Hacking Repatriation


I’m adjusting our repatriation, every day. Yesterday included a huge modification. Things that don’t work or that we have a gut feeling won’t work, we change. It’s a risky business, because we act fast. My husband and I are a damn good team: We see it, call it, and act on it. We don’t always initially agree, but over the years it seems like we agree on most things. Even when we don’t agree, the other person’s enthusiasm will convince us. When changes entail financial consequences, we sit down and cut our budget somewhere else. Making changes is damn hard, but trusting my gut and my partner’s gut has been the key to our successful expat years. Hopefully, it’ll work for our repatriation too.

We initiated a change concerning our daughter’s school after only four weeks, and some people would probably think that we’re overreacting. School wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. But in our expat years I learned that listening to my gut feeling is always the right choice. Originally we thought and heard from other expat families that the key to a successful repatriation was to reintegrate your expat kids into a Danish class and environment. But it just wasn’t a fit, for both her and us.

This Friday she and I had a meeting with teachers from a bilingual class, where kids besides a Danish education, get an English one. It’s at the same school. I loved her teachers, I loved the signs and words of wisdom they had hung on the classroom walls. Hell, I wanted to be in their class — which is the exact feeling you want to go for. It was that same feeling I had when I found her a second preschool in the U.S. Sometimes in your adjustment phase, you make mistakes, you miscalculate, and although it seems impossible, you have to change those circumstances to get the “YES-feeling”.

During the weekend, she resisted visiting the class and told me that she couldn’t and wouldn’t start all over again. That fitting into a new class is too hard. Our gut feeling was telling us that she would thrive in a “Danglish” environment, but we worried we were imposing one change too many.

For two days now after six weeks of insisting she should be picked up right after school, she wanted to stay for bookend (SFO). She has in her Danish class been a little shy. Well, that phase definitely seems to be over. On her first day in the bilingual class, she was elected for student council. She stood up in front of her class and pleaded her case. And won with the most votes. Her teacher emailed me that this line was the deal breaker: “I will treat people the way I like to be treated”, which she apparently said very confidently. So many other small changes in her behavior are positive too. Overall, we feel we owe it to her as well: Moving to the U.S. five years ago was hard on her, and not helping her keep her English would be a waste, it would not be fair to her.


Mission accomplished.

To All The Trailing Spouses Out There

Let’s talk about a sensitive issue. I have encountered so many trailing expat spouses that either couldn’t work or chose not to. Their reasons are diverse, such as not being able to get a work permit, having to help their kids transition, not being able to work within their special field, not wanting to use a nanny, or simply choosing not to work. What we all have in common is that we’re used to having to explain, sometimes defend, that we have exchanged our careers for being a SAHM (a stay-at-home-mom). Some of us struggle with an identity loss, others struggle with self worth, and most of us worry about returning to work after our expat years. In my repatriation, I’m returning to work after nearly five years abroad.

Repatriation in terms of returning to work for a trailing spouse can be a damn intimidating thing. Not for me! Which is why I want to share my thoughts to all the trailing spouses out there, who might need support and encouragement from a fellow expat.

This is how I feel about coming back to work after nearly five years abroad:

“Boy am I glad that I didn’t waste one single second worrying about my career and about how others perceived me”.

In my years abroad, I exchanged my career in the legal field for being a SAHM with extension classes and eventually some freelancing on the side. When we decided to move abroad, our main purpose was to exchange two busy careers with more time with the kids and as much traveling as possible. I chose to perceive this choice as empowering and to see our expat years as a gift to do something completely different.

People (some more, others less) look down on SAHMs. It’s a fact. I never thought of or labelled myself as a SAHM, most of my friends were working moms, and I mingled and fitted in both “groups”. Countless times, I have overheard or been told demeaning comments about the SAHMs at school by working moms.The SAHMs were no kinder towards the working moms. No sisterhood there! I remember an expat SAHM, who told me that the working moms should be grateful for the SAHMs, who assumed a lot of responsibility at school. Something about a higher balance. Such bullshit, nobody owes anybody anything. On the other hand that same expat SAHM told me that her biggest hurdle to getting back to work in her field was her old female colleagues, who had taken very short maternity leaves and were “doing it all” and looking down on her choice of becoming a SAHM. No sisterhood there. I have personally experienced a negative attitude, when Danish guests visited San Francisco. After having listened intensively and excitedly to my husband’s stories about his work life, they then looked at me and asked in a “I feel sorry for you voice” “so, how do you spend your time, Julie?” sometimes even followed by a joke about SAHMs. I would laugh with them (or at them :), I don’t take it personally. I know that friends and acquaintances never intended to hurt me with their comments, they probably felt sorry for me. Maybe. Or maybe it relates to people’s poor perception of SAHMs. Most likely people’s negative attitude relates to their own issues, which has nothing to do with me/ you/SAHMs. Most times I actually felt sorry for the people who had a negative attitude towards my situation, because I felt that we were experiencing so much in our expat life, while they were stuck in the same home, the same job, and the same routines and on top of that they were sharing how stressed they were about their work-life balance situation. But I never said anything because that would in my world be judgmental and rude, right? The fact is that I don’t and didn’t care (enough) about how people perceived me, and neither should you: Put your energy into something that will make you happy instead.

