From Expectations and Disappointment, To Experience and Joy
Cue three years ago in June of 2018, my husband and I were Americans walking into our new life in London. We were jet-lagged, scared, and excited all at the same time. We had two toddlers (ages three and one) that had suddenly decided that clubbing at 2 AM was a thing and we were still fighting for our UK bank account, which meant (gasp) no internet or television, and the only people we knew lived in our corporate world. We had planned and dreamed of this moment for years – both exploring ex-patriate opportunities with our respective companies and it was finally happening! We craved the adventure of it all!
And, while there were nights that my children felt like small beasts trying to eat me alive and I craved a hug from my mom more than air itself, we were ready. We were happy. We visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, spent an extravagant two weeks in Greece, hiked Krka National Park in Croatia, tasted port in Porto, enjoyed Christmas markets in Germany, and skied in Austria (which for one of us might have meant sliding most of the way down on our behind… but that’s a story for another time. Ahem). We learned new corporate rules, new culturally appropriate greetings (weather, always the weather first), and how to make friends in a city swimming with people. We navigated the smoldering hot tube stations in summer and learned to keep a jacket handy for the inevitable 10 degree shift in temperature when we emerged at the overground train station. We were living our adventure! New foods, new languages, new stories! As we meandered into a restaurant or baker, the locals would kindly share their beautiful traditions, their personal journeys, and their tasty homemade goodies. Our kids enjoyed extravagant views from our hiking backpacks and would often nod off for a nap finding themselves in a new place. My favorite quote from my then four-year-old on a trip to Lisbon was “Mommy, what world are we in?” We rolled with naps and a missed turn on the road. We raced across new cities for toddler potty breaks and we laughed about it all over a local glass of wine.
Then, Covid-19 hit. Cue lockdown.
At first, like most people, I hoped for a flu-like cycle and that by summer we would be back to normal. When science and experience proved that theory wrong and weeks turned to months, I started to feel the squeeze of the walls of our small London home. Where was my adventure? My husband and I fought. We tried to homeschool two young kids who could not be less interested in zoom. We video chatted with grandparents, aunts, and cousins who were missing hugs and the small moments that come from in person exploration together. And, my kids became so British that my name changed to “Mummy” as zoom-led phonics and the British version of “Paw Patrol” ruled our roost. Rather than enjoying the tastes of my British adventure, I felt swallowed whole by it.
And, then the pivot happened. What was I here for?
Every day that passed was a chance to wallow in what I was missing or a chance to create my adventure.
Sure, I could not hop on a plane to a new country or enjoy the warm sun of southern Europe, but I was here, in another country. The chapter I had written in my head needed to be edited and fact-checked with my reality. What was my new adventure going to be? We started with exploring new neighborhoods – a long bike ride or run toward London Bridge, noticing a gate to enter the bank of the Thames River and letting the water nip at our toes. And, as lockdown eased, we expanded our reach – a morning trip to find dinosaur bones at Crystal Palace, a long weekend in Brighton, a week at the Isle of Wight, a week in the Lakes District – all here in Great Britain. We found adventure in cooking – perfecting our soft pretzel recipe to get a taste of home and trying our hand at quiche with two kids that initially thought cracking eggs meant impaling their hand through the table. We bought a caterpillar kit and raised butterflies. We painted. We collaborated with others to create fancy dress/costume parties on a zoom call and embraced the make-up skills of a then 3 and 5 year old. (You’re going to have to get to know me better to see THOSE pictures!)
Is my adventure perfect? Absolutely not. I still have my lows. There is depression, loss, and sadness at times. However, if I’m being honest, my up all night raves with my toddlers when we first moved here, were not exactly living the dream either. What I realized is that the difference is in my choice. I can choose to focus on lack of sleep or the missed adventure in Switzerland, or I can celebrate the adventure in the place that I’m in. I can relish in the deep, lifelong friendships that formed with a global cast of characters that helped me flourish during this really difficult time. I can celebrate how I honored my value for deep connection in the relationships that were forged and strengthened – and in the ones that felt faraway at moments but lasted and emerged in a new, beautiful place. I can mourn the loss of the adventure I wrote in my head AND be delighted and surprised at what emerges in the actual journey.
So, for those of you on your adventure or exploring the idea of living abroad, I can promise you one thing: It will not be what you expected.
Even without Covid-19, nothing is ever quite what we think it will be. However, if you want to move or live abroad, do not let the fear of disappointment distract you. If you truly know what values and drivers are compelling you take that step, you will find a way to connect to them, to flourish, and to find something even more beautiful than you had ever imagined.
Note to readers: To those already living abroad, if it’s feeling hard and you are having trouble connecting to your why for being there, I’m here. To my global explorers still noodling the idea of living abroad, I’m here. And, to my fellow leaders with employees living abroad, help them connect to their why for being there, and know that I’m only a click or phone call away if you need a helping hand. Schedule a free Spark session if you want to chat. And if push comes to shove and you really need a laugh, maybe… just maybe… I’ll break out some of my awesome make-over photos from my adventures with my now four and six year olds over the last year! Cheers to adventures!
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Get Sparked! If you are currently living abroad and it is feeling hard or you are thinking about moving abroad and are not quite sure yet of what your unique drivers are, don’t hesitate to reach out to explore what’s important for you and how to connect to that in different ways. The more you know about what you want, the more enriching the experience will be. For my organizational leaders, let’s design something that helps your employees living abroad connect to their spark and find their adventure again!