Living Abroad: Grief, loss and living far away from ‘home’

Ask anyone living away from their family and/or homeland what weighs heavily on their minds and you will often hear such things as:

-missing out on family events
-not being there for weddings, births, graduations, first steps, etc
-not feeling connected enough to friends and family ‘back home’

Yet, there is one, often unspoken topic that comes to mind too quickly for those of us that have moved thousands of miles from home. We don’t talk about it much but it is there, hovering like a dark cloud, and it remains present from the moment we are first offered or choose to move far away: What if something bad happens?

I know this question is not unique to expats/internationals, but when you have thousands and thousands of miles placed between you and the ones you love, this question can seem unbearable.  In fact, many people have reported to me over the years that they didn’t take an international assignment because of this one very thought. What if something bad happens? 

I can’t say I’ve reconciled this question for myself other than to say I try not to focus on it.  That doesn’t always work and this past August we were smacked in the face with grief as my father-in-law ended his year long battle with pancreatic cancer. We traveled unexpectedly to my husband’s passport country which thankfully, isn’t as far as mine.  The pain of the last 15 years of my husband being abroad surged through his heart…should he have moved overseas? Would he have had more time with his father? Did he miss out on too much? Guilt. Anger. Pain. Upset. Real life.  These are not easy moments in our lives and the impact of realising your what if has become a reality brings a lot of the early emotions of moving abroad to the surface again.

Despite the emotional doubts, my husband can take solace in the fact that his father was beyond proud of his achievements and the life he made for himself abroad.  We met many wonderful people that told us how he often boasted about his children and they knew we lived in Switzerland, loved to ski, etc. To us, that meant that even if we weren’t physically present all the time, we had presence in my father-in-law’s life. It is important to remain attached and communicative with those left behind when we move.  A simple text, phone call, email of photos, social media tag, etc. These are the things that help us pick up where we left off on our next visit. When you only see friends and family once year or more, you have to fill the void with information and tales of your real life. If that gap grows too big, you can feel a painful distance begin to grow, one which is hard to close.

When someone’s life comes to an end, no matter if you lived next door or ten thousand miles away, you will realise there was simply never enough time. Grief does not have a fixed address.

 

 

Photo: Fotolia

 

 

 

Moving to Switzerland? Enjoy These Insider Tips

A while ago* I asked if local internationals/expats in Switzerland would be keen to answer a few questions on life in Confoederatio Helvetica (aka Switzerland).  Switzerland is an impressively quiet country that people often wish to visit/relocate to but it find it difficult to obtain information on. Thus, I present to you, Q&A with people already living in Switzerland. I tried not to edit the responses so some answers may be formatted or phrased differently than others but this is an honest glimpse inside the lives of those that have already made the jump to Switzerland.

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Amazing Lucerne/Luzern by photographer Dominik Gehl

Where are/were you located in Switzerland and, if you wish to share, for how long:
Morges(VD) – 3.5 years
Basel (BS)
Lausanne (VD) – 2 years
Zurich (ZH) – 9 months
Lausanne (VD) – 4 years
Morges(VD) – 2 years
Geneva (GE)

Where are you from originally:
Germany
England
France
Scotland
Canada
USA
Chile

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View of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva from Morges by Jennifer Hart

Have you lived in other foreign countries before moving to Switzerland:
Yes – 5 votes
No – 2 vote

 

What Swiss languages do you use for daily life:
Swiss German
French
Mix of French and Swiss German
Sometimes Italian when I travel to Lugano for work
English tends to be a working language most places, as well

 

What is your native language:
English – 4 votes
French – 2 vote
German – 1 vote
I’m bilingual
Spanish -1 vote
Italian – 1 vote

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Zermatt by photographer Dominik Gehl

Important things (s) people should know when they relocate to Switzerland:
-Cost of living is very high
Shops are closed on Sundays and there are a lot of laws surrounding quiet hours (e.g. no placing glass in recycling bins at noon, no mowing the lawn on a Sunday). Life will be much easier if you try to follow the rules and embrace whatever comes your way without comparing it (unfavourably) to back home.
-Cost. Switzerland is very expensive. Housing, insurances and and food will consume the majority of your budget
-Salaries are higher here than elsewhere in Europe
-Weekends in Switzerland are for enjoyment, not work. There are rules around what you can/can’t do on a Sunday
-It is just as beautiful as you imagine
-Language, cost of living, culture regarding respect towards others, commercial business hours, necessary documentation, legal requirements e.g. driving, permits, communal living regulations
-Public schools are excellent

