At this time of year airports are full of families either returning to their postings, setting out for new assignments, or of people new to expatriation saying farewell to all they hold dear for a life, or maybe a couple of years, in the unfamiliar. Each family will be going through different agonies. Perhaps saying goodbye to elderly parents, or leaving children at boarding school or college for the first time.
Whatever the circumstances it can be a difficult time but how it is dealt with affects the success of the relocation.
Children might be enamoured by the idea of a new life in the tropics, or on the tundra, or they may be resentful. Women, and it is still women in the majority who follow their partners, may be giving up a career or at least putting it on hold and are now unsure of their place in a new environment, no longer able to hang a hat on a profession that defined them. And the spouse or partner whose job has sent them to the other side of the world will also be flipping through a file of uncertainties, of have-we-done-the-right-thing?
Blogs outlining the turmoil of relocation, with a corresponding number offering sound advice, scatter the web and one struggles to remember how lives were managed before the days of instant communication and the Internet.
But they were.
Whether it was ancestors trying their luck in the brave new world, or grandparents one, two or three greats removed, travelling out to India possibly as part of the annual fishing fleet or to join the East India Company, or maybe a regiment. Or a Ten Pound Pom trying his luck in Australia. They, in the main, made the most of it.
Whatever the reason for saying farewell a sense of adventure drove the decision and that seems so often now to be missing. Instead, a kind of ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude often prevails which on a fundamental level is necessary, but a broader outlook will give rise to the hidden benefits of an international life. Those of greater cultural understanding, a willingness to accept life often falls between black and white, unexpected friendships and experiences, or the sight of a pink and purple sunset silhouetting a journey of giraffe over the veldt.
Sometimes in this era of micro-managed relocation it is easy to get hung up on the minutiae. Of what is available, of whether a cinema, if indeed there is one, shows the latest movies, of what food is on offer. That is not to lessen the importance of finding the right school or a hospital that will cater to a sick child, but does it really matter if a favoured cereal is unavailable. Taste a new one.
The very essence of living in a different country is the delight in finding out about it, not from a computer screen spewing out sites not to be missed, or the opinions of expatriates who may have a jaundiced outlook, but from wandering the lanes and alleys where possible, learning of different cultures and customs through a smattering of language and a smile.
‘Woe is me’ does not translate well into any language and negates the resilience and perseverance of those who travelled before us. Of those who endured true hardship. A quick look back at the wars our parents and grandparents survived, whether in the trenches, on the seas, in the air or at home, shows real fortitude, or those living through current war or civil strife. None of it is comparable to a sponsored trip to an overseas posting now.
So along with the crockery and bedding pack a dose of positivity, lose the sense of entitlement, and take this incredible opportunity to learn about something new not only about a place and her peoples but about yourself.