6 Years Ago We Left For A 2 Year Adventure

Six years ago this week we left the US for a 2 year adventure in Barcelona. Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it – 2 years is now 6?  I look back at the whole 2 year thing now and laugh.  If only I could have known what an adventure it was really going to be.  Clearly what happened went way beyond our expectations and our plans. I’m not the same person as I was then.  How could I be?  So much has happened in 6  years.

This wasn’t the plan.  And yet, it just feels right.  Like this is what we were supposed to be doing in our lives only we just didn’t know it til it happened.  But then, I guess that’s what life is about right – you can’t predict what’s going to happen.  There have been a lot of bumps along the way.  Times where I would have given anything to go home (um, all of our first year in the Netherlands!).  But through it all, we have persevered. The rewards of living a life less ordinary have been worth it – a million times over.

It’s been frustrating.  It’s been exhausting.  I’ve cried… a lot.  But in the end, the excitement, the travel, the experiences have all been worth the challenges.  A million times over.  My only regret?  We hadn’t done it sooner.

I never thought I’d want this life of an expat.  There are still many days where I don’t.  No longer knowing where you fit in – it’s like being the jack of all trades and the master of none.  I can go anywhere, but none quite feel like home, including home.

I’m caught somewhere in between.  Exhausted from the daily life that is living in a culture and language that are not my own.  Yearning for a home that is no longer mine in the way that it was.

Last year in my annual expat-iversary post, I looked back at our previous 5 years.  It made sense since it was a bit of a big anniversary being away for 5 years.  But I don’t think that’s what I need to do this year.  I think looking back over this past year is enough in this case.  It was our most challenging year in all of our 6 years, including that first year away.

Who would have thought that after 5 years abroad, that the 6th year would have been the hardest?  I certainly wouldn’t have thought that.  And while I’ve learned a lot about myself in all this time as an expat, never did I learn more than in this past year.

The first 3/4 of 2015 can be summed up in 4 areas:

  1.  Josh’s knee – He dislocated on day 2 (which technically falls into year 5) in the Netherlands and it haunted us into the start of 2015.  He was depressed and I can’t blame him – starting off in a new country immobile isn’t a great start.
  2. School – I have been hesitant to bring this one up and have a really really long entry all about this very ugly situation but in a nutshell. Our kids were offered spots at a top international school in Amsterdam and were then denied because of their learning disabilities (illegal to do in the NL).  We tried to be nice about it.  In the end, we had no choice but to bring them in front of the Onderwijsgeschillen (the Education Committee).  The process started in November 2014 and wasn’t put to bed until Oct 2015.  It was a long and very emotional process.
  3. Social life – For the first 3/4 of the year, we had none.  It’s tough enough being an expat, but one with no life is infinitely harder.
  4. Weather – The weather in Barcelona is consistently beautiful with 300 days of sunshine per year.  The weather in Boston, while not like Barcelona (not by a long shot), has consistently nice summers and consistently shit winters.  But you can pretty much count on that. The weather here is consistent too.  Consistently shit.  ALL THE TIME.

Never have I wanted to go home so badly as I did at the end of last school year.  And I didn’t want to return.  It was the first time since living abroad that I didn’t want to go back to my host country.  I was depressed like I had never been before and didn’t know what to do.  There seemed to be no right solution.

However, like all stories, this one has a turning point too.  When we came back from our summer break in August, I was determined.  Like my first months in Barcelona when the going was really tough, I made a decision – I could let the Netherlands kick my ass or I could kick its.  I chose the later and went into the new school year with a newfound determination to make things better (they really couldn’t get worse could they?).  And so:

  1.  Josh’s knee – Josh started to ride his bike to the train on February 1.  This was in part because he was ready and in part because I refused to drive him any more.  His depression lifted, he lost weight (because when you are immobile for several months, you gain a lot!) and really got into the spirit of being “Dutch”.  He’s also still really happy at work – the whole reason we are here.
  2. School – So the original Onderwijsgeschillen meeting was set for July – the day after I went to the States with the kids.  Josh went to the meeting in my place.  Long story short, the other side didn’t think this case should be heard by this committee and it should be dismissed.  The committee decided they need to talk to another committee (I kid you not on this one) and they would reconvene in a few weeks with a decision on that.  I went back in August, the day before school started to state our case.  They said they would get back to us within 6 weeks (which meant 6 weeks into the school year). We found out in October that we won the case (turns out we won in September only our lawyer didn’t seem to think he needed to let us know???).  Of course at that point, the kids had been in school for almost 3 months and the other school clearly didn’t want them despite by law stating they have to take them.  And so we have remained, happily, where we started and the kids are doing fantastic.
  3. Social life – Suddenly our calendar is full!  Relationships are forming and we’ve been getting together with new friends on a regular basis. I still haven’t had that elusive girls’ night out, but that’s ok.  And with the kids having activities 7 DAYS A WEEK, I’m too tired to go out late anyways!
  4. Weather – Ok, we can’t win them all.  Yesterday I sent a message to a friend that I saw the sun yesterday for the first time in what I think was weeks.  It may not have been weeks or it may have.  The fact that I have to think about the last time I saw the sun means it’s been too long.  The weather here is still shit.

On another note, I should mention the kids.  They are doing great and embracing life in the Netherlands.  They are happy.  They miss Barcelona. They miss the US.  But they live in the now – a lesson we should all try to learn from.

And so that’s what I’m going to try to do – live in the now.  2015 ended on a positive note and I’m hoping to keep that energy going into 2016 and make this next year one to remember (in a good way!).

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

 

6 thoughts on “6 Years Ago We Left For A 2 Year Adventure

  1. I’m so pleased to read this, especially that you are getting a social life! You really have had a hard time of it, but finally it looks like you’ll start to enjoy Amsterdam. It’s funny, it was high on our list for this posting after we visited (well, the Hague), which just goes to show you can’t tell what a place will be like until you move there….

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    • Clara, I think it’s because we aren’t in Amsterdam proper, but about 30 mins outside. I think if we were in the city, the social situation would be a LOT better. Unfortunately the kids’ school was 30 mins from the city and it didn’t make sense to live there and commute them to school (especially as they have different schedules). I think if you were in the Hague, you wouldn’t have issues. I also think it has to do with your network. In BCN, there were a lot of expats in my husband’s office. Here, those that are expats are in their early / mid 20s – just a different life stage than we are. And so I’ve had to rely a lot on school (which I didn’t do in BCN) and the social life there. But slowly getting there!!!

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  2. Thanks for this post , it resonates with us after being away from home for 5.5 years although in one place . In the Middle East the expats are often highly mobile with the consequence that relationships for all the family have a high turn over .With us all , especially the kids experiencing the joy and grief of goodbyes and hello’s. But that is inherent in third culture kids.
    Also the feeling of wanting to leave but not to go home is so so true.
    The sun shines too much here, lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve found the hellos and goodbyes to be the hardest part of being an expat. I tell my kids the benefits are visiting them in new places – and yet I still have a hard time remembering those words when I’m grieving the loss of yet another friend!

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