the ups and downs of an expat (with a toddler)

When I think of moving to another country I usually end up with the thought, “If only I had done this before I had children.” And then there are those people that do it, and it makes me excited to hear about! Lacey and her family moved to Poland for two years while her husband was in school, and she kindly shared a few of the ups and downs of moving to a new place.

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First was shock:

Everything became real when I walked in to our empty room and registered that those two suitcases held everything that my husband, 18-month old son and I would be taking with us for the next two years. After 36 hours of traveling our plane touched down in a foreign country. My husband left to secure our living arrangements, leaving our son and I alone on a bus with the driver in a blizzard. First it was confusion, then terror, as I realized the bus driver was leaving the parking lot, tired of waiting for Travis to come back. In the end we were left sitting on our suitcases, in the storm waiting for Travis–who would soon come back to let us know we had nowhere to live… So we lived at a hotel for a week.

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Second, the adjustment: 

Beyond the extremely cold weather, grocery shopping was a big challenge at the start. Essentially we would purchase anything that looked somewhat familiar and had a picture on the cover. Then there was the trial of trying to convert weights of produce… Needless to say, I ordered produce a few times thinking I was buying a few potatoes or onions and ended up with a floor full of onions and one potato, or banana.

And for the milk. It sat on crates in the middle of the floor unrefrigerated until it was ready to go on shelves. Several times we drank a few liters of the milk before we even knew it was rotten… Because it ALWAYS tasted rotten. Their cows were also allowed free range grazing so you never knew if your milk would taste of garlic, sauerkraut, onions, etc. Needless to say, we switched to drinkable yogurt on our cereal.

Then there was checkout. I would pray every time that there was nothing wrong with my purchase because I would have no idea what they were saying. But without fail, I almost always had my cheddar cheese confiscated at checkout, and to this day I don’t know why.

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And through all of it, the positives: 

I may have painted this out to be a bad experience, but it wasn’t. It was amazing, it just required more work. On a daily basis my son met and played with children who didn’t speak the same language, yet that didn’t stop them from communicating. In our town we had a castle and an “old town center” with ruins from the war that we’d walk through on Sundays.

Several times we watched carts full of produce being hauled to town by horse, ready to sell at market. On Christmas Eve we celebrated at a nunnery where none of them had ever heard of our religion (we’re Mormon). They thought our son Maddix looked like baby Jesus, and we sang old Christmas songs in several different languages accompanied by old wooden instruments.

When the World Cup came to Warsaw, it was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. It put the Super Bowl to shame. Anywhere you went someone would paint your face. Red and white flags were just as prominent as the cobblestones in the roads. And when we’d open up our balcony doors we’d hear thousands of people chanting their anthem for miles. I kid you not when I say the whole town would shut down.

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When you go somewhere, embrace it. The best times we had were when we had very little money traveling and had to stay in the random hole-in-the-wall places. We would just walk around the cities because we couldn’t afford the museums or tours. We saw so much. We lived so much history. We ate… Never enough. And we loved everything, good or bad.

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Lacey and her family (now two boys) are no longer in Poland, but they’re still living an adventure–currently in New York! Trail along with her updates on her blog. (All photos are from Lacey.)

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