Sunday, January 22, 2012

How long is too long?

How long is too long to be an expat? I realize some people and families make a career out of it and are happy to do so for a very long time. I still unsure that we could be one of those families however we have already extended our tour of expatriate life longer than we ever thought we would.

This question of how long is too long is one we have discussed quite a bit lately because Scott has been offered and has accepted a new job (still with the same company) --- a promotion and a new position that will keep us in England a while longer. How much longer will we stay is the question? That answer is unknown.

We know it will not be forever. Neither one of us wants that situation, as we know we want to return to the US. However, we have quickly become one of those couples who we heard about when we were first moving abroad and both thought that would never be us.

It was the scenario we heard over and over again. "I was offered an expat assignment in X location for 2 years, and we loved it so much, it turned into 5 / 6 / 7....or whatever the greater number was." Countless tales of such assignments that extended well past their initial contract date. And now here we are ---- 3 1/2 years into an 18-24 month initial contract.

It is the right move for Scott's career for us to continue our time here, or so we hope at this point. The new job will be a great challenge for him and will hopefully allow his career to hopefully continue to flourish with his company.

But the more time we spend away, the more I grapple with the question of how long is too long to be away? Initially our answer was that when we were ready to start a family, we would probably return to the US. Clearly, I survived [the rather horrendous childbirth situation in the UK hospital] and we are still there. Dare I say, there is a part of me that has been glad to be in the UK with an infant because of the year-long maternity leave it has afforded me. (of course I am not sure that is outweighed by the lack of family within close proximity! or the really terrible hospital experience!)

Various discussions on this topic of length of time abroad now are focused on Crosby and our wants and desires for her life. Is this still the right decision for us to be abroad, now that we have a child? Is the end time for us abroad now when she is starting school? Is that primary school or secondary school? Or are we providing her with a great gift of life adaptability by being away and learning about another country/culture/lifestyle? Or will she feel unsettled because she will have not spent her entire life in one country and/or location? So many questions and concerns, and of course there is no "right" answer. People view such opportunities differently which is of course why some people accept such assignments and others do not.

We have also said we will continue to pursue the best career paths, provided that we are all healthy and well. God willing, this will continue to be the case.

Obviously with Scott accepting a this new job that will keep us abroad for a while longer, we have agreed that this decision is currently the best one for our family. However, with an end date unknown and time spent building a further life for ourselves in England, we really struggle with the debate of how long is too long and when is the right time to return home? We also realize that "home" will have a new meaning for us in the US because the variables will not be the same in our life / location / home / family etc from right before we moved abroad.


Iota said...

I used to grapple with this all the time. I've learnt to relax (since it seems to be out of our control anyway). I like your point that there isn't a "right" answer. For everyone who thinks you've expanded your child's horizons by giving them a real insight into another culture, there'll be one who thinks you've ruined their education (and spelling). The longer we're here in the US, the more I see it as a positive thing for the kids - but perhaps that's just me in the business of self-justifying!

Kris said...

This is something I struggle with as well. I hate not knowing how long we'll be here. Whenever we are asked how long we will be living here (I get the question a lot!), I never know how to respond. We know it will be at least for another three years, so like Iota, we try to relax about it and make the most of our time. It does break my heart that my family is missing out on being part of my daughters life, but I don't want that to influence our decision of going back to America. Mostly because when we do move back we'll not have the opportunity to move back to Utah where my family is anyway. The type of work my husband wants to do just isn't available there.