What we did wrong

Having been here two years, I think we’ve finally got some distance and perspective on the trauma that was our relocation.  And even though it’s most likely nearly a year away, I’ve already begun to contemplate the logistics of returning home.  (Oddly, in some ways, it seems even more daunting to be moving home.  When we came here, we were expected to be overwhelmed and clueless for a while — when we move home, I think we’re going to feel a lot of pressure to have our feet under us right away, which I doubt very seriously that we will.)  In thinking about all of that, I’ve realized some things we really didn’t do the right way when we moved here, or at least some things I would do differently if I had it to do over again.

First, I really wish we hadn’t come over nearly a month before Dan started work.  We had visions of getting our house hunting done, getting moved in, having our phones and cable set up and being completely settled before Dan had to go off to work, leaving me at home alone with two small children.  But, it didn’t work that way at all.  Instead, because Dan wasn’t working yet, there was a ton of stuff, for legal and logistical reasons, that we couldn’t do at all.  We couldn’t sign a lease without being able to prove employment, we couldn’t get phones, and we had no income.  The IAEA provides a relocation stipend, which we were counting on as income for that first month, but we couldn’t start the paperwork on that until Dan signed his contract . . . which couldn’t happen until his first day of work.  So, although we were able to do some house hunting, it didn’t save us a lot of time, and mostly, we were just living here for a month without an income and with very little that we could accomplish.  If I had it to do again, I would come 5-7 days before Dan’s first day of work, maybe do a little sightseeing and/or house hunting, and then take the weekends of his first month of work to finalize getting a place.

In that same thread, I wish we had just rented a temporary, furnished apartment for an entire month after our arrival.  To go along with our visions of finding a place really quickly, we rented our first temporary apartment for only 8 days, which was an unrealistically short time (we were trying to save money).  We should have just rented a place for a month.  Even *if* we had found a place sooner, it took 6+ weeks for our stuff to arrive.  Having a single place we could have stayed in while we got ourselves situated would have been easier (and, ultimately, cheaper).  Moving to another temporary place 8 days after our arrival was stressful and complicated (and the second place wasn’t as nice, or as well located, as the first).  I’d rather have paid for the temporary apartment for a month and had the “frustration” of having to pay for 2 places at the same time, if we’d been lucky enough to find a place quickly, than to deal with moving around during that first month.  Alternatively, Dan & I could have flown over a month or so early for a long weekend and done some house hunting and found a place, and then have moved directly into it when we arrived.  (Although our furniture and stuff STILL wouldn’t have arrived until 6 weeks after we left the States.)

Speaking of “stuff” . . . I would have handled that completely differently, too.  The IAEA provided us with movers and with long-term storage for while we’re abroad.  We also got to choose which things would be shipping quickly by air and which would be shipping (theoretically more slowly) by sea.  That’s great, but we over thought those decisions way too much.  I tried to micromanage which stuff came and which stuff didn’t — these towels stay, these go, these others go by air and some go by sea — and it completely backfired.  Either because I was giving too many instructions to be understood, or because they just didn’t care, a lot of things did not end up where we’d intended.  (Almost all of our sheets and towels ended up in storage, along with most of my shoes, while most of our candles and knickknacks ended up here although we wanted them in storage.)  If I had it to do again, I would only have stored our guest room furniture (we didn’t know how many rooms we would have, so that was the right call) and any appliances that wouldn’t run on European electrical current.  I would have brought everything else and sold/given away/donated/thrown out stuff we couldn’t find a home for.  Also, because we were “so sure” we would only be here for a maximum of 2 years, there are some things (Christmas decorations, the toddler conversion for Liam’s bed) that we left behind to be “practical” that now I really wish we had.  I think we should have just brought it all.  And, in the same way, trying to sort out what needed to come by air or by sea was a mess.  (Our sea shipment arrived a few days BEFORE our “quick” air shipment.)  I would have put only a few things in the air shipment — the double stroller, the kids’ bikes, some of their favorite toys, maybe a changing pad — and sent everything else by sea.  Our temporary place was furnished, so we didn’t really need anything, and our permanent place wasn’t, so then we needed everything.  There wasn’t really an in between.