Favourite place in Switzerland:
-Have not been here long enough to see everything but for now I’ll say Lucerne/Luzern area
-Anywhere along Lake Geneva/Lac Léman
-Gruyères
-Montreux
-Lausanne (awesome restaurants)
-THE ALPS
-Ticino/Lake Lugano Italian area
-Zermatt
-Morges
Lausanne for the street food festival 

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Tulip at the Morges Tulip Festival by an anonymous friend 🙂

Favourite Swiss food:
Raclette (5 votes)
Fondue (4 votes)
Rösti (2 votes)
Gruyères meringues with local cream (Swiss dairy in general)

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Crans-Montana, Swiss Alps photograph by Jennifer Hart

Are/were you happy in Switzerland (these are direct copy and paste answers – extra exclamation points and all):
Absolutely
Very
YES!!
Yes!
Oh yes!! Even with the cost and rules. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
Yes. I am homesick for English food sometimes but otherwise, Switzerland is now home.
YES. Geneva is a bit boring but the rest of Switzerland makes up for it.

Yes or No-you have gone to a Swiss mountain and sang The Hills Are Alive:
LOL not yet
Actually, yes I have. Even took a video
Not an Austrian nun so, no, I haven’t
Ummmm not yet but I kind of want to now
HAHA how’d you know?
No
Hadn’t occurred to me, but I now want to buy an edelweiss shirt and learn how to blow a swiss horn, while riding a cow…
Maybe…

Profession:
Software engineer
CMO
Translator
Writer
Software developer
Mom
Stay at home pet wrangler, occasional mother, professional eye roller and eccentric socially awkward recluse
Nanny
Thank you to all of my contributors. If you’d like to see more photography from Dominik Gehl, check out his Instagram account here You won’t be disappointed!!!

*This, and many other writing projects, were sidelined due to my computer crash swiftly followed by a fairly intense recovery from a brain trauma but here I am, back on track and ready to read, research and write!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dominik Gehl, anonymous (with permission) and banner image from Fotolia

Where Are You From? Thunder Bay

One of the most repetitive questions you will be asked as an expat or foreigner living abroad is ‘where are you from?’  I often wonder what it is like for people, such as my husband, who comes from a very recognisable place (you may have heard of it, London UK?). The ease they must have explaining it. London. It comes out, people process the information, understand and move on to a story about London – either they have been there or they wish to go there.

My answer?  Thunder Bay. Not at all the same to my husband’s response. Not even to CANADIANS who should know better but often don’t.

In the past few years I have found myself saying, ‘do you know where Toronto is? Ok well drive 16 hours northwest and that’s where I’m from.’  This is often met with blank stares and questions like, ‘is that even in the same country?’ HA! Same country? Try the same province, even! I often field polar bear and igloo questions and have even been asked if I have ever seen a beach before I left my northern life.

So imagine my delight when last week a video of my hometown started splashing across Facebook.  The video, put together by cinematographer Damien Gilbert, demonstrates the vast beauty and complexities that Thunder Bay offers. People are often confused by me as I am a huge fan of both city life and Jimmy Choos as well as hiking and being in nature. Perhaps spending 2 minutes watching what my hometown looks like, you’ll understand me a bit more. Enjoy!

Thank you, Damien for putting Thunder Bay on display for the world to see. Maybe NOW people will stop asking if I mean North Bay 😉

Photo: Jennifer Hart

 

 

Summertime and the Living is Easy…

I’m on vacation in Florida right now, soaking up the sun and swimming in the ocean as much as possible. This also means I am taking a break from writing, researching and publishing as much as I was before. In the meantime, enjoy these photos and for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, have a fabulous and safe summer!! Relax the body, the brain and the soul as much as possible!! 🙂

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

Giveaway: Once Upon An Expat

Are you an expat? Traveller? Curious about expat life? Want to read about travelling the world from the comfort of your living room? Then you would absolutely love the anthology Once Upon An Expat that I have a published section in! Written from the heart from real women living around the world, the book will make you laugh, cry and make you want to search online for your next travel adventure!
So, how can you possibly get your hands on a copy? Well, you’re in luck. Both Kindle and paperback version are available here on Amazon.

OR! *drum roll please* you could participate in this contest to win a copy signed by yours truly. Contest is open to participants around the world.

How to enter:
Leave a comment below on this post or email me via the form below and a random draw will take place Sunday 26th of June. Check your mailbox Monday morning and you could be the lucky winner!

Good luck and happy travels!

