Continent Surfer | A year abroad - what is enough and what is not? - (part 1) - Continent Surfer
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A year abroad – what is enough and what is not? – (part 1)

How long should you move abroad? Is there an ideal length of time to live abroad? What is a year enough for and what is not? Useful advices for you, if you are planning to move.

written by: Mea Barath

Planning to live abroad but not sure about yourself? You face the question regularly: Should I go or stay? Would you like to try living abroad for a while to see if it would work for you? When you’re single and young, it’s even easier to leave home and move abroad on a whim. The impetus and sense of adventure is there, and the decision is made easier by the freedom.

With family and children, we have already thought it over several times and considered many aspects. Is it worth taking children out of their familiar environment? What do we gain by this step? And what price do we pay for moving abroad?

Living abroad: a year of probation

We also did a lot of thinking before we decided to move. With four children and a big family, it’s not so easy anymore. Once we had chosen our destination, we also had to think about how long we would be going for.

We have four children. Given the age of the children, it is impossible to find the ideal time for everyone to move abroad. The little one is too young; will he even remember the adventure abroad? Or, if we move away for good, will his identity remain? Can children be separated from their friends? The older they get, the more painful it is… When is it least harmful to interrupt the studies of the grown-ups? How long should we go for? Many, many questions, dilemmas, things to consider.

Finally, we decided. We moved to Malta, to the island of Gozo, for a year.

The children were 14, 11, 7 and 4 years old. The eldest graduated from primary school, took his entrance exams, but did not start secondary school in Hungary. We went for one school year, each of them was welcomed back to their kindergarten, school and classes.

What will this one year be good for?

The plan

Why did we think it was a good idea to spend a year abroad as a family?

  • Language learning for the kids
  • Learning about a new culture
  • Adapting to a different school system
  • Experiencing a complete change of living
  • Get along with the new, the unknown
  • Developing tolerance and adaptability
  • Broadening of horizons
  • A long holiday by the sea
  • Making new friends and acquaintances
  • Neither too little nor too much time away from home

What has this year been enough for you? And what wasn’t? The reality…

Language learning

As parents, we started from a solid level of English, confident that we would be able to develop effectively through the language environment. This has been achieved, although it could have been more effective. We went to a board game circle and attended weekly language catch-up classes in a church community. Our neighbour was a British English teacher to whom we regularly went to practice, improve and learn. And we took every opportunity to engage in conversation with the locals.

The children went to a school in Gozo, where the language of teaching was English as well as Maltese.

In Malta, the summer holidays continue into September because of the heat. Education starts in October. Our children were only able to start their studies at the beginning of November due to delays in paperwork. So, they spent a scant eight months – with many breaks – in school on the island of Gozo.

Our youngest child made the most progress. The school starts at the age of 5 in Malta, we were able to enroll our son in the last year of kindergarten in Gozo, given his age. In the second half of the year they started to learn letters playfully, both English and Maltese words.

Language development in one year

Our four-year-old son had never learned English before. At this age, you don’t need big conversations to make friends. Our son quickly settled into the nursery community, spending his afternoons playing catch and laughing out loud – without words – with the others. After about his fifth month of school, he suddenly started talking.

He began to speak English in sentences, confidently and fluently. It was wonderful to see how he absorbed the English language. He didn’t stop at an unfamiliar phrase, but solved it with sharp logic, drawing on what he had learned so far to express himself. For example, when he didn’t know the word “everybody”, he used his own phrase “all he” to make his point with the others.

Our eldest child, our 14-year-old daughter, arrived with a beginner’s level of English, which has developed into a confident level of conversation. After about six months, she was talking easily with her new Maltese, Italian and Polish friends.

Unfortunately, for our 11- and 7-year-old children, this time proved to be too little. Both arrived with minimal or zero English. During their year abroad, they struggled to speak, and that breakthrough was still to come.

Learning about a new culture

Getting to know the Maltese people take more time. But to get to know them a little, I feel I have succeeded. In any case, it has been a lasting experience for all of us to live with this Mediterranean, loud, vibrant, passionate people. We also loved their musical, joyful Festas with fireworks!

Malta has a lot of foreigners, but Gozo is a small island, less so here. A year is very little time for the locals to get used to you being here. Even though their home becomes yours, you will always be an outsider. Not that they are not friendly. Quite the opposite! In a year, we have not had a single negative interaction with a Gozo person. Everyone is open, kind, helpful, and extremely friendly.

But the inner circle is closed. You can’t get in there as a stranger.

In return, there’s a close-knit community of “settled” foreigners. We have made friends with Poles, Italians, German, American and English immigrants, and have made African and Georgian acquaintances.

Adapting to a different school system

The Maltese school system was an interesting experience for all our children. We enrolled them in traditional, state schools. In Hungary, they went to alternative schools, so they could compare it to learning abroad. They all felt comfortable in their new communities, with a welcoming atmosphere and a helpful and accepting attitude. At secondary school level, our daughter was assigned a support teacher. The integration went smoothly and each of them was boosted in confidence by this situation. After a year, they all felt an integral part of the class and kindergarten community.

How did we cope with the unknown, what challenges did we face in the new environment, did we develop our adaptability and tolerance, did we make real friends and, finally, how did we realise our plans and goals? Was this year enough?

Bence has been a full-time researcher of settlement and citizenship programs and different international taxation issues since 2008. What you can get from him: advice on migration, international tax-paying, company establishment and bank account opening.

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Did you know?

Despite being so understated, Hollywood is in love with Gozo. Its now-collapsed Azure Window has appeared in various productions, including the epic TV series Game of Thrones. Brad Pitt is particularly enamoured. Parts of Troy and World War Z were shot here, as well as By the Sea, a joint project with his ex-wife Angelina Jolie. Many Gozitans will offhandedly drop in how they bumped into Mr Pitt while going about their daily business, as if it were of not too much importance. Perhaps, that’s why he loves the place.

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Egy év külföldön – mire elég, és mire nem? – 1. rész – Translated by: BOGI – CONTINENT SURFER



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If so, please support us, every litte counts and much appreciated!

You will help us to come up with useful information regularly, so please support us every once and a while or even on a monthly basis! Thank you!