It is that time of year where our latest visiting family member is on their way home (bye Opa!) and we are reminded how very hard it is to have a baby abroad. We have no one to call about a sickness in the middle of the night, no family at her birthday party, and nary a date night in sight.
While there are many positives of raising a child in Germany (hello practically free child care), nothing replaces family. Though we took two periods of parental leave to stay with family in the States – this is a far-cry from being based in the same city, same state, same continent. Through no-fault of their own, our parents are trying to make Long-Distance Grandparenting work.
One of the most poignant feelings I have experienced as an expat is loneliness. It was an emotion that I knew very little of before I moved abroad. In some sense, I was probably naive in my adventurousness; I wanted to experience things that were new and different, I wanted to absorb another culture. I jumped into expat life without ever reading a book or blog post about what life abroad entails. Had I known anything before I boarded the plane, I might not have gone at all, so it is probably for the best that I was naive.
My first time abroad, studying in England, I had little chance for loneliness. After all, I was still speaking my native language, and in a university town there is no shortage of young people to meet. It was, however, my first experience with what happens when you leave somewhere: Out of Sight, Out of Mind. My friends from university went on with their lives and were unable (or unwilling) to keep in touch. I received occasional emails, dwindling as time progressed. Facebook didn’t exist in those dark ages (perhaps to my benefit, according to my friend Sarah), and airmail was too complicated for my friends back home. They couldn’t figure out the time change, phone calls were expensive, and there was no Skype. Still, I wasn’t lonely. I made new friends, had fantastic times, created new memories, and enjoyed my adventure. It was so addictive, I wasn’t ready to return to the US when the school year was over. I wanted more of this European lifestyle.
Remember that time not long ago when long-distance phone calls were reserved for special occasions? Your uncle on the other side of the country would get a nice three minute phone call on his birthday, and your grandmother across the ocean could expect a quick “Merry Christmas” once a year. Oh how far we have come. Now with new cable and internet technologies, long distance communication is no longer the family-gathered-’round-the-phone occasion it once was.
Yesterday, as my mother walked me through how to prepare the perfect Easter ham from her respective kitchen miles and miles away via Skype, I considered what it must have been like for expats living so far from their family and friends, just a couple decades ago, before the internet, email, and social media.
Nowadays, there are many cheap and easy ways to keep in touch with friends and family at home when you are an expat in Germany. When I first moved here in 1992, I was only really able to call my parents from a pay phone outside my dorm, and I could talk for about 5 minutes for 5 DM (€2.50 or so nowadays). There were fancy phone cards that you could buy from the Post Office so you could use the fancy pay phones that didn’t take coins, but that was it. No bargains to be had. And you are almost hard pressed to find a phone booth around here due to the fact that even the majority of 7-year-olds have mobile phones!
Nowadays, I can use Skype (free), call from my home phone (flatrate of €3.95 through Telekom, called Country Select), or call from my mobile with prepaid (€0.09/minute), and chatting on Facebook or Google Chat (both free, and both also work on my phone). It certainly makes things easy, and I do appreciate it, because with lots of kids in the house, I need to talk to my mom a lot for a number of reasons, including general moral support, advice on cooking recipes that she used to make, advice on unruly/rude teenagers, sympathy with the many illnesses this family seems to be getting and of course, bragging about the kids and letting them talk to her (and the rest of the family). Continue reading →