I recently returned from a trip home to America where, as one could guess, the Trump vs. Clinton debate as to who should (or shouldn’t) be president was the hot topic among most people at the moment. Interestingly, I noticed that regardless of what candidate people were promising to vote for, I kept hearing many people threaten to move to Canada if their candidate didn’t win. Like ‘for real’ this time. It should be noted that we Americans do this, from time to time. When it comes to healthcare, elections, standard of living. For anything that really irks us Canada is often addressed as some sort of a bountiful utopian safe house to flee to when the bottom finally falls out in the U.S. It got me thinking though, about just up and swapping countries and how probable that actually is, once all things are considered. While it sounds straightforward enough, especially when you are just going ‘next door’ as in the case of a U.S. to Canada move, it is actually a huge undertaking emotionally and physically, particularly when children are involved.
One group of people that often seriously consider international moves are naturally those with partners from different countries, such as myself and many of my friends with Balinese, or Indonesian, partners. In my own case, before having any children, with a husband from Bali, the world seemed like our oyster in terms of where we should live. Being in my early twenties helped that vagabond state of mind massively as well. Doing half of the year in Bali and the other half of the year in the US was the goal for a long time, until we realized what it would have taken to fund two trips back and forth between Bali and the U.S. each year. Then children enter the picture and you are in a whole new zone of providing safety and stability for your family, that doesn’t even exist prior to that.
For us, that meant trying out a life in America first. After an eight-year stint in the U.S., for four and-a-half years of which we didn’t come back to Bali at all, we were finally ready to settle on the Bali side of things. This was a good choice for our family personally, but I have met more people in mixed Indonesian/Western marriages that tend to go the opposite route, living in Bali first and then deciding to move back to their partner’s home country, be it Australia, America, Europe, or wherever. To the extent that currently the vast majority of our favorite mixed marriage couples in Bali seem to have been vacating en masse within the last couple years, to go live abroad. Since this type of an international family upheaval is rarely without its own well thought out debate as to whether this is the best choice for the whole family, I have come up with some things to consider when making the choice to uproot.
The family dynamic can change. This is probably the biggest one and it can be hard to predict how it is going to pan out. Many times the partner that has been able to take a back seat in the day to day organization of things now finds themselves front and center, so to speak, by default, once they have moved the family and are now in their home country. This can be a good, or a bad thing, depending on personality types and family dynamic overall. One of the most interesting ways this has been true for us is as far as who ends up being the more responsible partner in terms of having to deal with bureaucracy, immigration, or any formalities. In the U.S., as the native English speaker, I was often the one that, by default, had to stay on top of everything from arranging appointments for things to handling any and all paperwork and correspondence for all things official that might come up in our lives. However, after our move to Bali, while I still do a little bit of that, the responsibility of that has very much shifted to my husband, as he is a native speaker and obviously someone who was born here, so he is usually way more effective at getting things done here than I would be.
Wondering where you fit in. This one can be so different for each member of the family. While I am a strong believer in people in mixed marriages trying out a life in each person’s home country, once you have lived abroad for a while and then go back to your home country, now with a family in tow, things can look a bit different through your (now more worldly) eyes. You will naturally be your spouse’s main support person if you are the citizen of the country you are moving to, which is obvious, but it can be a surprisingly big responsibility until everyone gets settled in, particularly if your partner has never been to your home country before, or doesn’t know much about life there. This is where meeting up with other families in mixed international marriages can be a godsend with adjusting to life as a family in a new country. As for children, depending on what age they are when an international move is made, there can be a great deal of resentment at first that can linger on for a while. They may really miss their friends and family that were left behind. In my experience, and from what I have heard from others, the younger they are when an international move is made, the easier it is overall.
The reasons why you left the previous country could now become things that you miss. It goes without saying that uprooting your family and moving far away from all that has been established together is a very personal decision, that can be based on multiple reasons. From new job offers, to giving the relationship a fresh start and a change of scenery, to being closer to family members who haven’t seen you in years, there are many different reasons to make the move. The funny thing is (which many people don’t often consider at first) is that the things that drive you nuts about the country you are currently living in, might be the things you end up missing later on. For instance, a seemingly low salary in Indonesia may be a factor for moving initially, but once you move abroad you may notice that with a job where you can make more money, after day care costs, working overtime, not seeing your kids as much and saving the weekends for running errands, that lower salary may have been worth it to spend the weekends on the beach with your family on the Bali side of things.
You will miss a new set of people now. This one is self-explanatory and just plain obvious, but still relevant, of course. You get married to someone from a different country and you will perpetually be missing a set of friends and relatives whenever you aren’t with them and far away. An international move just means you will miss a new set of people and then joyfully get to see other ones you haven’t seen in a long time. Before our move to Bali, I distinctly remember someone asking me, right before we left, if we realized the magnitude of our actions in moving abroad. That it would cause a ripple effect in the entire family structure right down to the language our kids would speak and to the way they would essentially view the world in many respects. It was said in a respectful way, but it really made me stop and realize how it would affect everyone in our inner circles and not just us as the ones moving.
Wondering ‘what if’ if you never give living in your partner’s country a try. For us our main reasons for moving back to Bali had to do with giving our daughter (who was born in the U.S.) richer experiences that we couldn’t give her there, like speaking three languages and lots of cousins to play with, along with a better quality of life that didn’t feel so much like a dog chasing their tail and never getting anywhere. Also, a big part of it was always wondering what if we moved back to Bali? Or what if we never did? That alone can be one of the most enticing reasons of all for a move abroad.
Has your family lived in the country of each partner? Which move was easier or harder to make the transition to and why?