Nobody’s life is perfect, including lives of expat SAHMs, and while I was annoyed with the mom-duties in the U.S., I cherished the freedom it gave us in terms of family life and traveling. I chose to feel empowered based on my “master plan” for our expat years. My “master plan” was to acquire new skills through a degree, while getting as many American experiences and traveling adventures as possible. I achieved both goals and have no regrets. Quite the opposite! I was lucky that my degree actually opened doors in the U.S. too to some exciting freelance assignments as well.

In my repatriation, not one single head hunter or employer so far perceive my nearly five years abroad as disqualifying. Yes, really. Job opportunities are plentiful and interesting. Yes, really. In my resume, I explain why I’m hot shit, and they agree. Really! I have been approached regarding positions much higher and better paying than I would ever have expected. I’m flattered. But the question I ask myself is still the same: “What would make me happy”? Right now it’s family-friendly work hours and challenging work that will put a smile on my face.

I’m returning to my old workplace and will work within new legal areas, with more responsibility (for a higher salary than five years ago, of course :). They agreed to wait for me a few months and let me start part-time, while we get settled. Win, win! I’m gonna spend the next six months figuring out, if I want to change field and step up my game in 2017. I’m gonna ask myself again: “What will make me happy”?

My message is: I don’t feel I have missed out on anything workwise during our time abroad, quite the opposite. I’m where I want to be with even broader possibilities based on the degree I acquired in the U.S. I cherish every single memory about our California adventure. Workwise, I never anticipated the interest and possibilities, and I had prepared myself for the opposite situation because I had decided that our expat years were worth my time off including consequences for my carrier. Are yours?

One thing I’m sure of in terms of returning to work after being a trailing spouse:

“If you don’t believe in yourself and value your own competences, nobody else will”.

So to all the expat trailing spouses out there, I want to say:

Enjoy your expat years, figure out what you want to focus on during your time abroad, and don’t let other people’s view on expat trailing spouses get to you. Figure out what makes you happy, create a “master plan”. You are acquiring new skills and will return as a much better employee and happier person, because life abroad will teach you so much about life and yourself. If your years abroad disqualify you professionally or make you feel unhappy about yourself, then revise your plan: set a new list of priorities such as getting a job or an education, finding a nanny, or move back home. Revise your “master plan”it, when your situation changes.

Modern Technology, I Love You

I just realized how many different ways we use technology to reconnect with our American friends!

Tonight, one kid FaceTimed her friend while playing and chatting on Minecraft with her friend and two other friends, another kid played PlayStation while chatting with several friends through his headset, and I was on a phone call with a friend using WI-FI.

The kids also connect with their friends through Google Hangouts, Gmail, Animal Jam, and Musical.ly. I also use text on WI-FI, SkypeMessenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and FaceTime.

H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S.

So I guess we ended up enjoying Labor Day too here in Denmark! Despite the nine-hour time difference and being a weekday, we all got to hang out with our American friends, who had just woken up on their day off, when the kids got home from school.

Tonight we definitely feel less homesick, I freaking love technology!

Finding The Silver Lining in The Sad Stage

I really, really want to love everything about our new life. I really want to feel bubbles of happiness, as I walk around in our cool, cozy neighborhood. I really want to enjoy my last two months of maternity leave. I really want us to fit in, all of us. I really want to feel thankful for everything that is going well in our transition. Instead of feeling sad. Instead of having a constant feeling of “something’s not right”, “something’s missing”. I know that I have a huge responsibility and ability to find happiness by focusing on being thankful. But right now we’re transitioning, repatriation is damn hard. We’re stressed because even though a lot of things are going our way, we’re still far from being and feeling settled. So bare over with me as I let myself wallow in ridiculous, small, sad feelings that hit me as I navigate our transition:

  • Labor Day Weekend is happening right this second in the U.S. People post happy pictures from their getaways or staycations. Where would we have gone this time, Gold Country? Maybe Sonoma?
  • Halloween! Yes, it’s in October, but in our family the planning and anticipation stage starts now! Will we even get to dress up this time? Will we go trick or treating? Will there be Halloween decorations with spider webs and pumpkins to make us smile? Will we feel ridiculous if we celebrate Halloween in Denmark?
  • I miss not only our close friends, but also the sweet mommy friends that I saw only at school and soccer. I want to ask the people (teachers and parents), who know my children so well: “How do you think he/she is doing?” “What can I do to help them fit in more with their peers?” But these people are far away, in a different time zone, in a different lifestyle. How would they even understand what we’re going through and adapting to?
  • The only person that really truly understands the transition I’m going through is my husband. Other people bring me perspective and support, but they can’t really understand.
  • I miss speaking English. My daughter has the b.e.s.t sense of humor, she sees the funny in everyday situations and calls them out. It’s hilarious and she makes us cry with laughter. Until one week ago, I tried to make the kids speak as much Danish as possible to me to make their Danish stronger. I no longer care. Laughing is more important. On our walks home from school, we now speak English and sometimes laugh as tears roll down our cheeks. Speaking English is liberating and a way to return to our true happy selves. I just wish other kids wouldn’t keep pointing out that my kids have an accent! I tell them they should be proud of that accent, they earned it, and they’ll lose it soon enough.
  • Who is living in OUR house, enjoying OUR view from OUR kitchen, and sleeping in MY room?
  • School, nope, we’re just not there yet, something is missing, something is off, something doesn’t feel right — I’ve had that feeling for weeks and then it hit us both: We should move our 8-year-old to an international class like her 12-year-old brother. Damn it that we didn’t see this coming, now it’s probably too late, there’s probably no space for her, she probably won’t cope with a second transition — but it’s the right thing to do. Damn it.
  • I miss that sense of belonging in a larger group.
  • I miss Trader Joes’s goat yoghurt, Starbucks’ cold brew, and my car.
  • I miss shopping in Westfield followed by dinner and a dry, cold glass of white wine with my amazing friend.
  • I miss my iPhone 6, locked by our American cell carrier despite their promise of the opposite, thieves!
  • I miss yelp reviews, I feel like a foreigner, I don’t know what brand to get and where to get it; why don’t Danes review stores/food/prices ect?
  • I miss watching my shows on Xfinity; how can I watch The Real  Housewives of OC? (My guilty and no longer secret pleasure after this blog post :)
  • I miss barbecuing, I miss the anticipation of San Francisco’s summertime between September and November.
  • I miss my positive and happy self.

There are plenty things about my San Francisco life that I don’t miss. Yada, yada, yada, I don’t care right now. I don’t want to find the freaking silver lining. Yet I know that it’s the little things that will put a smile back on my face, so after writing this, I jumped down to Super Brugsen, just across the street, and treated myself with Danish candy and magazines.

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After binging on candy, our favorite American family facetimed us during their weekly Saturday morning cleaning. Joking together with our friends and fuming with them over American cell phone companies that lock phones illegally, I suddenly felt that I could share anything about our transition, and they would understand — of course they will, because they were part of the life we left behind. Tomorrow my favorite American mommy friend and I agreed to call and discuss all the things going on that little ears aren’t supposed to overhear. It may not be as good as hanging out face to face, but it’ll do!

Ok, here it comes, I’m ready to focus on the good stuff:

I’m thankful for our expat years; I’m thankful for all the wonderful people and memories. I’m thankful for our family and loyal friends, who selflessly care for us and support our transition. It means everything and we couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do this if it weren’t for them. When I close my eyes, I see, feel, and sense our San Francisco life: I’m in OUR kitchen; I sit in MY car; I park by the entrance to the kids’ school; we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge; we sit in our friends’ kitchen in Marin; we street park by the zoo across our favorite coffee shop. I’m there.

Saying goodbye is hard, but memories last forever. Thanks god for FaceTime, messenger, and whatsapp that bring people together across time zones and oceans. I don’t have just the memories.

The Honeymoon Stage

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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.

E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D.

