Contemplating pros and cons of living as an expatriate

Posted by: on Sep 1, 2011 | No Comments

My family and I are typical expats. Our roots are in Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast, but for the last few years we have been residing in Munich, Germany. Before that we lived in London for a couple of years. That easily raises the question: Where is home? My wife and I have three children, a daughter of 12 and two sons aged 16 and 17 and our children have spent a great deal of their childhood in various cultures. I believe there are two approaches to being an expatriate family – either feeling guilty for not providing a solid base, or embracing all the special opportunities this kind of lifestyle offers.

Map Norway SwedenEurope versus the US
There are lots of opinions about living a mobile life, but few facts. Geographical mobility in Europe is quite low. This is especially true for some parts of southern Europe where families can live in the same house for generations.

The opposite can be seen on the other side of the Atlantic. The States has a history of settlers, and being on the move seems to be a part of the national American character.

Not as easy as it might seem
Statistics shows that in 2010 there were about 200 million people living abroad. And according to a study done by justlanded.com among German expatriates in 2008, many seem to underestimate the challenges of moving abroad. As a general rule, the survey showed that 68% of expatriates found the move abroad “more difficult than expected”. The biggest problems mentioned of German expatriates were:

  • Adapting to the local culture (85%)
  • Finding new friends (72%)
  • Learning the local language (42%)
  • Finding accommodation (38%)

(Source: justlanded.com)

Our first move as a family took place in 2001 when we relocated to the UK. Our children were still quite small (2, 6 and 7) and immediately got integrated into the British school system. Within half a year their English was fluent. When it was time to move back to Sweden, after four years, the children were more than resistant to come along and actually wanted to remain in the UK. Once back, we decided to sign the kids up for the international school in Gothenburg.

Boarding schools
But, when time came to relocate once again, this time to Munich, our sons announced they wanted to go back to the UK and study at a boarding school. This might seem like quite an uncommon alternative and often causes a raised eyebrow or two. For our family, however, this is a solution that has worked well. The rest of the family now lives in Munich, where the boys come to stay during holidays.

Finding a model that works
One thing I’ve learnt is that there is no right solution for everybody. Each family has to find what is best given their special circumstances. Today’s world is full of swift changes. Having an international background definitely teaches children how to adapt to new situations and cultures. A true gift, I believe, in this world of ever-increasing mobility. And it is absolutely true that the younger the children are, the quicker they adapt to a new environment. To move abroad with teenagers is therefore more challenging than moving abroad with very young children.

I also believe that moving on a frequent basis becomes a “life style”. I would personally get bored very quickly if I lived in the same house in the same city for too many years. I like change, frequent change, and I hope that my children will look back on their youth with fond memories of having lived in various cultures and homes.

When I ask my children where home is, they do answer Gothenburg! Therefore the family spends a large part of the summer and Christmas holidays in this city.

Dag

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Foto på Dag Andersson