Archive by Author

Relative Isolation

30 Jan

Six months after arriving in Zurich, I finally began working on learning German. The class was run by the local government office and met twice a week. I have studied many languages before and I was looking forward to a little motivation (as an added bonus, the course included free childcare so, for the first time since moving, I felt like I was doing something just for myself). The first class was a hour’s worth of introductions and stumbles. The second class began with the alphabet, and I quickly realized that the pace would be remarkably slow. I simultaneously realized that I was not the target audience. Of the fifteen members of the class, I was the only one who used the Latin alphabet in my native language. The relative isolation I had felt during the previous six months quickly became remarkably clear. While I struggled to meet people outside of my husband’s work and find ways to fill the days with a two-year old, the effort I needed to put in was nothing compared to that of my classmates. I observed an Eritrean couple, a Greek man, a Turkish woman and her husband (who already spoke German but came to make sure she settled in well), a Vietnamese woman who wouldn’t speak a word except to the Chinese woman who had previously lived in Vietnam, two Tibetan women, a young Nepalese man, an Egyptian woman and, finally, a young, pregnant Ethiopian woman. While I didn’t continue with the second session of the course, this final classmate has since become a friend.

Though we didn’t meet socially while the class was in session, we have since been able to get together a couple of times. The first time we met, I was not looking forward to it. I was busy, and I did not want to awkwardly make conversation in our very limited German. We met at the train station. I thought we were going to walk along the lake, but she led me back to her nearby apartment. However, the moment I entered her home, I was awash with familiarity. Due to my time in Africa and Kyrgyzstan, the layout of the home, the generosity of my host and the offer to look at her wedding video all put me at ease. Not only was I comfortable, but I realized that I missed the indescribable feeling present in that home that I don’t find in the homes of my European, Canadian or American friends’ homes. The two of us drank coffee, ate homemade bread and stared at our two baby girls with little conversation. I heard the story of how she came to Switzerland, and considered the immense isolation she must feel- far from home with no community to slide into and no support, especially as a young mother. I was spurred into reflection of the non-compassionate feelings I had earlier in the day, dreading the meet up. My distance from home and feelings of isolation were put into perspective.

Now I try to meet with her every couple of weeks. Our text messages and phone conversations are indecipherable to anyone else, but face to face we communicate well. She has given up on learning German for the time being and is working on improving the bits and pieces she learned of English while in Ethiopia. Our habits, cultures and expectations are quite distinct, but we share a common community of motherhood, and are finding our bonds within it.

Kalley is a mother of two girls. Prior to 2010, she worked as a teacher; currently the girls are her number one job. She and her family live near Zurich, Switzerland. Kalley also has an inconsistently updated cooking blog, Culinary Adventures.

Culture Shock

31 Dec

The day after returning to Colorado from Switzerland for the first time since moving there I took my parent’s car out to the grocery store. In that quick drive I instantly noticed how wide the roads were, and had to catch myself from using stop signs as yield signs. Once in the store, a $1.99 bundle of asparagus caught my eye- both for the price and the seasonality (asparagus in December?). However, after these small realizations, I haven’t felt the culture shock I have usually experience before when returning from overseas.

On the other hand, every time my three-year old realized someone was speaking English she pointed it out. For the first few weeks she would pause and say “He is speaking English” or “They speak the same language as we”. She verbalized these thoughts, and I can only wonder what other differences she has picked up on. This trip is the first time I have heard her express thoughts of culture shock. I think it is due to both her age and the duration of our time away (18 months- nearly half of her life).

Though I experienced culture shock after my first time overseas (a semester in Kenya when I was 20), the process was first explained to me while in Peace Corps training in Kyrgyzstan a few years later. Like most people, I assumed that culture shock occurred while in a foreign country, away from home. However, experience, conversation and the Peace Corps explanation showed that culture shock happens just as much, if not more, when returning home. A typical cycle looks like a W with honeymoon, frustration, integration and acclimatization stages in the foreign country and a repeat of the same stages in the home country. For those of us living overseas, I can only imagine this W turning into a continuous zig-zag!

My daughters will grow up as “third culture kids”. I know we will always have a home base in Colorado, even as we (potentially) move from one overseas job to another. But what will be their experience with culture shock? Will they adjust from one new place to another with more ease than my husband and I? Will they be more or less perceptive of the differences between places and people? Will they have an easier time adjusting to Colorado if we continue to live in European countries? How will their abilities to adjust change with age? And finally how will this ride impact their living choices once they are adults?

Kalley is a mother of two girls. Prior to 2010, she worked as a teacher; currently the girls are her number one job. She and her family live near Zurich, Switzerland. Kalley also has an inconsistently updated cooking blog, Culinary Adventures.

Travel with Tots

14 Dec

When my older daughter was 7 weeks old, my husband and I packed her up and flew to China. While checking in at the airport, a woman in front of me cooed and mentioned how she had flown with her daughter at 6 months. I instantly implored her to tell me any tricks she had, to which she responded, “Well, I just had to relax about her grabbing everything and hope she wasn’t going to get sick.” That information was about as far from the advice I was hoping for as it could get! I thanked her, and then went back to mental images of a screaming baby and irate neighbors on the 25 hour trip.

Three years and over 30 flights later (with at least five being transoceanic), I have a whole range of tips for any new mother who might happen to ask. As an expat family, we travel back and forth between Colorado and wherever we are living, as well as holiday trips. During our most recent trip (our youngest first at 6 months), I traveled alone with both girls. While no tip is guaranteed to work, I have found the following to at least sooth my mind and make me feel as if I am doing something.

