In 2012, we moved our family to China for a year. The adventure proved crazy enough to fill the pages of the book I later wrote about the experience. Many of our friends and family thought the idea of picking up and leaving our regular life to move to a communist country was an act of madness. While I wouldn’t disagree entirely, I do think there are plenty of families who’d love a similar journey.
One thing I craved before we left was…advice. I spoke to many families who’d been relocated overseas because of work. Some who’d decided to quiet their jobs and travel the world without a real home base. A few who’d left and still hadn’t returned to the United States. Others who’d left and come home earlier than they planned.
I’m forever grateful for the advice I received from these families, some of which proved invaluable. As with all things of this nature, I’m happy to pass on these nuggets to the next band of globetrotting families!
Ten Tips for Making the Most of Your Overseas Move
- Engage your children in the pre-trip planning. From helping decide what to pack, to getting out the globe and marking your new home with a sticker. Children who have a little ownership in the process are usually better able to adjust to the shock that comes with uprooting in such a major way.
- Consider your existing food and exercise routines. Moving overseas is different than a vacation. Way different. You’ll want to continue your pattern of family meals as well as any methods you use to keep in shape. Think and talk through what expectations you have for how that might look in your new home.
- Pack comforts from home. Special snacks, a pile of beloved art supplies, a particular pillowcase you adore. Things that will make home seem a bit….closer.
- Bring books in your native language. Both for the adults and the children. Yes books are widely available in e-book format now, but for those times when your screen loses its charge or when you just want to hold a story in your hands on a long train ride. There’s nothing like a few books made of paper and a real spine.
- Document your daily life in a personal journal. A place for you to write the mundane, the hilarious and the difficult. Especially the difficult. Journaling can be an outlet for you as well as the children. Children too young to write can enjoy dictating to parents what they’re going through, what they’re feeling and things that stay planted in their little memories.
- Write a blog. Friends and family will want to know details of your adventures, and capturing your stories on a blog is a perfect way to spread the news one time without repeating yourself in separate email messages. Attach photos for an extra punch.
- Branch out from the expatriate community and spend time with locals. Your relationships with other expats will very likely be long lasting, but spending time with locals will give you a flavor of your new country like no other.
- Keep a family gratitude jar. Every day, plop a small coin into a jar and share something you’re grateful for. Some days will be challenging. My most memorable gratitude was the day I found out where to buy salt. A simple and unimaginably easy task in America, but a near impossibility in our early days in China. Watch your jar fill with coins over the course of your days and weeks, planning something special when the jar is full.
- Before coming home, indulge in a little consumerism. Those local crafts you’ve grown accustomed to seeing….instead of buying just one…buy five. That favorite bag of special treats you can’t get in the United States….buy ten. It will seem excessive in the moment, but chances are you’ll be thrilled a year down the road to still be enjoying a slice of your overseas life.
- Find humor. There will be days so tough you just want to crawl in bed and close out the world. One of the best ways around the tough is to combat it with the just plain silly.
May a few drops of wisdom carry you through your own family adventure!
About Johanna Garton
Johanna Garton fills her days as owner of Missionworks Consulting, a nonprofit management consulting firm in Denver. She leads workshops for parents on traveling back to China through the Chinese Heritage Camp in Denver through Regis University. For those looking for something a little more close to home, Johanna also developed Kids Yoga Speak while preparing for her year in China. The program is based on Total Physical Response and teaches children Chinese by incorporating the language into a yoga routine. The program can be accessed through the website or through a downloadable app through iTunes.