REPOST: Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?

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REPOST: Starting Over

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Over the course of the next few weeks, Universities around the world will open their doors to new students. Some of those students will be moving away from home for the first time; some will be beginning graduate studies with families in tow; some will be newly married, learning to navigate a new city together; but all of them have one thing in common: they are starting over.

I love meeting new students and their families. Their excitement is written on their facial expressions. They are ecstatic to be on a new journey, in a new city. They remind of me of the white patent leather shoes I wore on Easter as a child; the ones that were shiny and new, untouched by the antics of childhood.

But what happens when the newness of starting over wears off?

As I think back eight years ago to our first move on our graduate journey, I remember being a newlywed in love wanting nothing more than to assist fulfilling my husband’s dream of completing his Masters. I jumped in with both feet, excited about the endless possibilities and opportunities that lay before us. It didn’t take long for the newness to wear off. Several months later, I thought, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I was navigating a new city, commuting to a new job, and missing my husband who was spending obscene amounts of time at the library. It took a couple of years before I finally found my footing again, and I can give credit for that to the women (some grad wives, some not) who invited me to be part of their community.

As you are out and about over the next few weeks, you are going to bump into various women – women who have given up their careers and left friends and family far behind to follow their husbands so they can attend school – women who will be looking for a new community, a place they can call home – women who would really just like a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a new friend to hear that graduate life isn’t so bad, and often times is actually very sweet.

And I ask….will you be that new community, that new friend?

For you former and current graduate wives, this is a great time of year to sit back and remember what it was like for you as a new graduate wife, when you moved and started over. What were your biggest joys? Your biggest fears? Would you do anything differently? How did you handle giving up your career if you had to? What were your biggest struggles? You have knowledge to influence and inspire the next generation of upcoming graduate wives.

What are some ways you could do that?

Be hospitable. Open your home. Include new faces at your dinner parties. Invite new friends for coffee or drinks. Give someone a bottle of wine. Bake chocolate chip cookies and drop them by a new graduate wife’s house. If you know someone moving to your city, make them dinner and bring it over the first night they arrive. Make them feel welcomed and loved on this new adventure.

Be willing to include new people to your group. Take the time to meet new people! Introduce them to your current friends. You never know who you might meet. I have a friend who used to live here in Oxford who was known as the ‘friend collector.’ It was a term of endearment, because she was always with someone new, inviting new people over for dinner, meeting a new friend for drinks, and introducing those new friends to her old ones. She loved people well, gave them a safe place to just be themselves, and never expected a thing in return. I learned a lot from her, and I’m a better person because of her. I am thankful we were able to live in the same area for awhile.

Offer thorough advice, if asked. Is someone moving to your University? Take the time to answer their questions and help them explore! Better yet, set up a time to speak to them by phone or Skype ahead of time. Believe it or not, Skyping is how MC and I became friends before she moved to Oxford.  Sometimes just having a familiar face in a new place can be the exact thing they might need to make it one more day.

For you new graduate wives just moving and starting over – when every box has been unpacked, the internet set up, grocery store located, and new city explored, you’ll probably start to look for a group of people to spend time with.

What are some ways you could do that?

Be brave. Attend events, toddler groups, libraries, book clubs, parties, etc. I remember the first event I ever attended as a graduate wife. I walked into a room full of women I didn’t know, and it was daunting AND overwhelming, even for this extrovert! But I am so glad I was brave enough to attend. At that event, I met a woman whose husband was a year of ahead of mine in their Masters program. We ended up becoming great friends, and still are to this day. Be willing to put yourself out there!

Be willing to try new things. Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to do, and hadn’t had time to? Grad school is a great time to take advantage of that, and great way to make new friends. I recently took a photography course, and went to an art class at a local coffee shop. In both places, I was able to try some new things, and meet new people.

Be patient. Building friendships and community take time. I guarantee if you’re willing to put that time and energy into it, the rewards will be worth it.

Find a spouses support group. Or at least a group of graduate wives to be friends with. You may find you need the support to get you through the next year, three years or five years. You may find having that constant group in your life will help you process the graduate wife journey.  And, you may find you need a safe place to express fears to other graduate wives about PhD applications, job prospects and uncertainties, and dissertation blues.

