How about living abroad for a while? Tales of a German Mom Doing Life in Metro Detroit (Part Two)

Have you ever considered taking the chance, packing up your family and your most treasured belongings in order to move overseas and live abroad? Out of sheer curiosity, just to see what life is like in other corners of this world?

While it is not all too likely to get such an offer in pandemic times, this will hopefully soon change again. Maybe you have had the opportunity before and turned it down because it scared the heck out of you? Maybe you have been secretly dreaming of spending some of your life abroad and are waiting for a job opportunity that allows for it to come. Or, you are aware that you or your spouse might get asked sometime soon to think about an overseas assignment. And the thought alone just gives you all the feels…

Either way, just keep on reading if you want to get a taste of it, as I am going to share a bit of our experience with moving overseas and living abroad – from the opposite perspective: as a European family getting ready for their Michigan adventure.

living abroad

“Honey, we need to have a glass of wine tonight.”

There are many ways to end up in another country at some time in your life. Military families know it all too well. Missionary families just as much. Self-proclaimed adventurous souls who venture out to volunteer for non-profit organizations abroad or to spend some semesters in another country as young folks do as well.

But even once you are pretty settled and have found a nice place to grow your family without the inner need to move across country and even less out of state, This is something that can sneak its way into your life through corporate jobs, especially if you are working for an international company. You or your spouse might get the offer of an overseas assignment. Sometimes quite out of the blue, to be honest. And the question alone can turn your world upside-down for a moment.

It sure felt like that for me, when my husband called me from the office one lovely afternoon in late 2015.

“We need to have a glass of wine tonight,” he said. I was home with the kids. “Yeah well, sure.”

“No, no, you don’t understand. WE. NEED. TO HAVE. A GLASS OF WINE. TONIGHT.”

“Oh…… Noooooooo! Wait, you don’t actually mean … No way … What is it? I can’t possibly wait until tonight. Where and when?”

This was the conversation I had with my husband the moment before #ourmichiganadventure came into our life as a family of four. That simple phrase probably does not necessarily make a lot of sense to anyone else. But for us it was like a code word. A code word for an upcoming adventure.

Nine years ago he had called me many afternoons at work, saying “We need to go out and have a drink tonight.” Then we would go to a fancy bar at night and fantasize over a Caipirinha or a Mojito about venturing out for a couple of years and about how our life could look like in Tennessee, Spain, or Brazil. (On a sidenote: we did end up in Brazil back then.)

That was in a time before we had little kids, so there was some need to rephrase it and make it family-compatible. (From the drink in a bar to a bottle of wine in our living room.)

From years of “Oh no, we do not necessarily plan on living abroad again any time soon,” when being asked about our future plans after our return from Brazil in 2010. “We really love our life here in Stuttgart the way it is right now.” to “Where and when?” in five seconds.

That simple phrase brought back all the excitement about picturing ourselves somewhere else in no time.

Together with a bunch of other feelings and emotions, since, well, in the meantime there were two little human beings for whom we would make that decision at the same time.

This is how it started. And this is my attempt to share all the excitement and joys of such an adventure to you from an outsider’s perspective. Without keeping quiet about the hardships, the mess, and the craziness that come hand in hand.

Like a European family in Detroit? (as in Sting’s “Englishman in New York.”)

So when I asked “Where and when?”, he replied, “Michigan, not quite sure yet when, but probably spring or early summer 2016.” Until he came home that night I had some time to let it sink in. And when we finally had tucked in the kids and sat down with said glass of wine, he just needed to take a look at me to realize, I was already in.

“You are not actually considering this?”, he asked. And I said “Oh, I sure am. I mean, come on. If we really want to do this one more time (as we had always agreed upon), this is the best timing.” The kids were old enough to really get the full experience of living abroad, learn another language, and remember this time of their lives later. But, they were still young enough that we wouldn’t have to drag them across continents during their teenage years. And talking about the location. I didn’t know much about Michigan, but I loved the pictures that came to my mind. The Great Lakes, great outdoors, the proximity to Canada, and all the travelling possibilities within the US. I knew this could be great.