So many of our mistakes came from being over-eager and trying to be overly efficient.  Life here is not as efficient as it is at home, and in trying to force it, we made things difficult.  Because we didn’t know where we’d be living, we registered Benjamin for kindergarten near Dan’s work, to ensure he got a spot.  Although that ultimately worked out, and we’re incredibly happy with B’s school, the location means that I have a 45 minute commute to take B to school, and then again to pick him up . . . each way.  If I did all of the dropping off and picking up eery day, that would be 3 hours of my day (he’s only in school for 3 hours — it’ll be 4 this fall).  So, I don’t — Dan picks him up every day.  But if we’d waited until we knew where we were living, we might have been able to get him into a school that was a 10-15 minute walk from here, and I could have easily dropped him off and picked him up each day.  In hindsight, it would have been worth him missing the first semester of school when we got here to have him in a more conveniently located place.

Speaking of unrealistic ideas, we shouldn’t have planned to travel outside of Austria (and very little inside of it) for the first year.  The first year is all about getting settled, figuring out how stuff works and taking care of logistical things.  And, it’s very expensive to relocate (even if the movers are paid for).  There were a ton of start-up expenses we didn’t plan for.  So we ended up frustrated and disappointed that we couldn’t travel, when it was pretty unrealistic that we thought we were going to.  The first year is for getting established.  The second year is GREAT for travel — we had a ton of vacation time saved up from not travelling the first year, so the second year was a chance to see so many things and take a lot of time off.  It was great, but our original plan was just not practical.

The only exception to the “don’t plan to travel the first year” thing is that I wish we HAD gone home to visit the first year.  We didn’t, because we thought, “We won’t be there that long, we don’t need to come rushing home right away, we should use our vacation time to see Austria.”  And, there is logic to all of that.  But, the truth is that being away from home is really, really hard.  Not getting to see everyone for a year or more makes it much more difficult than it needs to be.  I wish we’d gone home for Thanksgiving or for part of Christmastime during that first year.  I honestly wonder if we’d be struggling with missing home so badly right now if we’d been home more often.  (As it is we’ve been home twice in 2+ years, but the two times were last spring and summer, so it feels almost like we only went home once.)

So, if I had it to do all over again, that’s what I’d change.  And, a few of those definitely apply for our repatriation next year, so they’re worth me keeping in mind.  (For anyone contemplating an international move like this one, I hope you can put our hard-won lessons and words of relative wisdom to good use.)

Austrian anniversary

So, today is the day — we’ve been here two years.  This second anniversary of our arrival here feels like an accomplishment — partly just because we’ve been here two years and have not only survived, but flourished, but also because it was originally our intention to only be here for two years.  So, even though we’ve revised that and updated our plans, some part of my brain is still stuck on the idea of, “Ok, it’s been two years!  You’re done!  Time to go home!”

It’s been two years since we climbed off of the plane, overwhelmed and weary.  Very overwhelmed.  Nothing says “What did I just do?!?” like arriving in an airport with two small kids, seven suitcases and a dog, being unable to read any signs or remember why you thought this was a good idea in the first place.

I remember collecting our suitcases, piling them up on a luggage cart, and looking around to figure out where we were supposed to pick up Bailey.  We didn’t know whether to expect him in a special luggage area, or whether there was a certain counter to go to.  Instead, we found him in his crate, set aside, kind of near the baggage claim area.  We expected to have to show some paperwork or something to collect him.  Nope.  We picked him up and moved on.

Our next priority was Customs, where we also prepared to present paperwork and have our things inspected.  But no, this is Austria.  No paperwork, no inspection, no stopping at all.

We dragged ourselves outside to wait for Dan’s friend, Greg, who had so kindly agreed to meet us at the airport.  I got Bailey out of his crate and took him for a quick (and much-needed) walk.  It was cold, and raining.  I remember thinking again (for the second of at least a dozen times that day) that I was not at all sure this had been a wise decision.

We waited for Greg, and when he arrived, he was so nice and helpful.  We packed his car full of all of our things, and drove through Vienna until we found our temporary apartment.  Once we figured out which one it was, I remember being freaked out about everything — whether the car was going to be towed, whether our landlord could be trusted to help is carry our things, and whether we were going to be expected to pay for our stay right away (which would have been troublesome because we had no Euros).

