For quite some time, we will recall the immense strain of our family’s recent move across continents, from Colorado, USA to a village in the Rhône-Alpes in France. The process of moving isn’t over and we know that culture shock will come and go in waves – it’s an ocean that isn’t going away anytime soon, as my friend Annabelle recently wrote.
There’s no single explanation as to how fast you settle in a new country. It takes time to move in. It takes boat-loads of courage to make local friends, especially you don’t speak the language as well as you might like to. And, doesn’t it ever take us changing our own perspective to embrace rhythms of a new culture?
And yet, and yet.
Six months after we first set foot inside our new house.. just about the time we hung a brand new 2017 calendar on the wall, we began to switch to a much easier gear. For about three glorious months, we’ve been bursting with wonder, and savoring these green pastures. As a mother, I am relieved to watch each member of our family not just doing life here, but loving it and dare I say, thriving. What a gift.
So, how do you know you are settling in to your new home? I don’t know if there is some clever metric to evaluate the ease of comfort, but here are 10 ways we have felt more at home in our new country. See if you can identify with any of them…
1. You recover some spare time
There aren’t a whole lot of fringe hours with young kids to start with, but in the thick of an international move, there is initially zero margin to smell the roses. You’re busy sourcing beds to sleep on, setting up dreaded IKEA flat-packs and getting the internet up and running. After six months of unpacking and setting up hot water and electricity, you may find us outside watching kids dig up dirt and eating strawberries with the neighbors. Or, we’re inside painting or dreaming up new films. We’re reading more – which, as I have come to discover, is one of our family’s marker of well-being. Nine months in, and these weary parents are finally able to rip our sleepless bodies out of bed early enough to enjoy the sunrise. To walk around the lake. To ask God for his heart for this land and about our purpose within it. As a result of this spare time, there is a lot less stress in our lives, which is quite simply wonderful.
2. You’re not as fearful about all the unknowns
(..Mainly because there are fewer unknowns). You know how people drive or what things can be left out at night in your part of town. The house’s creaks and squeaks have been identified. Kids know their neighborhood limitations (although, I did find an escapee just standing on a busy country road yesterday!?) or what is expected of them at school. As a result, you’re all sleeping so. much. better.
3. You’re starting to feel more connected to the country’s rhythms
You’re more connected to the local rhythms of life. You are not fully rooted, but you’re not missing all the consignment sales anymore. You might not know what carnaval entails, but you know it’s happening. You know where the fresh markets are more than those first few months. You notice the trees budding and the birds chirping now. Personally, this connectedness makes us feel more present. And more thankful.
4. You feel a budding sense of belonging
You are proud to be able to explain where you live to a stranger, because you have discovered the adjacent streets or landmarks. You know how to find the nearest post office and THE best hot bread. You are also finding some sense of belonging within the local social fabric and you keenly introduce your visiting friends to the neat parts of your new land. You may begin to bump into someone you know at a store, park or other public place. Perhaps nobody will quite understand how special it is to hear their first name called out in a new land like us, the new kids on the block.
5. You are making local friends!
You are spending more time cultivating local friendships than maintaining those in your former country. You may linger at school to chat with other parents. You may walk around the lake with a new friend or venture out to invite someone over for coffee. You have friends to invite to a party (hooray!). Even better, your children are developing their own peer friendships. They have friends to invite to their birthday parties! And, wait for it… new friends are starting to invite us around too. *gasp*
6. You’re experiencing developmental milestones here
Kids’ developmental milestones really anchor you emotionally in a place, because it’s hard to disassociate the event from the place. Now, you’re not just sentimental about the image of a child in a bouncy chair on the counter in your former home. That’s because you are making brand new memories in your new one. The first time Délice spoke French back to me was after one month in French school. Ayo rode a bike in the street in the front of our farmhouse. The first time Amani stood up, it was in our rustic 1820s kitchen. These events grow a sense of home being right here, right now.
7. You know where to shop for the basics
You aren’t just trying to find ways of cooking with the same brands or ingredients as you did in your former home. You know which stores to go to, in order to find the best tissues or the ingredients you enjoy cooking with. Those of us who have moved countries realize that this often means changing the very recipes we used to cook with. You shop like you live here, not there.
8. Language is becoming less and less of a barrier
Depending on where you started in your language journey prior to your move, this one may take a bit longer to fall into place than the others. Our family members have differing French language abilities, but each of us is one notch more at ease when conversing. I’m reading more and speaking more. My husband is being pulled into political debates at lunchtime. My daughter no longer responds to everyone in English like when we moved here. She’s opening up in class and chattering with her “best friends”. Our oldest son’s French is stronger than ever and he loves throwing around fancy words like colchique or cynorrhodon or mimicking the exasperated adults’ rho là là, j’en ai vraiment marre, hein! Even baby is playing around with the French R sound. There is great need for the language the kids have heard since birth, so they use it. Language is less of a barrier.
9. You don’t romanticize life here, yet you are beginning to find a sense of enjoyment
Perhaps you came with a few per-conceived ideas or even some ridiculous stereotypes about how great life would be. Today, you know what real life looks like in this part of the world. And you are able to thrive in this new real cultural context, and dare I say, even find some enjoyment.
10. You’re finally in the system!
You can finally go to the doctor or the dentist to deal with your aches or pains because you are in the medical system. You understand your coverage. You might even have a legal residency status, or maybe a new driving license. If that’s the case, then, well done, courageous one, you are one step closer to feeling more at home!