As part of my series on building community, Lanie writes about community from Jakarta. She shares her journey on her blog All Aboard the Crazy Bus:
I’m Lainie, and I currently live in Jakarta, Indonesia (arrived July 2013) with my sweet husband, Sean, and our three kids (ages 19, 15, and 9). We have been married 22 years and have lived in 11 different cities. We’re far far from being done moving around because in 2012 Sean joined the State Dept./Foreign Service family, which means my husband works at US Embassies around the globe and we all go with him. This is not the life for everyone but so far it fits us well (mostly).
How did you prepare your children for the move?
The truth is, we probably didn’t do the greatest job preparing our kids. Here is a bullet list:
Good Parenting Ledger: 1) We listened to them. We totally allowed them to feel sad and express the loss that goes with it all- and there is a lot of loss in a move. 2) We allowed them a lot of control over the pack out experience, what to keep, what to give away, so on. 3) We made them aware of the benefits of their new schools. 4) We paid big bucks for therapists to help our kids through it when/if they needed someone to help them besides us. It’s the best and wisest thing to do. Therapist help them develop resiliency and that is huge. 5) We explained how sad we were too but not in a way that diminished their own chance to express themselves. 6) Treated the first month as a time of venturing and becoming aware of our surroundings together. We allowed them to lead or choose where we would go next, type of thing. 7) We just allowed ourselves a lot of grace when we needed it, parents included. 8.) We encourage them to facetime/skype with family and friends often, while gently reinforcing the fact that they need to make friends here as well. This gets harder as they get older. Teenagers bond and it’s not fair to just expect them to branch out at a new place. 9) We allow them to choose their wall color for their bedrooms. They get whatever crazy or boring color they want. We couldn’t do that in DC but here in Jakarta we decided to go for it and pay the expense. They need to like their HOME.
Bad Parenting Ledger:
1) Moved the oldest, who suffered through all of our previous moves the most, the summer before her Senior year. What a heartache it was for her. Excruciatingly painful! Sr. year is not a time to move a kid to a new place! Avoid this if you possibly can. 2) Didn’t bring the pets with us at the same time as we flew here for our overseas move. I thought it was a brilliant idea – to arrive here and import the dog after we had had the chance to settle in. Turns out, there is no winning on this issue. On our 2012 move from Texas to Washington DC we had the cat and dog IN THE CAR with us as we traversed the country, to which the kids whined and moaned more than the carsick cat, which created a very anxious dog who insisted on jumping from one lap to the next. Awful! Moving here while our pets stayed in the US in the care of others has also created loads of hurt, loss and whining. So… go figure. The plan has always been that the dog will eventually be sent to us but she is currently in the care of a dear friend who adores her. I keep reminding them that she will arrive one day soon. And, the cat (didn’t bring due to quarantine bologna) is staying with my mom and stepdad in Houston. Yes, we miss them both terribly. It’s been as painful for me as it has been the kids. We love our pets. 3) Forcing the older kids into activities or groups before they feel comfortable. 4) Not having enough activities or group things for the younger already set up and waiting for us when we arrived. This is important… don’t wait for the under 14 crowd to ease into things. Have VBS, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, something organized before you move to your new place. The State Dept sent parents to a class on this. Younger kids need immediate inclusion. 5) Fill in the blank _________. I really don’t know, I’m sure my kids could tell you a few more ways we’ve made these moves harder or messed up their lives somehow. I’ll ask them and let them tell me. Should be fun (insert sarcasm).
What are the biggest challenges you have found to the change?
For me, it is getting myself back on a schedule. In a comfortable home setting I can get knocked off my game after an overnight trip out of town, imagine the exponential flustered mess I am after a big move. I have learned to write down things, to make realistic lists and to try not to do too much on any single day. Even still, I am constantly trying to regain my rhythm and traction.
What is the best part of moving to a new place?
This one is easy! I think I am truly wired for the Foreign Service lifestyle because I love experiencing new stuff, new foods, new sights, new people. I dig it. I will forever hold my established friends in my heart and I desperately miss and love both Sean and my families but, I like and feel excited about all the new possibilities when I arrive at a new place. I like feathering my nest and making our home feel like us. I love trying out new places to eat and reading up on parks to visit and such.
How are you creating community (finding friends for you and your family). In Washington DC/Virginia finding a community was very difficult, it took me a long time to find people who were even open to having a friend. It was weird. This was one of the first times in my life I experienced such loneliness. Finding a church where we all felt comfortable was difficult. My kids’ schools were not very friendly because we were “Foreign Service” and they knew we would just be moving away soon. All my usual outlets for social life were not open. What helped was taking a class or two. I took a language class, a work out class (exercise was HUGE help for my mood) and a photography class. Joining a class where I had to register and know that a place was going to be there waiting for me was my best way to plug in. Here, in Jakarta, I have a non-stop social life. Everyone is far away from home so people tend to hook up and let their guards down faster. We all want an invitation to Thanksgiving, you know what I mean? However, I have this one motto that has always proven to be true- REACH OUT FIRST! No one will call you up and invite you out if they don’t know you exist. Talk first, smile first, visit the neighbors first. Be the greeter. People like friendly, positive people. It’s fun.
How long have you been in your new home, and does it feel like home yet?
We arrived to Jakarta in mid July. It took a while to feel like home because it is truly a foreign country, with foreign everything. My home is not constructed like a usual home in the US. My yard is completely different from a typical US yard. Grocery stores sell different everything. Soap even smells different here. Hiring contractors to paint, install the cable and internet were completely wild experiences because of the language barrier. Everything is really really different. But to answer the question, I started to feel at home after a few weeks. It really helped me to buy a few little decorative things to add my own touch on the place. My own stuff isn’t here yet. When it arrives I’m sure I’ll feel that day after Christmas feeling but for now I am looking forward to it. Another thing that helped me was to put my phone on a gps/map mode as the taxis drove me around the city. I am not sure why exactly but maybe it’s because I learned where I lived and where things were. I’m a visual/spacial thinker and not having a mental map of my new surroundings made things a little harder.
What advice would you give to someone moving to a new location?
*Do as much prep work as you possibly can on the house and packing it all up. *Get rid of as much stuff as you can. Don’t pay someone to move stuff you don’t want. *Figure out the cell phone/wifi situation before you arrive (especially if moving overseas). *Find and make connections with a few contacts before you go, if possible. Maybe another spouse or workmate, someone… it helps so much. *Expect to be sad but don’t let it keep you from moving forward. When you’re sad you’re sad. But get help if you can’t see past it.
* Get extra EXERCISE! I’m NOT a workout queen, not even close. I know this one bit of advice sounds like something Dr. Oz would say but this one bit of advice was reinforced by every the State Dept. training class that we went to. Exercise is proven to help people recover from culture shock, depression due to a move and helping people deal with stress. Don’t kid yourself, you need to move your body in order to adjust after you move your life. Moving is STRESSFUL.
*Give yourself a big fat “learning curve” allowance and realize that you’re going to make mistakes, get lost, buy the wrong spice, pay too much because you didn’t know better, etc… learn from the whole experience. Reducing expectations allows more room for enjoyment, it really does.