I had nothing to worry about, really, I was just freaking out and unaccustomed to being so far out of my element.  Our landlord was helpful and nice, we got everything unloaded easily, and the kids were happy to be “home”.  Greg very kindly made a trip to the grocery store to buy a few things we’d need to get through that first morning.  When he left us his grocery bag so we’d have something to shop with, I almost cried, both because it was nice of him and because it represented, in my mind, how many things I didn’t know about Vienna (I mean, who knew you HAD to bring your own grocery bags?!?).

262But we got settled in.  We took a collective nap.  We watched tv.  We got comfortable.  We relaxed.  I remember being the only one awake, later that evening, while everyone else was napping.  I remember looking around our apartment.  We were all safe, secure and happy.  I didn’t know anything, really, about Vienna, or about what would happen next, but everything was peaceful.  I still wasn’t sure we had made the right decision, but I was sure, in that moment, that we were all ok.  It was a beginning.


And now, here we are.  Two years later, with another year ahead of us.  I still get that feeling — the feeling that I’m not sure if we’ve made the right decision, but that, in the moment, we’re all ok.  That first day was hard, and there have been other hard days since. There have been days when I’ve wished I could snap my fingers and just be home.  But really, this has been wonderful.  Fundamentally, I’m incredibly glad that we’re here and that we’re having this adventure.  And I’m learning to be ok with being out of my element, with not understanding what’s going on, with trusting people.  I’m learning to expect good things to happen.  And I’m learning that, as long as we’re all safe, secure and happy, everything is really ok.

Two years ago

On April 5, two years ago, we sold our car, repacked the contents of our seven suitcases (which had been strewn about my mother’s house in the week or so we’d been living there), put Bailey in his crate, put the car seats into my mom’s car, packed every vehicle my family owned full of luggage and people and drove to the airport.  Benjamin was 2 1/2, Liam was barely 6 months old.  It was the first day of this incredible adventure.

My family took us to the airport to say goodbye.  It was harder, I think, for them than for us.  We were all saying goodbye, but we were so focused on the massive journey we had ahead of us that we couldn’t really process it.

DullesI remember waiting for a long time at the ticket counter while our paperwork (Bailey’s in particular) was processed.  Once checked in, we dropped Bailey off for his journey and wrestled ourselves through security.  We were desperate to find milk before boarding.  Benjamin was used to having some at bedtime, and we wanted to replicate whatever normalcy we could in the midst of the most stunning chaos we’d ever experienced as a family.  We got some, at Starbucks, moments before boarding, and I spilled half of it as soon as I got on the plane.  We were the last people to get on, and the plane was already backing away from the gate while I mopped up the spilled milk.

245The guy who had been assigned to sit beside us was gone so fast that I barely got a look at him, but we were then able to use his seat as a bed for Liam throughout the flight.  And he slept, amazingly, most of the way.  By contrast, B slept almost not at all.  Dan and I stayed up with him, watching movies and playing trucks.  (We had no iPhones or iPad — I don’t really know how we managed without those fallback forms of entertainment, but we did.)

250Liam is now the age Benjamin was then.  If I step back, and think about that day, I really can’t believe we did it.  Really, what were we thinking?  How was I possibly possessed by the combination of bravery and insanity that made it possible?!?

But we did.  We got on that plane, two years ago, and began this astonishing adventure.  And now, here we are, older, more worldly, more confident.  This experience has changed us.  We have grown, individually and together.  We will always, now, have had this shared experience, this astounding chapter in our family history, that we have written together.  I can no longer fathom how we managed to take that first step, two years ago, and I could not have predicted then who we would become.  The past two years have sometimes felt like an insurmountable challenge, but it has also continued to be an outrageously wonderful opportunity.  It’s still an adventure, and it’s not over yet.

Six months, part two

Yesterday, I wrote about having been here for six months, and the homesickness I’m feeling.  It’s hard to be away from everyone, to be sure.

But, at the same time, it’s a major accomplishment.  Six months ago today, we arrived in Vienna.  We had rented a place for 10 days, but had no way to pay for it.  We had no Euros, spoke no German and had no phones that would work here.  I don’t think I will ever forget the moment we wheeled ourselves, and our stuff, out of the airport and stood on the curb, waiting for Dan’s friend to come and pick us up.  It was cold, it was gray.  We had ourselves, one stroller, 5 suitcases, 3 backpacks, two kids and a dog.


