Home is where the heart is, of course. Home is where my own little family is. This is something I rarely question. Not that I don’t think about, and miss, the places I grew up—on the contrary. I follow what’s going on in the Netherlands and in the United States and I travel there all the time.
But it’s only after a particularly lovely visit to see family that I’m bent out of shape about it. Usually it’s related to the kids. That I suddenly wish more than anything that they could grow up in Oregon with their cousins and beautiful nature, or that we’d settle in the Netherlands so they learn the language properly and ride their bikes around town like I did growing up.
It doesn’t help that my husband and I are both from beautiful places—something I become more aware of with each passing visit. The Netherlands, with its rich history, culture and architecture has some of the happiest children in the world. Wallowa county, which is one of the remotest counties in Oregon, has stunning nature and a friendly village vibe I only knew from TV shows like Northern Exposure.
And it certainly doesn’t help that friends and family back home continue to ask me about how the kids are coping with living overseas. It’s something they can’t seem to get over: why don’t I settle down somewhere so the kids get rooted? I mean, it’s a valid question, to ask once or twice, but they can’t seem to be convinced no matter what I say.
Also, nobody seems to have a particularly good reason to question my decision to raise my kids abroad. Most of my family lives relatively far from each other, and even those who live in the same city don’t hang out all that much unless they have some kind of babysitting arrangement. They may vaguely know someone who complained about moving around a lot as a kid (usually with a father who worked for an oil company, or the military) but they don’t seem to have more difficult lives as a result. Besides, my kids are perfectly happy and healthy, do well in school, and have plenty of friends. In fact, (knock on wood) I see fewer problematic developments with them than with some of the other children in my family…
But the question about “what’s best” for the kids still keeps me up at night, sometimes. I recently went to the Netherlands for a birthday and a funeral, and as I returned to India I had to convince myself, once again, that it’s okay to be a diplomat and have kids abroad. That it’s not crazy that I’m not planning to give up my adventurous lifestyle in the near future unless something dramatically changes (I always assume this can happen, probably when we least expect it).
Here are the reasons why I think it’s a good idea to continue living abroad despite all the questions and doubts.
My husband and I are both diplomats and we enjoy our work immensely. We both have master degrees in international relations, have always loved our overseas lifestyle, and our careers are well underway. We have very specific knowledge and skills as a result of this, and it’s hard to imagine where else we could apply these.
(2) Perspective, ideals
When I think about what I would like to instill in my kids, it has to do with understanding history, our place in the world, and respecting other people and cultures. These are the values I live by, so it’s what I contribute as a parent. My kids might not see the value right now of speaking multiple languages, learning to be adaptable, or making new friends all the time, but I think it will help them be good people and navigate the world when they’re older.
I always aspired to a stable job with decent benefits. I was raised by a single mom who always lived on the financial edge, which I found stressful. The Foreign Service not only pays a good salary, it’s basically guaranteed, along with steady promotions if all goes well. We barely have living expenses and get to retire in our fifties. That’s not something I’d give up without a pressing reason.
(4) Work life balance
If I had a “normal” job with the same financial perks, I’m pretty sure I’d have less work life balance. I work hard and being a Foreign Service Officer is a serious job with lots of responsibility, but my kids are not latch key kids (like I was). I’m always there when my kids go to school in the morning and most days I get home around the same time they do!
(5) Life goals
I always wanted to live my life this way; learning languages, travel far and wide, and learn about the world constantly—and offer my kids the same. I think I’d be frustrated if I’d be “stuck” in one place. I think I’d constantly be trying to find a way out, transfer somewhere else, and travel for work. I’ve been doing this since I was 20. So even though I envy people who get to live in a community where they are truly rooted, I also know I wouldn’t be content with it, or not yet, at least.
I’m not a snob when it comes to education. I believe kids should be allowed to be kids instead of being forced into a rat race about who is going to the best schools, gets the best grades, or has the best college prospects. I wish we’d all care more about each other instead. But if I think about it from the perspective of my kids, I wish them a great school with lots of resources, a safe environment, and excellent teachers. And that’s exactly what most international schools are. Some of them are truly world class. It wouldn’t be easy to find similar quality for them back home and it certainly wouldn’t be as cosmopolitan.
(7) Bi-continental roots
My husband and I come from similar cultural backgrounds (we happen to share a lot of Norwegian genes though, according to Ancestry.com) but we are from opposite sites of the world. If we’d settle down, we’d always be far away from a part of our family and old friends regardless. At least with this lifestyle we get a lot of time off to travel and see everyone on a semi-regular basis.
We don’t own a house and one of the things I’m most envious of is when friends and family settle into their dream homes while we continue to move from one government assigned house to the next, with rented furniture and intense security features—like bars on the windows. Then again: perhaps home owners are envious that we have no mortgage, no utility bills, and no remodeling work of any kind? Also: we have always (15 years and counting) lived in beautiful 4-bedroom apartments we could have never afforded on our salaries… so I have no real complaints in that regard.
I don’t live near my friends from high school or college. But I meet lots of new and interesting people overseas and I dare say we have a bigger and more diverse network of friends than anyone I know back home. Are these relationships more superficial? Perhaps, because most last only a few years. But some relationships last much longer and they also tend to be warm; even if we don’t know each other since childhood we celebrate holidays together and raise our children together. Plus, I’m pretty sure we are closer to our neighbors in India than we would be if we lived back home.
The thing about me is that I can’t stand cold winters. In my early twenties I swore I’d live overseas for the rest of my life to avoid dreary winters. I can go on and on about what I dislike about them, but I already did that in a previous blogpost. There are lots of countries where it’s perpetually summer and that’s where I want to live to avoid my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).