unless you are trying to further your career or make a whole bunch of $$$$$$$$ with a startup. And then there's the housing situation... By far the most challenging thing about this area. Because lets face it - even when you can buy a multi-million dollar dump, do you really want to do that? We live in a modest neighbourhood - a good one mind you with a decent school and walking distance to downtown, but in an older, 1000sq ft house (ie - a shoebox). Being the old fruit pickers neighborhood, all the houses here are the same size/layout and yet we are living in a million dollar (plus) house. Houses down the road from us are advertised at $1.5 million and within days sell for hundreds of thousands above the asking price. That's right - above. It blows my mind. And the crazy thing is, we actually live in an affordable part of the bay!!! I don't mean to sound whiney and negative; I don't like to just sit and complain about this area because there really are a lot of good things and we really have been blessed in our four years here, but like I said - burn out. Four years in and I am burnt out, craving a more laid back lifestyle in warm, sunny Queensland. Give me a bottle of wine and I may even consider moving back to my country hometown (just kidding. That won't ever happen).

So, here we are. Another year gone; six years straight into this expat life thing and I've learnt a lot - not just about myself but particularly about what my priorities actually are in life. I will admit though, I do miss the good old days when living overseas was a new and exciting adventure. I'm not necessarily talking about 'life before kids' - I'm more thinking about the constant travels and adventures we used to have in truly foreign countries, the thrill of the unknown, satisfying my constant wanderlust. I miss living in Europe. I miss having all those different countries right at my fingertips. I miss Nijmegen. If it wasn't for the weather and challenge of raising children bi-lingually when both parents are native English speakers, we could've very happily settled there. I miss driving 10 minutes to have a beer & pub lunch in Germany. I miss that carefree lifestyle, just hopping around different countries with our baby in tow. But I'm a realist, and I know that part of our life was a phase that was not going to be sustainable in the long term, as more kids and responsibilities and stricter schedules come along. I know that we were very lucky to experience what we did, when we did and I wouldn't change a thing. And one day, we will be taking our kids back to Europe and backpacking as a family. I'm hoping they have the travel bug too and we won't stop at Europe. There are still so many places and experiences on our travel wish list, and I'm not counting down the years until we're empty nesters so we can do it on our own - I can't wait to go do these things with our two boys and our girl and show them the beauty in other cultures.

And I'm sure, when the day eventually comes for us to finally move back to the motherland - I'll miss California. It's inevitable. Because whether we're here for 1 more year or 10 more years, it's always going to have a special place in my heart.

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  1. Loved reading this. We have quite the multicultural history/upbringing and it's difficult to ever think of one place on this earth ever being "home". Living close to family is something we long for... but they are spread out over the world so it feels very out of reach! Bit of our hearts have been left in various countries/places... it makes me thankful for our forever home in heaven one day!

  2. Its really like college, "uni"- an experience that is life changing :)

  3. As someone who has moved a lot but spent her whole life in the US and has only been to English-speaking countries, I love that y'all have embraced this life so strongly. It would be really cool to live abroad, but we don't have that much control over where we can move because of my husband's job.


Thanks for reading, your comments make my day :-)


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