And here we are.  We now have a beautiful place, in a wonderful part of the city.  We go grocery shopping, we ride the train, we go to the bank.  Benjamin goes to school.  We all understand a little German, and we’re learning to speak some, too.  We’re learning a lot about the culture and customs of Vienna.  We’re finding our way, and our place, here in Vienna.  We have a really pleasant life here.  We’re doing great.

We will probably be here for two years.  That means one quarter of our time here has passed.  That really motivates me to get out more, to do more, to get us in gear and travel more.  No matter how strongly we still often feel like we’ve just arrived (and in many ways, that’s true) marking this milestone reminds me that before I know it, we’ll be packing up and planning to move home.  We still have so much to do and see here, and I don’t want to leave Vienna with any regrets.

Living abroad gives you new perspective on the way things can be done, and it gives you true appreciation for great things that you’ve always taken for granted.  Whatever the future holds, however long (or short) we stay here, we have been here long enough to be changed by this experience.  We are all citizens of the world in a way that we weren’t very recently.

Selling the house

Our house was sold yesterday.  I’d say, “We sold our house yesterday”, but the truth is, my mom handled all of it — preparing it for sale, dealing with the details of selling it and getting it finally done.  She’s the best mom (and realtor) ever.  She saw us through 4 contract negotiations, and just when we were about to give up and rent it, we finally found a serious buyer . . . and one who was in a hurry, which was an extra bonus.

It’s strange.  For the first time in 17 years, nothing is tying me to Virginia.  My family is in Maryland, our “official” US address right now is in Florida, with Dan’s parents.  I am, truly, no longer a resident of Virginia.  It makes me a little sad, because Virginia is home to some of my most favorite places on Earth, and has been my home for a long time.

It’s further strange, because I’m no longer a property owner.  I don’t own a home or a car.  The bulk of my “stuff” (in both a physical and financial sense) has been removed from my life.  I’m back to being part of the proletariat, after years amongst the bourgeoisie.

It’s strange, too, because what has been our home for so long now belongs to someone else.  We bought this condo nearly 10 years ago.  It was the first home either Dan or I owned, and the first home we set up together (the apartment we lived in before that was the apartment Dan chose and set up after finishing with college in 1997 — I joined him there, but it wasn’t ever really “our” place).  It’s the home where we built our family.  It’s where we brought our babies home from the hospital, where Benjamin took is first steps and had his first birthday party.  Liam won’t even remember this house, but Benjamin might, a little.

The fact that it itsn’t ours anymore is a little sad, but not as much as I expected.  It had really stopped serving our purposes.  Although it was huge, the space wasn’t set up particularly well for a family of 4.  The location was fantastic — convenient and beautiful — but that made it so expensive that it put a tremendous burden on our single income (when we first bought it, both Dan & I were working as software engineers, without kids, and money wasn’t much of a concern).

The truth is, we are now more flexible — we can settle anywhere that serves our purposes.  We can focus on a house that serves our needs when we come home, instead of being stuck in a house that we chose back when we had two incomes and no kids (which is a little like wearing shoes that don’t quite fit anymore, just because they’re cute).  Adding the fact that our immediate financial picture just became much better, and there’s very little downside.  I will miss our old home, for sentimental reasons . . . and because Benjamin still tells me from time to time (as he did today) that, “I miss our old house”.  Knowing he won’t be going back there makes me a little sad, but I’m excited to be moving forward, and with less baggage to weigh us down.

Just Another Saturday

Today was our first “normal” Saturday since we’ve been here in Vienna.  We weren’t house hunting, we didn’t have to move.  We actually spent the day, as we did back in Virginia, doing chores and getting the house in order for the week.  We went grocery shopping, did a fair bit of organizing around the house (Liam’s room and the kitchen are beginning to look a little put together . . . the rest of the house is still a disaster) the boys each took a nap and we Skyped some of our family back home.  Then, we went for a quick walk and got dinner out.

It was very much a Saturday as we would have spent it back in Virginia.  As such, we’re all really tired now — it was a busy day.  It’s comforting to be back in our routine.  It’s also odd to be in our normal routine in this place which doesn’t yet feel like home and which is part ordeal and part vacation.  This little bit of normalcy today has taken the edge off of the ordeal and helped me to look forward to getting back to my “vacation” tomorrow.  (Once our house is mostly put away, we intend to spend less of our Saturdays cleaning and more of them exploring, but getting ourselves put together has a certain urgency right now.)  I think days like this are going to go a long way towards getting us to feel like this is our home;  it will be a great moment when I don’t get my outfit for the day out of a suitcase.

