Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Day Being an Expat Got Easier

I've been pretty up front that the first few months of life as an expat were difficult for me. I think I managed it pretty well and usually had a smile on my face. But I also refer to this time period as "the blur." I barely knew what end was up most of the time, and each day seemed to present a series of challenges I could never anticipate. I have a lot of fond memories from this time, too, don't get me wrong. But I'm happy to be past that initial "settling in" phase.

Because at some point, it just gets easier. This seems to be true for almost every expat I know. I'm not sure there's a definitive timeline to that. For some, it's probably just a few weeks or months. For others, maybe a full year or more. I can clearly picture my moment of serenity in my mind.

I was hiking on a footpath just a couple of miles from my home.

The fact that I was out hiking at all is probably the biggest indicator that I was finally adjusted to life in England. It was one of the two mornings each week that both boys were at school. What had seemed like a never-ending to do list of errands, appointments, "get-stuff-figured-out" had finally subsided and I found myself with free time. As in, 90 minutes until I had to hop back in the car and start picking them back up. But hey, a multi-tasking mom can get a lot done in 90 minutes!

In the previous months, I had noticed lots of footpath and bridleway signs all over the area. So without the least bit of planning, I parked my car on the side of the road (as you do here), pulled on my wellies, and took off down a path.

I was thoroughly enjoying the fresh air. The wide open fields leading to a tunnel of trees into a forest. The way my boots squished into the mud. Everything about it was gorgeous and I was immediately planning future Tuesday morning hikes as a way of charging my mental and physical batteries.

And then I looked up ahead and saw what appeared to be an abandoned manor house.

I didn't figure out what this place was until I got home, asked a neighbor, and googled it. (It's called Wothorpe Towers.) It was such a profound example of why living in England is so special... that you could just be out on an ordinary walk and stumble upon a castle.

I looked at where I was at that moment and appreciated it for what it was. I had the day-to-day living part figured out. The hassles of knowing where to shop for what, how to work my household appliances, and who to ask for help was mostly behind me. There was (and will be) so many more discoveries still ahead of me.

Turns out, this is a popular trail in the area. But in my mind, it will always be my own little hidden place. Something that appeared on that path just for me to find. A reminder that even though international moves with kids are stressful, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only make discoveries about a new country, a new culture, a new way of life, but also to learn a lot more about myself, my husband and my children.

I remember when Big Arrow was a newborn and people said, "Oh, it gets easier." I always wanted to punch those people in the face, quite honestly. But for some reason, I was very encouraged by all the experienced expats who told me things would improve once we were settled. And this is my testament that it's true. It does and it will.

My advice to any new and future expats? You'll always be a little homesick. Missing friends and family never goes away. But the chaos will subside, the uncertainty and confusion will be replaced with a new sense of confidence. (The desperation for a box of Cheez-Its will lessen, even.) A feeling of, if I can do this, I can do anything. Open yourself up to the experience with a positive attitude and a willingness to try new things, and you will truly be able to begin enjoying the beautiful place that surrounds you, that you now call home.

I shared this trail with my family this weekend. It wasn't quite as serene with a 30 pound toddler riding on my shoulders and his 5-year-old brother singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" at full volume. But it brought me great joy to watch them discover the manor house, whack sticks against the trees that lined our path, and collect leaves as we walked. I think in their own way, they appreciate these moments as much as I do.

I've done lots of subsequent Tuesday morning hikes and I'll be sharing more pictures soon. Or you can follow my walks at #TuesdayMorningHikes on Instagram. (Every once in a while I live on the edge and hike on a Friday instead. I'm such a rebel.)

This post is a part of Friday Postcards at Walking on Travels.