Birth to six months:

  • When checking in, ask the airline representative if the plane is full. If it isn’t, ask if they can put a hold on the seat next to you.
  • Change diapers right before boarding the plane.
  • Always give something to suck on during take-off and landing.
  • Pack at least one change of clothes for the baby and an extra shirt for adults.
  • Book seats at the rear of the plane. You are closer to standing areas and the noise from the engines both sooths the baby and drowns out the her cries.
  • Most airlines require babies to use an infant seatbelt (attached to the adult’s) whenever the seatbelt light is on. Try to have it on when the baby falls asleep so you don’t have to wake her if it comes on later.
  • Think about booking the bassinette seat, but remember that the bulkhead seats have no under seat storage, the armrests don’t raise and they have huge screens directly above the bassinette on planes without in-seat entertainment.
  • Bring a front carrier in case you need to stand and sway for hours at a time.
  • Give saline nasal drops to keep breathing free in the dry plane environment.
  • Remember one or two favorite (but quiet) toys, but don’t over pack. My babies didn’t need variety when that small.

Six months to one year:

  • Remember the first six tips listed under birth to six months.
  • If using a stroller, always ask if you will be getting it back at the gate. Ours was once sent straight to our destination when we had a four hour layover in the middle!
  • Bring your own food with plenty of small finger foods for entertainment.
  • Bring a large variety of small toys- some new and some favorites. Consider wrapping them individually to add a few extra minutes of entertainment.

One to three years:

  • Again, bring plenty of finger foods, books and toys. Good choices include raisins, lollypops, stickers, coloring books, an AquaDoodle or MagnaDoodle, and anything with buttons, magnets or Velcro. Keep all treats in a non-transparent bag so you can pull them out as you choose instead of as demanded by a bored toddler.
  • Always order the child’s meal as it comes before the others eliminating the need to share tray space.
  • Consider using an i-Pod with favorite tunes as well as kid-friendly headphones that limit the decibel level to protect young ears.
  • For older kids, consider bringing a portable DVD player in case the plane doesn’t have in-seat entertainment. Stock up on old favorites as well as new movies and shows.
  • Think about giving paracetamol/panadol to “take the edge off”.

Above all, RELAX (take homeopathic stress aids if you like)! It is nearly impossible to control whether or not your child screams or sleeps and the screaming will always be harder on you as a parent as you try to sooth. Think about bringing a bag of earplugs to pass out as a kind gesture.

Please add any additional suggestions!

Kalley is a mother of two girls. Prior to 2010, she worked as a teacher; currently the girls are her number one job. She and her family live near Zurich, Switzerland. Kalley also has an inconsistently updated cooking blog, Culinary Adventures.

Far From Home

19 Nov

By Kalley: I grew up on a cattle ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I couldn’t wait to leave my small home town after graduating from high school and attended university outside of Los Angeles. That transition was perhaps the biggest change I have experienced to date, and I loved every minute of it. After university I served in the US Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, meeting my husband in Kyrgyzstan where he was also a volunteer. We both lived in New Mexico on the Navajo nation, and then moved to China. We are currently living in Zurich, Switzerland. While neither of us is fluent in a language other than English, we have both studied a number of languages and hope our daughters will surpass our abilities.

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I have a strong sense of home and it pervades my personality. My father recently moved out of the home he had lived in since he was 2. My mother had lived there her entire married life. My older sister has moved into that same home with her three young children and they will likely live there for the next 20 years. My childhood home was a 45 minute drive from any gas station, grocery store or friend’s house so my sisters and I learned well to find entertainment at home and would stay there for days on end. Thankfully, this home is a beautiful Colorado ranch with all the fresh air and open space a kid could want, but our dedication to this one place has built in me a strong desire for place based traditions and experiences – perhaps to a fault.

My husband and I have chosen to raise our family overseas – moving from place to place as wanted and needed – as international teachers, and this decision invades my thoughts on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

At least once I month I am angry. I am angry because I can’t find a suitable place for my perception of a birthday party. I am angry because our small apartment has a cramped concrete balcony where my 3-year old rides her new bike around in circles. I am angry because my daughters will not experience Friday night high school football games – growing from the young kids who play tag in the dark to the preteens who practice flirting to the teenagers who actually watch the game and cheer for their classmates.

About once every other month I feel guilty. The guilt comes from not being able to support my mom as she goes through a medical crisis (and from hoping that my older sister is strong enough to help our mom on her own). It comes from not seeing my niece grow from an 8-month old who can barely sit up to a walking, talking toddler, and from not meeting my nephew until he is 10 months old.

More often than angry or guilty, I feel sad. I am sad because my dad doesn’t have the chance to wiggle my infant’s kneecaps and fold her ears while marveling at the flexibility of little ones. I am sad because my daughter doesn’t always recognize pictures of her aunts. And I am sad because it feels more appropriate than angry or guilty.

And more frequently than any other negative emotion I am scared. I am scared that without the consistency of place I experienced growing up that my daughters will feel lost, and that, more realistically, they will wander the globe leaving me far from my grandchildren when that day comes.

Fortunately, for as many times as I have negative reactions to being far from home, I also have positive thoughts about the experiences we have. My daughters will know the absolute deliciousness of bitter lemon soda. My oldest calls churches “temples”, and knows to be quiet and respectful inside both. She can count to 10 in three languages. We make the most out of every new friendship and every old visitor. And our home is our family unit, able to feel joy whenever and wherever we are together.

Do others have fears similar to mine? Do you also find they are balanced with positive experiences? Where and what do you seek on the days when the scales tip toward negative?