Community is very important to me. If there’s anything I’ve learned on this graduate journey, it’s that community is and has been at the heartbeat of everything I’ve done. I’m grateful for every good and hard experience I’ve had because I’ve had the opportunity to walk along and do life with other partners and spouses of those in the academy.

Reach out to someone new today. Give them a safe place to be themselves. Be a friend. Create community.

~Mandy

REPOST: What Will My Toaster Look Like?

-written by Sarah Glenn, a current graduate wife

We were moving in three weeks and items were slowly being sold off one by one. The first real, bittersweet casualty was the toaster. That magical device that gave our rushed mornings so many easy breakfasts and our bread a golden hue.

OK, maybe I am over-romanticizing the toaster. But being forced to fit your family’s life into four suitcases can do funny things to a person.

After two years studying abroad, it is time to return to the USA. For 730 days (give or take a holiday or two), my husband has been buried eyebrow deep in medical school at St. George’s University. It is not a U.S. medical school, meaning that the first two didactic years must be spent abroad. The next two years will hold all the real patient-centered fun, when he takes his book learning into the hospital for his clerkship years.

While he has carried on this all-consuming love affair with medical science, I have been freelancing, reporting, blogging, running a university organization, earning my Personal Fitness Trainer certification, learning and growing.

But life is a snow globe and once again, the hands of fate are shaking it up. The dust will settle in July when the school finally tells us where we are going. For the next two months my professional title will be “Freelancer who lives in her in-law’s basement.”

Exciting, huh?

Transition is hard for everyone. But a flying leap into the unknown lugging four suitcases is terrifying. When that flying leap is from a foreign country, the stress level gets bumped up a few notches and unanswerable questions start flooding your already overworked mind. Suddenly the stability of having one toaster that you will keep for the rest of your life starts sounding pretty good.

The price of higher education is steep and laying the money and inconvenience down on the table can feel like a nerve-racking gamble. After all of this struggle, will I be able to find a good job in a place where we fit in? What will the neighborhoods be like? Will professional life post-education be the all-glorious heaven we thought it would be?

These questions ring through the mind of every academic (and academic’s family). All students can agree that we are here now (in strenuous hard-work hell) because we want to be somewhere better in the future. The heart palpitations come when we realize that we aren’t quite completely sure what “better” will feel like. The whole thought process can be beautifully summed up by the toaster; will we have a shiny 4-slicer Black and Decker or the $5 Walmart brand?

What will my toaster look like?!

Many of my cubicle-dwelling friends have expressed envy for our nomadic student lifestyle. It must be liberating, right? Leaving all but the bare essentials behind for a life of discovery and progress. As those desk-dwellers come home at the end of their day, household items fade into the background as a dream of unfettered freedom beguiles their subconscious.

Freedom is great, but have you thought of what you would do with the toaster?

Unfortunately it is human nature to be fettered. Most of us are inexorably tangled into a dream of success. We all want something better, and whatever shape your dream might take, it will probably involve lugging around a little stuff with you. Once you decide on the life path of liberated travel, those household items don’t just fade into the background while your Marry Poppins bags pack themselves with everything you might need or want.

As we travel that road towards being a doctor or a lawyer or a rock star, or whatever we may dream, we will each acquire our own “toaster”  – that thing that tells us that we are home. Whatever home means to you, don’t forget to appreciate the little things that give your life stability – such as the toaster.

How do you deal with the transitory nature of graduate education? Is knowing that where you are isn’t where you are going to stay a comfort or a burden?

REPOST: The Courage of Exploration

                                                                                             written by Sarah – a current graduate wife

So there I was, sitting at a cheap, plywood table in Newcastle England, starting blankly into a MacBook, more than 3,000 miles away from where I wanted to be.

How did I get so far off course, you might ask? Well, pull up a chair and lend an ear. My story is one a graduate wife can appreciate.

Some of you might remember what it is like to have a great career. I can still hear the hum of the printing press and feel the thick tension in the air as I tried to get a newspaper out on deadline. As a reporter and editor for our local newspaper the days were 100 mile-per-hour marathons, both exhilarating and exhausting. Since I was a little girl I had dreamed of this career. Every extra-curricular activity, internship and my university education had been strategically designed to make me a super reporter.

