Continent Surfer | A year abroad - what is enough and what is not? - (part 2) - Continent Surfer
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A year abroad – what is enough and what is not? – (part 2)

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

written by: Mea Barath

We moved abroad with a big family, with four children. We chose Gozo, a small island in Malta, as you may already know from the previous article. We had planned to spend a year abroad….

A year of probation

Our children were 14, 11, 7 and 4 years old when we moved abroad. Is there an ideal age for this big change in children’s lives? When there are several children in the family, it is impossible to find the perfect timing for everyone.

Why did we think it was a good idea to spend a year abroad as a family? Our primary goal was language learning for the children, but we also saw the opportunity to learn about a new culture and to integrate into a different school system as an important aspect. How these objectives were achieved, and whether the one year was enough to achieve them, I wrote about in the previous article.

What else did we expect from this one year abroad?

  • 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

Experiencing a complete change of living space

Moving abroad also meant letting go of home, of our house, of familiar landscapes, of everyday life. Everything becomes different, new and unfamiliar. This is exciting on the one hand, but also anxiety-inducing on the other. We have experienced the experience of building from scratch, the success of which has been an empowering experience for all of us. We booked our first apartment from our home country, and we tried to be careful. But after three months living in Gozo, we realized we wanted something different. So, we changed, moved to another city, to an apartment with a completely different atmosphere and facilities. In terms of flexibility, situational awareness and solutions, I think we passed the test.

Get along with the new

One year was enough to make us feel like home. We couldn’t get lost, we know its streets, all its towns, its beaches. Of course, there’s still plenty to discover, but when we return, it will feel like home. It’s fantastic to experience how a foreign place, as time passes, begins to change, to become familiar, to embrace you.

“The time you wasted on your rose: that’s what makes your rose so important.” Says the fox to the little prince, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. One year, and we have a second home. Now, the island of Gozo will always be personal and truly special to us.

For us, as adults and parents with a big family, it has also been a year of testing stress levels. I feel like we would have really started to thaw and ‘arrive’ when the allotted time was up, and we were heading home.

Developing tolerance and adaptability

I think we learned a lot about inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. The way the people of Gozo treated us: from the school director, to the officials, the bus driver and the greengrocer, to our neighbours, everyone made us feel that you are OK, it’s good to have you here, have fun! The “No worries” attitude has made us feel better, too.

We tried to imagine what it would be like abroad. But in reality, it was unimaginable. You can’t know in advance what situations, people and events you and your family will encounter there. Such an adventure inevitably develops your adaptability. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a necessary part of progress!

Broadening your horizons

Living in your home country, speaking your mother tongue and breathing the air, you may not be able to imagine what an extended period abroad can offer.

It was interesting to see on our children, what insights and discoveries they come to about their Hungarian identity, about the Hungarian people. Everyone has a personality. It is defined primarily by its history and culture, but also by the territory and climate of the country. As the saying goes, you get to know each other by living. I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to get to know a country and its people with a different temperament, beyond being tourists. One year was enough to strengthen in us everything that makes it good to be Hungarian. And we also saw sharply the differences that saddened us.

We learned about unique life stories. The unimaginably easy lifestyle of an Italian-American couple living in Switzerland, who spend every six months in Gozo, and the tragic fate of a father who fled Gozo in search of a better life in Africa, enriched our view of life and the world, both in ourselves and in our children.

A long holiday by the sea

We lived on an island surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. From our terrace we could see the harbour. A ten-minute walk took us to the beach. A year of being next to the sea left an indelible mark on us and of course, no, it didn’t prove to be enough time. But perhaps no amount of time would be enough, because the sea is impossible to get enough of!

During the summer months we swam daily on the different beaches of Gozo, sandy and rocky, among big waves, admiring jellyfish, swallowing salt, unforgettable. We had the richest summer of our lives by the sea.

New acquaintances, new friendships – Was one year enough? Yes and no. No rather than yes.

On the island of Gozo, locals say hello to each other. Just like back home, in Hungary, in a village. In a year they got used to our faces, we became “villagers”. We started chatting to the people in our street when we met them. The bus driver knew us, knew where we got off. We got a taste of what it could be like. We knew that if we stayed, there would be people we could count on. We’d become friends.

What makes you feel at home somewhere?

I think I arrive at “home” through human connections. And I could see that if we gave ourselves more time there, in that foreign, other home, that this “other life” would also give me the deep connections I long for. With Hungarians as well as with foreign “newcomers”. But it’s also not inconceivable that the Gozo community will really welcome you, if you give yourself and them enough time.

However, each encounter has taken on a special weight in this one year. With the knowledge that it is finite. I cherished every conversation, every smile, appreciated and enjoyed every community event, considered every new acquaintance a gift. It would be nice to love and appreciate those who are brought alongside us, whether for a day, a year, or a lifetime, with this awareness.

Since then, my eldest has kept in touch with some of her schoolmates in Gozo, and thanks to the online world, they keep in touch on a daily basis. They plan to visit each other in their homes in Italy, Poland and Hungary. But it’s also possible that they will meet again in Gozo, one day, sometime.

They say the first six months are all about homesickness. It’s about looking back. After half a year, you’re able to look to the future with a straight face. Maybe that’s how long it takes for your soul to catch up.

They say you shouldn’t make any decisions about ‘where to go from here’ for a good six months. It’s a very transitional period.

For us, I feel that half a year is even longer.

Spending a year away from loved ones and friends: is it too much or too little? Of course, we came home, work called us home, and so did absence.

A year of adventure: too much or too little? We scraped by as much as we could.

All in all, I would say: not enough.

I feel like our life abroad would have really started when we had to start packing our bags for the journey home.

Arriving somewhere physically, settling in practically, finding and settling into a new living space in large and small ways, arriving in spirit, finding a home: for me, that’s what a year was all about. To start to truly LIVE after the arrival.

So, this is my personal, totally subjective advice:

If you can, plan for the long term. I honestly cannot say that a year was long enough!

Did you know?

Gozo is a HOLY PLACE! No kidding. Not only does the place contain Ggantija, the oldest surviving temple known to mankind, it also has no less than 46 Catholic churches – technically one per 1.5km². Not only are there many, but some are also massive. The Xewkija dome is, arguably, the third largest in Europe (battling it out with the Mosta dome in Malta) and the church can fit the entire village of 3,000 people inside it. Places like Ta’ Pinu are further connected with miracles associated with the apparition of the Virgin. And if that were not enough, the Victoria Cathedral museum contains a shoe belonging to Pope Pius VII, as well as Pope John Paul II’s gloves and hat.

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Egy év külföldön – mire elég, és mire nem? 2. rész Translated by: BOGI – CONTINENT SURFER



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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!