It’s that time of year again when our heterogenous expat community can be grouped into two distinct tribes: the leavers and the stayers. And for those moving on, it’s a busy, emotional and often stressful time.
This year, I am happy to report that I am a stayer. But the downside of that is having to say goodbye to some very good friends.
It’s in this crazy rundown to summer that the leavers realise just how much they have to get done. Because it’s not just sorting out things in their current country, it’s also organising everything in their new country.Which is always tricky, because when you aren’t actually in a location, getting stuff done is never straightforward.
So this post is dedicated to all of you who are moving on.
And it’s a practical one. I know, I know, another list, just what you don’t need. But this is a fun list. Just some things to do, some things to think about before you leave. Not a list of ‘add ons’ to stress you out even further, rather some suggestions on making the most of now.
Get it on camera
Before we left Bangkok, we had a photo session in our local park, with the skyscrapers as a backdrop. We have some of the photos on the wall, and I do like them…but what they remind me of was how stressful it was to do the shoot in 40 degree heat, in what felt like 100% humidity…and with two kids who just would not co-operate. I can’t imagine why not…
If you look closely at the photos of me, my smile is more of a grimace and my neck’s so strained I look like a turkey. Not quite the look I was going for.
But I’m glad we had it done, and I would definitely recommend it, especially getting shots in locations that are special to you. Some friends had beautiful photographs with the whole family in a tuk-tuk, for example. Super cute. Where we live now, the excellent Bogi Photography does shoots near local landmarks.
However…the photos I like to look at are the ones of our flat and the street we lived on. Similarly, the kids always like to see the photos of our ‘old’ house. One of my best mementoes of our time in Bangkok is a video clip of the kids doing a tour of our house, and then taking a tuk-tuk ride up the street.
So I guess this is saying make sure you get photos of the places that are your ‘normal’. Your house, the school., your favourite park. All the places that make up your everyday life. Yes, they seem prosaic to you right now, but once you have moved away, they will seem precious. I promise.
‘One last time’
What is your favourite thing to do? The place you love where you live, or the restaurant you all always enjoy? Make the time to go there, one last time, and really enjoy it. I don’t think you need to keep telling yourself this is the ‘last time’, but make it a happy event, where the fact you know you are leaving means that you savour the moments.
Speaking of savouring…I made sure we did this in Bangkok with our favourite Thai place. Scrap that, we went to all our favourite Thai places, plural. Asian food is my number 1 choice and the restaurants in Bangkok are fantastic. And I am so glad I pigged out because German food, while it features a lot of pork, is not quite my thing. A pig out on curry wurst and chips will definitely not feature in my ‘One Last Time’ list when we leave Germany.
I asked some other expats about this, and one woman in Dubai said she was going for a swim in the sea every day while the kids were at school…because this would never happen once she moved back to the UK.
This is going to depend on where you are living (and also where you fall on the shopaholic scale) but buy things to remind you of where you have been living.
Of course, this is obvious, but time moves faster when you have a shipment deadline, so plan for it. If you see something you like, buy it…buyer’s remorse is a million times worse when you know you can’t just fly 12 hours to pick up that vase you really liked.
As most expats in Asia tend to, we bought lots in Bangkok. Some great furniture and lots of decorative items. I love the ‘cultural mash up’ that is our current home.
I also make sure I stock up on some of our favourite food items to put in our suitcase. Always makes the first few days in a new place a bit easier, especially if you have some treats for the kids that are familiar to them. Clearly I am not talking here about taking a leg of lamb back with you (although I know someone who did…) more like snacks, or sauces and condiments that you enjoy and will be hard to find in your new country. I took some packs of the Thai curry paste we liked, plus the ‘salty crackers’ we all love.
(You will need to check you are allowed to take food items to your new country – some places, e.g. Australia – are much stricter than others).
I love a party, but organising one whilst in the middle of planning a move can end up being the canapé that broke the expat’s back. So, if a party is your thing rope in friends to help you, or better still, take it completely off your plate.
And not everyone wants a party. But it is always good, I think, to mark the end of your time in a place. Farewells are important.You are important. But you should just do whatever works for you. Coffee with your close friends. A family day at the park. A spa day (because although you might not have time, you could probably do with one). Whatever it is, carve out the time for it. But – and here’s a note of caution – avoid doing anything at home. Might seem like a good idea, but in the midst of packing, having people over will seem like just one more chore. And this should be fun.
Ok, this is a post focussing on you rather than the kids. But worrying about them is one of the most stressful things about moving so we can’t forget the kids. Not literally. That would be a really bad move, in both senses of the word.
Like us, kids need to have a sense of closure. A party, get together, play date with best friends. Whatever works, but it is important for them to get to do something special with friends before they leave. We cheat a bit with this, as my youngest’s birthday is in June, so combines well with a big party to say goodbye.
You might want to arrange keepsakes for your child from their classmates. Teachers often arrange things like this, but not always, so it’s a good idea to check. If you’re child is into sports a team shirt or ball signed by all their team mates is also a nice idea.
And I have mentioned them before, but friendship books are worth investing in. We love ours, which are from The Expat Family Store, ship internationally and have no affiliation with me whosoever, I just think they’re great!
For more on this, check out my post ‘Expat Move with Kids?’
I think we all recognise that one of the things that helps us finally feel like ourselves in a new place is the help and kindness shown by others.
When you leave a place its customary for your friends to give you a farewell gift. But I think it’s also a time to pay back the kindnesses shown to you.
A friend of mine was leaving Ireland for a new posting. Before they went, their doctor went above and beyond to squeeze in all their vaccinations. So my lovely friend took her a thank you card and flowers.
I know it’s a busy time, but how nice to take a bit of time out and reflect on all those positive encounters and just spread a bit more love.
When we leave Germany, I already know I’ll be taking a thank you gift to the very patient pharmacist who has helped me out countless times. And the lady who works in the bakery who has never once laughed at my German – on those bleak mornings during our first winter here her smile and friendliness would make my day.
Keeping in touch
When we left the UK I printed cards with our address and contact details and sent them to everyone.
When we moved to Germany, I did it digitally. We are the annoying people that have moved so many times we take up multiple pages in our friends’ address book. (Simple but genius idea – write your address book entries in pencil, so you can erase every time someone moved. I am still old school enough to have a paper address book, and mine is full of scribbled out addresses because I hadn’t thought of this…).
Of course now there are myriad ways of keeping in touch. However, we need to wash all these technological advances down with a good dose of reality. Just because we have Face Time doesn’t mean we are going to be able to do it every day with all our friends.
It’s always hard when you go from seeing people all the time to not at all. Sometimes it’s worth setting expectations.
Whatever Gets You Through..
And finally, this is always a stressful time, so just do whatever you can to get yourself through.
Whether that’s taking yourself off for a swim if you are lucky enough to live near the beach, or making sure you get some time to zone out and watch your favourite TV programme.
Everything will work out in the end, and you need to look after yourself so you’re in good shape to figure things out in your next place. So drink the wine, eat the cake, find the time for that one last Thai massage (oh how I sometimes long to be back in Bangkok) and enjoy these last few weeks so they become memories you can look back on with happiness.