Friday Featurette: Jet-lagged Emotions

A couple Fridays a month I will be featuring another blogger or up-and-coming writer on my site. Stories range from expat life to travel/adventure. If you are interested in possibly being featured, please read the info here and get in touch!  You may notice differences in terminology, vocabulary and spellings here but I think keeping it authentic to the author’s voice and background makes for a richer reading. 

Jet-Lagged Emotions
By: Katherine Wilson

People say the world is getting smaller, and I agree. When I moved to Italy from the USA twenty years ago, the transatlantic flights seemed endless: there was one movie that you didn’t choose, the old headphones barely worked making it hard to hear, and you had to crane your neck to see the communal screen. Talking to my family in the USA meant buying a phone card once a week and closing myself in a tiny, hot, smoke-filled booth.

‘What a whiner’, my mother chided me, ‘when I came to Bologna in 1967 we travelled on a boat, and I didn’t dream of talking to my family.’

Today, I can talk for free, any time of day or night. I can see my sister’s face in New York as she works out on the elliptical; can show her the piece of parmiggiano reggiano I’m about to buy at the market. The flight is direct, with great, individual movies that I can choose. The world is getting smaller, or at least becoming more efficient at feeling that way.

Smaller, except for one little thing. If only we could eliminate the six hour time difference between us. I understand this is unlikely, given that the Earth revolves around the sun and that might not change for my convenience. But in terms of communication, it creates a gulf. I am a mother of two and the morning is when I find myself having some time to talk – when it would be a pleasure to chat with my sister. By the time New York wakes up, I’m revving up for an afternoon of school pickups, shuttling kids and attacking Italian homework.

“Let’s talk at 11 my time?” my sister suggests via text. Unfortunately, her 11 am (my 5pm), is when I’m deep in Italian subjunctives and dinner preparation. It is also a point in the day when I tend to be tired. I no longer have it in me to tell her about whatever I had in mind this morning, when the day spread out before me and I was optimistic about the future: work, family, plans, etc.

“OK. 11’s good,” I text her back. I call her because she’s my sister and I want to hear her voice, even if it means perilous multitasking and leaving my kids to their own devices. I hear in her voice that it’s 11 am. She’s freshly caffeinated and wants to tell me about a date she had and ask about what are we planning for this summer.

“Um… yeah… I’m not sure yet… sorry just a second Anthony can you stop doing that, please?”. Sadly, this is about all my sister gets from me.

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Look familiar? Long-distance communication often happens when we can fit it in instead of when it is most convenient!

I realize, it’s not because I’m an ocean away, it’s because I’m six hours ahead. Her day has just started to hit its stride while mine peaks into the stressful hours of parenting, cooking and checking homework. She is Morning Anna and I am Afternoon Katherine. As a result, we are very much out of sync.

A friend of mine who had been an expat for years when I arrived in Italy gave me wise advice when she told me that when you fly transatlantic, it takes your soul a few days to catch up with your body. She told me, Katherine, with this experience, you shouldn’t expect too much of yourself those first few days, because it’s just your body. Your soul hasn’t quite arrived yet.

I think of that when I’m Afternoon Katherine talking to Morning Anna. Our souls are not in the same dimension. I give her my voice and my ear, detached from my emotions. That’s all I’ve got in the early evening.

I tell her before I hang up that I can’t wait to see her this summer, when we will be in the same place at the same time.

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Katherine Wilson is an American actress and writer living in Italy. Her memoir, Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia From My Italian Mother-in-Law is an ode to her adopted city and family, as well as a hilarious look at expat life. It was out from Random House this spring and is being published in seven countries.
Click here to purchase in the USA and her to purchase in the UK/Europe.
Click here to follow Katherine on Facebook
Click here to follow Katherine on Instagram

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A World of Stories

There are so many reasons I am proud to be part of this anthology. The biggest reason of all has been making more expat friends around the world. We are the sisterhood of women carving out lives that don’t have a conventional flow. We make it work where we can and laugh and cry together when we can’t. From a fellow co-author…

Margo Catts

A few months after I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I found myself at dinner with a group of teachers. You know, school teachers. Ladies that taught English at Saudi girls’ schools. Old maid school teachers.

Roz (Monsters, Inc.)You got that picture squarely in mind?

Good. Now flush it. Whatever scars you still carry from that time you walked into the teachers’ lounge as a child (teachers? relaxing? aghhh!), it’s time to forget about them. These ladies were cool.

I am now firmly convinced that a memo went around when I was in high school, inviting interested students to come learn how to live an exotic, independent, globe-trotting life, and I missed it. I was never aware that there was more than one path available to humans. High school. College. Job. Maybe marriage. House. Family. The things responsible people do.

These ladies, though, got the memo and went to the meeting. These…

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