Friday, August 17, 2012

Family Relocation: Making the Most of the Move!

This week, we are thrilled to feature a first-hand story of one family's international relocation!  Stephanie Whittle, mom of two and creator of the website Boy Mama Teacher Mama, shares the lessons she learned during her family's relocation, as well as tips for making the most of such a momentous family adventure!  Thanks to Stephanie for her helpful pointers and for sharing her family's fantastic story below!
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image courtesy of Stephanie Whittle
Over a year ago on Thanksgiving, my husband asked me how I would feel about moving to Australia. Ha! What kind of question is that? My first reaction was no way!  I love where I live, my friends, my son’s school, our pediatrician, our vet - how was I even supposed to think about giving up all that?  But, I did. I thought about it and, in the end, I said, “Sure, let’s give it a go” (that’s Australian for let’s give it a try!). The plan was to leave in January. Let’s see - that left December and January to get a renter, pack the house, get the dogs ready for the trip (a whole other story in itself!) and say goodbye to family and friends. Yeah, that was not going to all happen that fast. I had to PREPARE!  And by prepare I mean three things: 1) prepare our “stuff," 2) prepare the kids, and 3) prepare myself.  None of which were easy tasks.  So, I sent my husband ahead of us.  He left at the end of January and we were scheduled to leave in April.  Phew, some time to prepare….

It turns out the easiest preparation was our stuff - I sorted, donated, sold, stored, and packed all of our things. It was actually a rather cathartic process. I got rid of so much stuff that we just didn’t need anymore.  I scaled down my wardrobe significantly and finally unpacked all my husband’s boxes from our last move that he had yet to unpack.

Next on the list was to prepare the kids.  I have two boys who at the time were 4 and 18 months. The 18 month old was easy - as long as he was with me, he was fine.  As long as he had is stuffed dog, Ruff Ruff and his “blankie,” he was good to go.  My older son, on the other hand, was going to be much harder to deal with.  So, I prepared. I bought maps of the world and maps of Australia. We marked where we live, where our extended family members live and where we would be living. I bought Australian music and ordered a ton of books about Australia and stories from Australia. I hung pictures of the Outback, the Harbor Bridge, and the Opera House on our living room walls.  I hung pictures of kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, and emus on our walls as well. I completely submerged my children in “Austrailaina.”  And, in retrospect, I did a pretty good job. When we got here, there was so much that was already familiar from the books, pictures, and DVDs, that it didn’t seem all that foreign. It also helps that people here speak English even though it took a long time to get used to the accent.

The final preparation was me.  I had to prepare to leave all that I knew and loved outside my immediate family.  I had to leave my comfort zone and my support system for a land unknown.  It wasn’t easy, for more reasons than I care to get into here, it just wasn’t easy. But, I did it. I read about Australia. I learned some of the lingo and made connections with people who had been there and some who were living there. I tearfully said my goodbyes and headed to the airport, my mom with us for the trip to lend a hand and to lend support. 

We have now been here 18 months.  We are settled, My eldest son is in school. My youngest is with me all day. We have made friends, found doctors we like and a veterinarian to care for our dogs. We know people at the local restaurants and coffee shops. We have swim lessons and music lessons.  We have neighbors to say hello to and friends to call for play dates. We know where to get groceries and where to find the other necessities for everyday life.  We even have babysitters! So, I guess all that preparation worked.  We are here. We are okay. We have explored, discovered and laid a foundation for ourselves.  We still have over a year here and lots more to do while here and then, it will be time for another kind of preparation - preparing to go home!

My tips for moving overseas (or, things I wish someone would have told me before I got here!)

*   Learn all you can about where you are going.  Read books, listen to music, watch DVDs and talk to people who know the area.  The internet is a great resource and there are tons of expat sites out there ready and waiting to help.

*   Voltage!  Find out about converting appliances. I brought our vacuum, mixer, shredder and cannot use a single one as I found out when I plugged my son’s music player in and nearly burned down the house.

*   Language. Learn about what is okay to say and what is not. There are some words we use in the States that when said down here have a whole different meaning and are not words you want to be saying in most situations.

*   Medical Care. Figure out how the medical system works before you arrive.  You do not want to be hit by illness or injury and have to figure you way through the system at that time. 

*   Kid Friendly things to do and see. Before leaving I bought a Kid’s Guide to Sydney. I must have read the book 3 or 4 times before leaving the States! When we arrived, I had a general idea of where I wanted to take the kids and what I wanted to do with them.

*   Cell Phone.  Call your provider in the States (or where ever you are coming from) and make sure your phone will work where you are going. I needed a new phone before leaving and was about to buy an iPhone when I learned that I would not have been able to use it here!  Good thing I checked! So I bought an Android and was good to go.

*   Have pets?  Make sure you check, well in advance, if you can bring your pets into the country and, if you can, what steps you have to take for their entrance into the country. Australia has a limited list of animals you can bring into the country and a whole heck of a lot of medical tests and exams you have to complete before your pet can even board the plane! Once here, your pet has a minimum stay of 30 days in quarantine before you can take him home. 

*   Frequent Flyer Miles. Once settled, find out which stores around town offer frequent flyer miles as a perk for shopping there. Our local grocery store has a frequent flyer arrangement with Qantas which will be so great when buying tickets for home or for travel. 

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Thanks again to Stephanie for sharing her experience, wit, and wisdom; for more helpful tips and information, be sure to check out her site, Boy Mama Teacher Mama!  Safe and happy travels!

- Destination Mom

Author's bio: Stephanie  "retired" from her career as an elementary school teacher of 14 years to stay home and raise her boys.  She originally hails from the Chicago area and now has a permanent residence in Tacoma, WA, but is currently living in Sydney, Australia with her family.  Her site, Boy Mama Teacher Mama is an amazing resource for parents, teachers, and other caregivers of children; featuring a wide variety of activities that can be done at home or in the classroom, with a special emphasis on raising boys (also on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +)!  In her free time, Stephanie enjoys playing with her boys and her dogs, writing, reading, baking and quilting.

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