In my early 20s, I had almost made it. I was an editor at the local paper. The job title, awards and offers proved that I had become a small town Lois Lane. But I was aiming higher.

Then I met my husband.

He was intelligent, ambitious, a Matt Damon look-alike, and I was in love. He was also applying for medical school.

After a year of dating and applying for schools, we were married. On our one month anniversary he was accepted to a medical program – out of the country. We would be moving once a year for the first four years of our marriage, or more if fellowships and residencies dictated.

Like a monkey wrench thrown into the cogs of a printing press, my dreams came to a grinding halt. For this next season of our lives it would either have to be his career or mine on the chopping block – we couldn’t do both. With a few tears, I carefully packed up our unopened wedding gifts, cleaned off my desk and moved to England. I doggedly looked for a job. Anything. Sadly, there were no jobs there in newsroom administration, especially for a transient who would stick around for less than a year. This foreigner couldn’t make headway in the reporting business either – I didn’t know a bobby from a bodge.

Do you ever feel resentment for the sacrifices you have been asked to make?

My bitter tears and empty days alone in a foreign country were poison to my budding marriage. I knew I needed to find an antidote.

A wise comedian, who also found himself 3,000 miles from where he wanted to be, once said, “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.” Conan O’Brien might have been speaking to graduating academics at Dartmouth, but his words resonated with me. He continues:

“I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course.”

As a newly-minted graduate wife, change was my only constant and adaptation my only antidote.

Somewhere in that foreign London fog of change and hopelessness, I started trying new things. I explored. I blogged. I taught myself how to design a website. I adapted.

Fredrick Nietzsche famously said “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you. The loneliness, the disrupted career path and the stress in my marriage almost killed me. But for those who are stuck in the middle of that mire, I promise that on the other end of your effort there is peace.

My blank stare into that MacBook on that plywood table in that cold, dreary place turned into a journey of exploration. But only because I made it so. Conan was right – there is nothing more exhilarating than having your life flipped on its head and, through your own sheer force of will, flipping it right side up again. When you finally straighten things out, your dreams might look a little different. But because you were the one to do the changing, somehow those new dreams are alright.

Sacrifice became what I made it. It was still painful, but only as painful as I would allow it to be between the bouts of blogging and exploring.

We have survived our second move now and are tripping blissfully and blindly into year three of marriage and year two of his late night, blood-shot eye studying. We have learned that those who adapt, survive. I am a survivor.

What strategies have you found successful in your transition to a graduate wife?

REPOST: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

It happens every year around this time.

By now, I should be prepared for it, as it’s happened on a regular basis for the last 7 years; but, somehow, like the annual birthday card I forgot to send, it’s popped up again and caught me completely off-guard.

Another friend is saying goodbye to us. This chapter of her journey in our daily lives has come to a close, and she and her family are off next week to begin their next chapter.

I am so happy for them.

I am so sad for us.

One of the hardest things (for me) in this season of life has been the transition of friendships. I have no issues making friends; I love being around people, love hearing their stories, and love seeing the way they live their lives. I am energized just being around them. But, while that time is precious, I often find it leaves me with a longing for something more, something intimate. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that deep, long lasting friendships are not made overnight.

When we moved from Atlanta 7 years ago to begin our graduate journey, we left behind a bevy of friends that we considered family. We knew each other’s stories, had been in each other’s weddings, and lived life together for several years. The loss I felt from our move was so immense, I didn’t want to make new friends in the new city we had relocated to. So I didn’t, at least at first. Why on earth would I want to do that when I had such fabulous friends who already knew and loved me in a city 8 hours from where I sat? I regrettably adopted the “why bother?” attitude since I was sure we would only live there for 3, MAYBE 4 years. With another impending transition looming in the future, I decided that I would do this journey on my own; I didn’t need a community of new friends to walk this road with me. Needless to say, it only took a year and a half before I found myself on the couch of a therapist, woefully explaining to her why I thought my life totally sucked. I was lonely and lost, trying desperately to live outside my belief that humanity was created to be in community.