… 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 :-)

The First Half of Our Last Week in California

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During the first half of our last week:

  • We have had a blast instead of being depressed about our repatriation
  • We decided we’ll be back in Oceanside: what a beautiful beach and cozy, fun town
  • I realised Trump will probably win: I watched the Republican and Democratic conventions and Fox News, and I read Michael Moore’s blog post (here)
  • I discovered how much people dislike and distrust Hillary, which is so surprising considering Trump’s personality! If she were a man, I’m sure people would perceive her differently
  • We have been awwing non-stop at our soon to be one-year-old, who gets more adorable by the day
  • We shopped excessively at an outlet mall (like tourists, oh the shame)
  • Then we shopped some more on Amazon (oh well, no shame there)
  • We bought two extra suitcases to fit our extra stuff
  • I bought a winter jacket; I’m convincing myself that my lack of warm clothing — not the weather — is the reason why I’m shivering from cold from November to March in Denmark. It’s plausible, right?
  • I planned our last day, which we’ll spend in LA shopping and dining on Melrose Avenue, yay! Well, for me at least
  • We laughed because somebody was wearing a headlamp (because Americans are equipment freaks!), but then we discovered that there was a power outage — the blackout lasted for 22 hours, and we could definitely have used a headlamp!
  • We discussed, whether our moving back was the right choice for the first time since our decision
  • We realized maybe it wasn’t
  • If we move back to the U.S., we want to live in SoCal, our happy place

It’s Just a Phase; This Too Shall pass

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Tomorrow I will be in Oceanside with baby, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Deciding that baby and I should fly instead of driving an eleven-hour drive from Santa Cruz to Oceanside was a no-brainer, despite the extra costs. Baby and I will swap a car ride for a plane ride to San Diego followed by bus, then train (the beautiful “Coaster Ride”), and finally a twenty-minute walk from the train station to our apartment. Pretty complicated, but totally worth it: We could never have endured that car ride because “no, baby doesn’t stop crying after a while”, and “no, baby doesn’t fall asleep after a while”.

Our eleven-month-old is the happiest, cuddliest, and most mellow baby, except for when he’s strapped in a car seat. Having had two babies who hated driving (it’s probably genetic!), we got him the best, most comfortable car seat on the market that even has a large shade to protect him from annoying sunrays, and we have toys ready to distract him. But nothing works. It’s gotten better, these days we have a twenty-minute window before he starts crying, and sometimes I can distract him for up to an hour by singing. It ain’t a pretty picture in the backseat on longer rides, where you will find me singing with a raspy voice, exhausted, and baby crying loudly, not understanding why I don’t take him up in my arms. As soon as I take him out of the chair, he stops crying. Often we would take breaks every ten minutes, I especially remember our trips across the Golden Gate Bridge, where we desperately would try to find a parking spot, always taken by photographing tourists. We only drive with baby, when it’s absolutely necessary. Whenever possible, I always opted for walking or taking Bart (which is the most un-American thing you can do!). When we had no choice but to drive, it was a team effort singing and keeping sane and calm (not), while baby was wailing in the car seat, all sweaty from screaming. Poor baby, poor us. Come to think of it, one of the best things about moving back will be that we can walk and bike to nearly everything.

These days I also apply our mantra “this is just a phase” to my feelings about our repatriation. When people ask us, if we are starting to feel excited about moving back, my honest answer would be: “No, I actually try really hard not to think about our repatriation at all”. Instead I often answer: “I haven’t thought that much about it, yet, but ya, a little bit”, and I start naming all the things that I know, I’m supposed to feel excited about. But the truth is that right now my sadness about leaving outweighs all the good stuff about moving back that I used to feel excited about. Luckily, I have so far succeeded in ignoring our repatriation and focused on our vacation instead. Overall, this past week has been amazing; we all have had a blast in Santa Cruz, what a perfect vacation! We haven’t had time to wallow in sad feelings because we have been too busy entertaining our guests or enjoying Santa Cruz. The few times that it hit me, that this is our last week in the Bay Area, I felt a tightness in my chest and stomach: I’m not ready to leave, not yet.

In terms of weather and nature, California has it all, and we love our outdoor weekends year round. Having to move back to dark and cold winter months feels depressing. Our return to Denmark feels devastating –as opposed to exciting– because we know that we will (probably) never move back to California and its amazing outdoor lifestyle for all the reasons that I have mentioned several times on my blog (living costs and education mostly). All these negative aspects of living in California still outweigh our reasons to stay, but that doesn’t make our sadness about giving up our Californian lifestyle go away. We believe that Denmark is a better place for the kids to grow up, we miss family and friends, but it’s been four and a half years since we left Copenhagen, and we are 100 pct. Californian. This is our home. Having to face a fresh start and new routines in a different country, even in our home country, feels overwhelming and even a little scary because we like it so much here.

My mantras for such dark thoughts are: “This too shall pass”, “Our agonizing transition is just a phase”; We’ll be all right; We’ll find our footing.

I’m thankful that we are too busy having a blast for me to wallow in sadness. I’m thankful that we had such a great last year. Had we moved back after two years, I would never had adopted the many great American qualities that make life so much more fun, such as “going all in” when having fun. From tomorrow there’s Oceanside including a trip to Disney, I can’t wait!