The first stage of both living abroad and returning home is called “the honeymoon stage“. Supposedly in this stage, everything about your life and surroundings feels new and exciting, even walking down the street is an adventure. Writing this blog post about the honeymoon stage, we have unfortunately already moved to the “confusion stage” and the “sad stage” in our repatriation. But boy, we really enjoyed our first three weeks!
I actually didn’t really believe in the honeymoon stage, because my first year in San Francisco was tough. When I walked down the street of our then new neighborhood, I was shocked and saddened by San Francisco’s massive homelessness problem (I moved us away within a month from that neighborhood!). Settling into our daily life and establishing routines such as learning to drive and navigating San Francisco was overwhelming and sometimes scary, fueling my body with a constant rush of adrenaline. My husband was busy at work, and I was in charge of creating routines and settling our family into a completely different everyday life, where I constantly had to decode the cultural different expectations to me and my children. Except for our travels and weekend adventures, our first year abroad was pretty awful.
My initial transition during our first eight days into Denmark felt weird. I felt like a foreigner, curiously studying Danes from afar, while feeling extremely American. Danes look so alike, and I kept thinking I ought to know the people smiling at me on the street. Our neighborhood looked different from what I remembered, and I couldn’t find my way around. I felt loud with my kids, Danes are so quiet, especially in the grocery store! We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of people, who took time to make small talk with us on the streets or in stores.
After eight days, I suddenly felt very Danish and our life in San Francisco seemed distant. I was flooded by memories. I felt a change in the way that I acted, for instance I noticed that I started talking to my baby with a more Danish tone of voice (less excited and high-pitched). I remembered clearly the time from when my two older kids were babies, and I started singing Danish songs to my youngest that I hadn’t thought about in years. I remembered incidents from my own Danish childhood, and I found myself wondering how people from my Elementary school years were doing, people I haven’t thought about in years. Weird, right? Overall, I thought Denmark was pretty terrific.
Two weeks in and I felt more American again, more American than Danish, and our home and routines in San Francisco stood out crystal clear in my mind. Kids started school, and despite a reverse culture shock and confusion, we were still in the blissful honeymoon stage. Copenhagen seemed so exotic and exciting, and we loved walking the kids to school. The school seemed so promising and perfect. We were giddy about our neighborhood, and Danish food and candy. We enjoyed summerly weather, which definitely beats the wintery and foggy summer in San Francisco.
Three weeks in and we had reached the following great milestones:
- Hubby and I both signed employment contracts (we both had many offers and interest, which we hadn’t expected!)
- Despite some hiccups, things were going well with the kids’ school start; we experienced a reverse culture shock in regards to how independent the kids’ peers were, on the other hand our American school probably taught a curriculum two years ahead
- We re-enrolled officially in Denmark, which you apparently are required to in order to get access to insurance, daycare, school, doctors ect. You re-enroll by showing up at “Borgerservice” — both parents (one parent wasn’t enough) and all kids — with passports and documentation for your living situation
- I got a “Nem-Id”, which you need for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g such as getting a cell number, enrolling the kids into bookends, daycare ect. Sigh
- Our baby got accepted at a daycare from October, located two minutes away from our apartment, yay
Close to four weeks in and the honeymoon stage has been replaced by “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Bullocks. We’re physically exhausted; moving back into our apartment was hard! All boxes are now unpacked, but our apartment is still a mess. We love our apartment, but we need to get some projects done, and it doesn’t feel like home, not yet. I have no idea, when we’ll get the energy to settle into our new summer cottage. Well, not anytime soon anyway, because we don’t have a car yet. Both kids are starting having heavy reactions to school, they are working hard on fitting in and decoding expectations from school and peers. My husband just started work this week, so we are so thankful that my workplace accepted to wait until November 1st, because a full time parent is needed with no daycare and the two older kids’ transition into Danish school.
… In my next blog posts, I’ll share more about “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Even more important and directed to all fellow trailing spouses out there, I’ll share my thoughts about returning to work after nearly five years as an expat trailing spouse. Whenever I get the energy to write :-)