After admitting that I couldn’t do it on my own, I began to reach out to other women (some graduate wives, some not) through various outlets, and I can honestly say that when we moved from there 3 years later, we left some dear friends who remain part of our lives today. Since then, I’ve been given the chance to move to another city (in another country!) to start over again, all with a fresh perspective: it’s always better to walk the road with a friend, then walk the road alone. I don’t know if we’ll live in one place for 3 years or 30 years. But, I do know this: I have to live my life in the present. If I live in the past or in the future, constantly playing the ‘What If’ game and wishing I was somewhere else with someone else, I’ll not only miss out on what I believe is a pivotal part of my life’s growth process, but also some very special friendships in a difficult season of life. I know there is always a reason you cross paths with someone; the journeys are always connected.

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.” ~Thomas Jefferson

In your graduate wife journey, what are you doing to foster friendship and community?

Mandy

REPOST: My Patchwork Heart

I hear the warm whispers of the North Carolina summers calling me.  I feel wooed by the fast-paced life I once lived in Washington, D.C.  and I hear echoes of the intimate and truly precious conversations that I shared with friends on our small street in Arlington.  I smell hushpuppies and my Dad’s BBQ and all the warm flavors of the deep south tempting me home.  I hear the ancient bells here in Oxford and I savor the fun times shared with dear fellow graduate wives.  I remember the glorious sunsets on the Chesapeake Bay and the unforgettable and sometimes painful community that was forged while living there on the Eastern Shore.  I feel the Big Apple charming me with the adventures & life lessons that unfolded there, and countless meals at my favorite café near Harlem.

Although my graduate wife journey has only really lead me to two different locations, I feel at times like tiny pieces of my heart are scattered about a hundred different places.  Do you ever feel this way? Have you moved around a lot on this journey?  Have you watched friendships grow and then had to watch as one of you packed up and said goodbye, or fallen in love with a city and a community, only to have to let go?

At times I feel so grateful for all the pieces of my heart scattered about around the country, and even the globe.  At other times I feel the weight of heartache for never getting to have all those precious friends and memories and experiences combined into one perfect place.  It’s a blessing and a curse at times…but alas it makes up who I am. A giant patchwork quilt.

I feel that recently I am learning how to relish and treasure all the vastly unique experiences that make me who I am.  Each place I have lived and each community of which I have been a part hasn’t been perfect…but each has been incredible and beautiful in its own way.  In these places I’ve been loved and hurt and supported and broken down.  I haven’t necessarily chosen these communities…they have more or less chosen me.

I feel that as a graduate wife, as a supporter, a mover and a dreamer, I have sometimes tried to resist these changes.  I have tried to resist the sharing of my life and ultimately of my heart with new friends and new settings.  For some reason it never works though.  As a fellow graduate wife once shared, “I tried so hard not to make friends in our new graduate community.  I was in denial of the move and thought that by wishing it away and not connecting, it would go by more quickly.  And sadly after a season of depression, I realized I was very wrong.”

I know that at times it’s easy to just try and ignore our current situations.  To dream of bigger houses and steady incomes for our families and to try and deny the reality of where we are now for this season of life.  And so I just wanted to encourage each of you fellow graduate wives today.  You might be avoiding your current grad school location and counting down the days until graduation or you might be feeling heavy with heartache over a previous home and community that you once knew.  You might be anxiously dreading an upcoming move and new graduate program, or you might be so in love with your current graduate wife life that you never want to see it end.  Wherever you find yourself, I hope you are able to step back and soak up all the flavors that make up who you are.  Smell and hear and taste the unique tapestry of friends, places, jobs, and experiences that this journey has brought to you.  I hope you can open up to a new community around you if you haven’t already.  Share bits of your story with others and be open to letting them make an imprint on it as well.  I know it’s not always easy … but when you take a step back, aren’t patchwork quilts breathtaking?

On your graduate wife journey how have you dealt with moving and uprooting community, friends, jobs, etc.?

-M.C.

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part III}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the third post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here, and the second post here.

