It took us around two months to make the final decision about relocating to Geneva. At the time, of course, it felt like much longer.
Every week, in fact, nearly every day, I was:
- – weighing the pros and cons;
– list-making laced with gut feeling;
– asking for advice and ignoring it;
– searching online expat chat forums for clues.
With all of the discussions, alternative views and justifications, with all of the gentle nudging to find out what the children thought of it, I felt I had aged ten years by the time we came to the conclusion that we were indeed going to move. But I realise that we were the fortunate ones. We could take our time to make a decision we can all be happy with. Many other families do not have that luxury. They are forced into a decision in a matter of days. Sometimes it’s a stark decision: a matter of ‘go abroad or lose your job’. It’s becoming less common now, as companies begin to realise that not involving the spouse in the decision-making process can lead to the failure of the overseas assignment and premature return. But it still happens.
We were even luckier in that we already knew the positives and negatives, the lifestyle and the bureaucracy of the place we are moving to. We had already spent 18 months there in the past. Unexpectedly, that made our decision harder: there were no rose-tinted spectacles to entice us with an idyllic image of our new life abroad. We knew just how hard it would be to find suitable accommodation, a place in a school, have the children adapt to a new language, change the car licence plates… There was no honeymoon period for us, with its gentle ignorance. There wasn’t even much nostalgia for our life there 4-5 years ago, as in the Pays de Gex a few years can bring in phenomenal changes and doubling of the population.
So what do families contemplating relocation abroad find most useful when making up their minds?
1. Talk to others who have made the move. Not just the ones who are still living there, but also others who have moved on. Ask lots of questions, both online and off.
2. Focus not just on the practical aspects of the move (important though these undoubtedly are). In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, take stock of your resilience as a family. Be honest about any weak points in your relationship with your spouse, with your children, because they are likely to be exacerbated during your time abroad. Can you change as a family and would you want to?
3. If you do ask friends and family for advice, be prepared to ignore it. There may be hidden agendas and partial views at work there.
4. If at all possible, visit the country and town you are planning to live in. Of course a weekend trip in glorious sunshine in June is different from seven months of winter, cold and darkness, but if you still hate the place when it’s at its best, then you know you are in trouble! Yes, it would be madness to marry someone based on the first impression, but you cannot ignore that instinctive reaction either.
5. Rely on both your reason and your intuition to make sure you come to the right decision. I’ve seen many cases where families make long lists of pros and cons, decide that the pros outweigh the cons and rationally they really ought to go… but even as they start making the preparations for their departure, their hearts just get heavier and more distressed. A certain amount of grieving as you say goodbye to your current life is absolutely normal, but if there is no excitement whatsoever, no lightness of heart and quickening of pulse, then maybe your decision was the wrong one. Be sensible, by all means, but be happy too.
It’s always going to be a leap of faith, just as much as a marriage. Because, even if a marriage is (intended to be) permanent and your move abroad may not be, you will be changed by it. You and your family will never be quite the same again. And that is my only nod towards a certain Royal Wedding.