Home > Expat Life > Relocating > Moving is hard… but we can make it easier

Christina is a friend of Expatclic who recently moved from Peru to Suriname. She sends us this interesting article to help all expats to minimize the ups and downs of settling in a new country.

Even for those of us who seemed to have spent a lifetime moving from one house to another, one place to another and one country to another moving is hard… and don’t let anyone tell you different.

I have been the quintessential mover since I started university. I left Trinidad (that’s the island of 1.3 million people where I was born and grew up) when I was 17 for Canada… that was my first move and I haven’t stopped since. While studying for 4 years there I lived in 8 different places in some of them for as little as a month in others for as much as a school year.

When I got back to Trinidad after finishing my degree between the ages of 22 and 29 I moved 6 times until I bought my own home and thought… at last no moving for a very long time. Well I married a man who took a job with an international agency and here I am 15 years later, having lived in Barbados, Jamaica, Peru and now the latest home away from home Suriname (where is that you say… check the map and you will see the smallest country in South America on the Atlantic coast, Dutch speaking but considered part of the Caribbean economic community, with 8 different races and cultures going on, a myriad of home grown and imported languages and that’s Suriname in a nutshell. It’s an interesting place and I will tell you about it another time. That’s a whole other story.)

I have moved big (country) and small (house) and I have moved myself and my whole family, which is now a family that includes three boys ranging from 6 to 15. It is always difficult and always stressful so we need to make sure we have the coping mechanisms in place to minimize that and to get us quickly to that place (mental) where we say “hey I feel at home here!”

I am going to use this latest move that our family has made to Suriname, which has been our most difficult to date, to illustrate some of the techniques that help me to make the adjustments that lead to that at home feeling. I am focusing on techniques for the expat spouse because usually they are the ones trying to facilitate the family’s adjustment… not just their own.

First and most important – Do your research

This can be the most useful activity you can carry out and is usually quite easy in these days of the Internet and a multitude of expat oriented websites… except when you are coming to Suriname and don’t speak Dutch… but that’s another story!!

The best thing to do before you get to a place is to find out all about all the stuff you need to facilitate daily living firstly by extensive use of the Internet, expatriate sites and communications via blogs and emails with people already living there.

Then of course a familiarization visit as follow up is the ideal so that you can visit the school your children will attend, you can ideally pick a house which you can move into on arrival, and find out all about those niggling little things that can make life easy… like traffic flows, proximity to school, recreational centres, work, and of course the supermarket!!

Find out what the kids wear, what they do for lunch, where they go for extra curricular activities… All this means that when you arrive at that new place, you already feel you know it a bit, you already have some contacts made via the Internet and you already know the route to school, work and the all important grocery store and your children don’t have to worry about looking and acting different. They will already feel odd enough without sticking out like sore thumbs because they wear t-shirts and shorts and everyone else is in polo shirts and jeans.

Secondly after doing that research plan, plan and plan again

Sort your stuff, get rid of what you don’t need, create several packing lists so what you need immediately is easily accessible, what you need next is with you and what you won’t need for a while is in the big packing which is coming in the container well sorted, well labeled so that as soon as you open up that container you can find it… this is especially important for things required for daily living… clothing, toys, kitchen stuff.

This all seems pretty basic but believe me when you have 194 packages in a container and your kids are clamouring for their train set or when you are cooking that first night in the new house and you need that colander to drain the pasta, it no longer seems so elementary!

So plan the packing, plan the unpacking, plan the stuff that goes with you, gets there first, gets there later. Plan the school start date, and do your best to have it coincide with the beginning of the school year please.

Identify stuff that makes you feel at home

For me aside from the research and planning which makes the move operationally easier the most important thing is to identify stuff that makes you feel at home and take that with you wherever you go. With us it’s some paintings that we have almost from the first move we have ever made which we have added to over time, and these are the first things (after the all important kitchen items and beds) that we unpack and hang. When those go up we know that we are finally at home.

Try to quickly make a few acquaintances

…even if not friends who like to do the same stuff as we do. The boys get their football buddies, I try to get a tennis partner, and someone who loves books and my husband gets his squash partner so that we can get into a similar routine to the one we had previously. Routine is the key to feeling at home and if it’s fairly uninterrupted then the new home very quickly comes to feel very much like the old home and you almost can’t remember that you didn’t live there last year.

After all your pictures are up on the wall, you still play tennis on a Friday morning, you talk to your friends on msn and skype and when you get in your car you already know what are the best places to shop and the best routes to get to school. Surely you’ve been living here for years!

Now let me tell you guys a little secret. Here we are after six months in Suriname, still in temporary housing, and without our stuff which left Peru three months after we did because of a strike on the port, and still living out of suitcases. So I can tell you having done it right and having done it wrong, that the strategies for moving that I describe in this article work, because we still don’t feel at home. Take my advice and do it right from the beginning and the adjustment just won’t hurt as much.

Paramaribo, Suriname
May 2007

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