How me and my family have survived the “2-year” adjusting period
As I am writing, we are on our 640th day of living as an expat. Even if many things still need to be adjusted, I have found out that it takes around 2 years to start feeling settled.
As you might imagine, feeling at home while living abroad is not an immediate and easy process. I have to admit, though, that in my case the process was eased as I like the area where I have moved to. Philadelphia and its suburbs are a pleasant discovery, day after day, with their hidden places, little treasures, and stimulating people to talk to.
But after almost 2 years, how has our lifestyle and language skills changed and evolved? This is the timeline of our experience.
FROM DAY 1 TO DAY 44
…OR THE HONEYMOON PHASE
- An Empty House
We moved in an empty house, with just the kitchen equipped, 2 folding-sofa beds, and some lamps we bought from the previous (French) renter who had relocated back to Europe. A black Suburban Chevrolet rented at the airport with the purpose of buying furniture and self-deliver (oh yes, my husband is such a planner!) stayed parked in the parking lot for most of the time, as we pass the first weeks to buy, assemble and refurnish the house.
This first month was our second nesting, 11 years after our wedding, and meaningful because we both needed a fresh start after a hard time. IKEA store in South Philly became our mecca. Recalling those first days, I think that nothing made me feel more at home than the BILLY and ÖNSKEDRÖM series. We treated ourselves with a hot cup of coffee and a muffin, sitting at the IKEA restaurant overlooking Columbus Boulevard and the rusting ocean liner moored by the river. That table by the window is, still now, one of my favorite places in Philly.
- Cultural Shock
10 days after our arrival, it was time to return our massive Suburban, and knowing that we will never be able to afford one of the kind. Since then, we started our car-free life. The grocery was the main occupation of the day, because it took a 20-minute walk to get to the nearest superstore, and hours to buy food.
One of the first signs of the cultural shock, in my opinion, is the slowness in doing the simplest things, like buying food. As I am a conscious consumer, I need to read ingredients, origin, and nutritional information of all that I bought. The selection process was exhausting but a few weeks later, I had spotted the best products and kept buying the same.
- Exploring (on foot or by bike)
The summer in Philadelphia is a rare experience of tropical heat in the northern hemisphere. As we did not have AC units at home, most of our explorations were to indoor or fresh places. We spent hours in all the libraries of the area, little shops, and parks. And the community swimming pool (almost free for residents) was our daily commitment. As for sightseeing, I can say, not at this time: the kids were totally uninterested in exploring the “big city,” so basically we discovered our neighborhood.
- Social Life
During the first 44 days we only met our neighbors, a young couple, and a Venezuelan/Italian girl, mom of 2 daughters of the same age as my kids. Yes, hard time to socialize…if you are not in a working or school network yet.
- English 1.0 (for the kids)
If me and my husband had no problem with English, well, our sons had a lot. By the time we got there, they could only say the colors (mispronouncing most of them) and a few other things. For 44 days, they could not play with anyone as they could not understand other kids. And we couldn’t wait for the school to open so that they could have a normal social life.
….TO BE CONTNINUED