Moving:

  •      Pick and choose carefully when packing those boxes.

o      Consider the climate carefully and realistically. If you’re moving to the UK like we did, you might as well leave behind those flip-flops, bathing suits, shorts and sundresses. This girl paid to move all those things, only to end up stuffing them in a suitcase headed back to the US for the holidays.

o      Pack lightly. Are you really going to need all those t-shirts? Could you purchase Tupperware more cheaply than moving it? Sure that crystal vase is nice, but really?

o      On the other hand, I wish I had brought our wedding album and that quilt that has been in the family for three generations. Those extra special items will bring comfort when homesickness hits.

  • Don’t put off the paperwork.

o      If you need residence permits or visas, know the requirements and get started early. Unless you want to be like us, running through the streets of downtown Chicago during the two hour time slot you have before your friend’s wedding in order to get a same day passport.

  • Brace yourself for the (extra) cost.

o      There are layers and layers of fees and unexpected costs, from setting up Internet to paying for a TV license (what? a license to watch TV?). Make room for this in your budget.

o      A furnished flat/apartment could come without a kitchen table. You’ll probably need some extra cash for that trip to Ikea or Walmart [insert local substitute here].

o      When you’ve first arrived and you’re exhausted, emotionally and physically, it may be worth grabbing a taxi and throwing your grand plan of walking the last mile and a half to your new apartment out the window instead.

  • Investigate your destination city.

o      Don’t settle on a mover or a bank or a grocery store until you ask for others’ experiences, even if they are strangers on the Internet (You’ve struck gold if your destination city happens to be featured on The Graduate Wife’s survival guide section.).

o      Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as your elementary school teacher once told you. Seriously, others have gone before you. Seek them out and get some help settling.

Dealing with Internal Battles:

We came here for the purpose of my husband’s education, and that education came at a cost for both of us, and for our family and friends back home. I had wholeheartedly agreed to this new adventure prior to our coming, and I plunged into the job-hunt and life-making once we landed in Scotland (okay, so I cried for the first couple days).

What felt romantic and adventurous while still living in the US, however, quickly became hard. Figuring out a new culture, going through the process of student teaching in Scotland and again in England (since my American credential didn’t transfer) and enduring a climate that happens to have really hard, dark, wet winters were some of the challenges. Add to that the fact that we moved from Scotland to England to Germany and back to England within three years, and I was tired. Really tired. And my emotional trap was to blame my husband, as if the challenges surrounding the decision to study abroad were his doing. It hasn’t been easy to work through my misplaced anger when enduring a particularly tough season.

The best advice I can give is to turn off the DVD player and start talking. Work through it, regardless of how hard the conversation is. Otherwise, the bitterness is at risk of festering and creating resentment. My companion on this journey is my husband, the one who was by my side through every move and bad day at work and hard winter – we must work hard to protect and enrich our alliance. Without his companionship, I simply could not do this another day.

Simplifying your life:

My brother once asked me if it was true that European and British residents rode bicycles to work and often wore the same outfit twice in one week. Emphatically, I said “yes, and it’s awesome” (okay, maybe a slightly smug exaggeration, but still).

Six years living here, and we may have a tinge of this beautiful outlook on material possessions: you don’t need much to live comfortably. Of course, this outlook is not confined to Europe. Anyone on a student budget can tell you that saving money wherever you can breeds simplicity. This is refreshing, and it is conveniently conducive to the student lifestyle.

So, grab a bike and wear that ten-year-old pair of jeans without a second thought, and do it every single day.

Holding on to your own dreams:

So if you are the one putting your husband or wife through school, it may be the case that a dream of your own has been put on hold. For me, I’d like to go back to school. My husband’s doctorate and six years later, this dream has not been realized.

I’ve come, however, to understand that waiting to pursue one’s dreams doesn’t have to mean that they diminish, ‘dry up’ or even ‘explode’ as Langston Hughes famously penned. Rather, the waiting has refined my goal, changed its direction and enriched its beauty. The dream deferred can turn into an aging wine rather than a raisin in the sun. And in this space of waiting, I’ve seen other aspirations blossom and flourish: having children and starting a family, establishing traditions of our own, getting to know another culture.

If you could pass along any lessons learned in your own graduate wife journey, what would they be, and why?