So we decided to give the idea a chance.

The chance with a yes.

In the following days, my head started spinning in 1001 different directions. How would the kids handle such a huge transition? They were four and six years old at the time, and would be 5 and 7 when we moved to the US. Would it be the right thing to take them out of their safe bubble, where they were surrounded by loving grandparents and cherished friends who have known them from day one? (Or from one-and-a-half years old on. This is how old our firstborn was when we returned from Brazil.) Would living abroad mess them up for life?

How would our parents react? After all, they had been so happy and relieved to finally have us (and their first grandchild) back and were living their best grandparent life. Living ten minutes away from us. Ready to jump in and support us whenever we needed them. Insisting on regular grandkids days, when they would spoil them with time, love, and best homemade granny meals. Would we really want to miss out on all that? They were also spoiling us by hosting sleepovers so my husband and I could get the full treat of extended date nights with the luxury to sleep in the next morning on an almost regular basis. Would we really want to miss out on that???

Would we be able to adjust as a family? For my husband and me that was an easy answer. After all, we had started those adventures abroad when we were in our twenties, and had learned one thing: that we would be able to grow some roots and find our tribe no matter where we went. We would be fine. But how about our kids? How about our balance as a family?

Especially in a suburban setting. Through our previous stays abroad that cover a year in Boston, an internship in Tokyo, some months in China and the three-year assignment in Brazil, we had learned that we were definitely city people. As much as we enjoy nature, we were not meant to live in a small town. As the office of my husband was located in Farmington Hills, living in Detroit or Ann Arbor was not an option. Too much of a commute. So where would we live? And would we like it there? Would I lose my mind over another international move? This time with kids and so much more stuff?

Never-ending question marks.

Now, you can argue that we had been doing this before, that we actually wanted that. Both is true and nevertheless these decisions are never easy. Especially not if we were in a situation where we actually really liked our life exactly the way it was.

The following days I also spent with opening several dozen tabs on my computer, researching Metro Detroit. Trying to learn about the housing market, schools, and safe neighborhoods. Trying to get an idea about what we would get ourselves into. While we were still anxious to tell our family and best friends what we were about to do, it became obvious that we had already made up our minds.

One of our best friends, who had been always very supportive of our wild decisions, had asked an important question when we were still in the process of fighting doubts. “So just imagine, one day, when you guys will be grey and old and look back onto your life – what will matter more: four years that you had not spent in Stuttgart or four years that you experienced living abroad as a family?

And that was the moment when the last doubts dissolved.

Want to know what was next? How did Michigan welcome us? How would the kids adapt to their new home, in a new country, surrounded by a new language? Did we ever regret our decision to take the chance on living abroad? Did we experience some sort of culture shock? Living in the Midwest from a German perspective – what seemed awkward to us? What did we fall for? Stay tuned for more tales from a German mom doing life in Metro Detroit.

To read more from Christina and her adventures living abroad, check out Talking about Kindergarten, Tales of a German Mom Doing Life in Metro Detroit (Part One).

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Christina Kapaun
Christina is a 43-year-old full-time mom, running her own business as a certified intercultural trainer & coach, a part-time blogger and “some-time” actress plus a wanna-be storyteller. She is a European soul with lots of highly contagious wanderlust in her heart. Together with her three heroes, she came to Metro Detroit three years ago where she is still trying to figure out how to do “the suburban mom thing” properly. She is a soccer mom and a passionate boymom to two wild and free guys. Which does not mean that she would not have equally welcomed additional daughters into her life. Not so much another sport though as she is a true believer that you can explain almost anything in life through soccer. She calls Northville her home and Stuttgart her “home home”. She is a coffee snob and never travels without her Italian Bialetti but also a tea drinker - green tea in the morning for the first dose of zen and Latte Macchiato whenever the craving kicks in for the dolce vita moments in everyday life. You can find her at cute locally-owned coffee spots to share your stories, in smelly indoor soccer places or over at Instagram @southboundstories.


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