Help at Home

We received our air shipment today.  We have no idea why it took so long, but now we can close the “waiting for our stuff” chapter of this adventure and move on to all the other (and more exciting) parts.

While we’ve been here, getting relatively settled, and waiting for our stuff, we’ve had a ton of support back at home with the mountainous pile of tasks that were left undone after our departure.  My mom has been doing a tremendous amount of work for us: preparing our house for sale and dealing with getting my car inspected so it can be sold.  My dad and my brothers spent part of this week painting our old apartment.  And that is all on top of the fact that we literally would not have made it to our plane if it had not been for the help of my collective family.

I am so grateful for their help and support.  (Especially considering that, on the whole, I think they’d rather we hadn’t gone at all.)  It is nice to have my stuff, but I’m truly fortunate to have the support of such wonderful, loving people.

To my family:  I love and miss you all so much.  Thank you for all of your help.  We feel very loved.  I can’t wait to see you and show you Vienna!

By Sea


This is the truck, delivering our stuff

We have stuff!  (Oh boy, do we ever!)  Our sea shipment, which contained most of our belongings, arrived today.  We STILL don’t have our air shipment.  Although that doesn’t comprise much of our stuff by volume, it is specifically the things we felt like we’d need the most urgently upon our arrival.  We don’t even yet have any idea when we will get it).But for today, that doesn’t matter.  We have clothes.  We have furniture.  We have toys and cribs and changing tables for the boys.The movers unpacked most things, and assembled it all, but there’s still a lot of organizing to do.  Having lived for over a month without this stuff, I have two principal thoughts:  first, that I have never been so grateful to unpack and organize a house full of boxes, and second, that I own WAY too many things.074


026We’re here.  We’ve moved in to our new place.  Benjamin got his first taxi ride today (he loved it) and Bailey got his first train ride (he didn’t).  We get the lion’s share of our stuff on Monday, as well as an internet connection.  Now we start setting up our home — it seems like a lot of work for just a year, so I’m really hoping we like this enough to stay for two.

I’ve gotten so used to being in the process of moving that I’m having to constantly remind myself that we’re going to be here for a while.  I was unpacking today and kept thinking, “I don’t need that, I’ll just leave it packed . . . oh right, we LIVE here now.”  Everything will get unpacked here eventually.

For today, we’re “camping” here, but it’s just temporary.  We’re home!038

17,000 and 4

I just found out that the first district of Vienna (where we’ll be living) is, by population, the smallest in all of Vienna:  the population is just over 17,000.  It’s the geographic and symbolic center of the city, and for historical purposes, the first district IS Vienna — the other districts, which had been “the outskirts” weren’t added to the city until 1850 (or later, in some cases).  Tomorrow, we will add 4 (plus Bailey) to the relatively small population of the first district of Vienna:  we move into our apartment.

We still don’t have any of our stuff (other than what we carried over in our suitcases) but Dan’s friends and coworkers have done an amazing job outfitting our new place so that we are almost certain to be more comfortable there than we have been here.  (There were a few uncertain moments earlier today when we thought we might not have the power on there, but it turns out we do.)  We have a place for everyone to sleep (including a spare air mattress, just in case), we have sheets and blankets, we have plates, utensils and cups, we have a promise of towels (although we still need to pick those up).  And, we have a fair bit of furniture that the apartment came with, including a dining room table and chairs as well as some seating for the living room.  We’ll be living in high style!

And the best news of all:  we should be getting our sea shipment on Monday.  Our sea shipment, not our air shipment.  (Boy, I’m sure glad we packed all that stuff we’d need for the first month into that air shipment!)  The sense of relief that it brings to know that we will have so much of our stuff so soon is massive.  Come Monday, we will have clothes, furniture, toys . . . nearly everything.  Of course, then begins the process of REALLY setting up our home — but if there is one thing that I’ve gotten from the experience of this past month, I think it will be a real sense of gratitude for exchanging this new task for the one I’ve been facing.