28 January 2013

Settling In To Our New Home in Astana

Some friends of ours have just moved to Astana which started me thinking about the whole process of moving.

There  is something very strange about coming to your new home, it is where you live but it is strange and alien to you.  So – how do you make it yours as quickly as possible?  I adopt a system of making sure that everything is set out in the same way as every other home I have ever had.  Of  course not everything can be put in exactly the same place but by and large I try to make things as similar as possible. My kitchen is a case in point – my sister can come into a new home of mine and know where to find everything straight away without looking through hundreds of cupboards.  The cutlery and pans are usually to the right of the sink, the cooking oil is by the left of the hob.  My wardrobe is arranged in exactly the same way in each home as is my dressing and bedside table. 

When we moved to Astana I had to settle the children in quickly.  I moved many times as a child but I never got used to it, I would get nervous stomach aches and feel very unsettled.  This time it was worse because although I was not concerned about the move I was worried for the effect it would have on my children.  My mother would always try to minimise the disruption any move brought to our lives and I followed her system.  We packed the children's bedding in the excess baggage suitcases so they woke up under their duvet in one home and went to sleep in the same duvet that night albeit in a different country.  This feeling of home helped a lot.  I let them choose which toys came in our handbaggage/airfreight so they knew what they would be playing with when they got to their new home – some  old favourites and one new treat each.  When our shipment arrived (if that is the right phrase for boxes brought to a landlocked country) the children unpacked their own rooms. Strictly speaking given their ages  at the time we unpacked under their supervision but this gave them ownership of their new bedrooms and made them feel more settled.  Funnily enough I noticed they did exactly the same thing I did and tried  to replicate the layout of their previous bedrooms.

Even with all this it took our son some  time to settle into his new life.  At almost 5 years old he missed his extended family and while Skype helped he wanted to see his grandparents and his friends. When we went away from home for weekend trips he started fretting and asking if we were moving again.  Our daughter who turned 3 shortly after we arrived was not concerned at all;  I am not sure whether this is age or character driven, to be honest it is probably a little of both.  Starting school really helped to settle them, making friends and having them back home to play was a very important step in making them feel at home in Astana.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

21st Century Expat

What is life like as an Expat in the 21st Century?  I have been thinking about this a lot recently because I grew up as an expat.  I settled in the UK for college and career but when the opportunity came to travel again our family decided to leap at it and move to Astana, Kazakhstan.

When we told people we were moving out here we got a mixed reaction.  Some people did not know where the country was.  Those who did made jokes about the cold, others could think only of gulags and rockets, still more thought we would be living in yurts and riding camels.  The fact is that Astana is a thriving modern metropolis, yes it gets cold (down to the -40's at some points) but is is also lovely and warm in the summer and we have all the conveniences of modern life.  That said life here has its complexities as well.  We have had to learn a new language and a new alphabet, how to cope with an 80 degree temperature range and how to persuade the dog to go for a walk when it is very very cold.

It is all very different to the expat life I had as a child.  All of our postings were great fun and each of them enriched my life to a very great extent but it was not always easy though.  Communication is probably the thing that has changed the most.  When I was 11 my parents and sister went to live in the Nigerian bush - I stayed at school in the UK and spent holidays at home.  Our post took 3 months and it could take 6 hours to place a telephone call so the first time I flew out (on my own) to Lagos I had not heard anything from my parents at all and was not 100% sure they would be there to meet me. Today my children call their school friends and their grandparents on Skype whenever they want, email and the internet has made the world a very small place.

That is not to say that living here has proved plain sailing.  Finding out how to live in a foreign country is always a challenge, getting schools, getting a car and making friends are all harder with the language barrier but it has been fun and we have managed to keep a sense of humour.