So my family and I got back from two years living abroad! That’s two whole years with my husband… not deploying…not off for weeks at a time training… and not working 14 hour days. He was chosen as part of the military-wide Olmsted Program. He began his application back in 2015, went through the application process (wrote essays and took the GRE and what not), was chosen in Feb of 2017, and we arrived in Singapore in January of 2019! It was a long but worthwhile process!
If you’re reading this and your spouse just got chosen to be part of this program… CONGRATULATIONS! Let me begin by being the 78th least important person to tell you WELCOME TO THE CRAZY OLMSTED FAMILY!
Our little jet lagged family exploring our new home!
I have an entire section dedicated to our time in The Olmsted Scholar Program, you can click around here.
As our time comes to an end, here are some things I learned a long the way while going through this program with my family:
1. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, but the worst will probably happen and then some. It’s all part of the experience and if you’re a control freak (like I am!) you’re going to have to let go of some of that and just let it be. For example, we moved to the DC area for Jay to learn Vietnamese! Halfway through, his teacher got another contract and he was assigned someone else. THEN, we found out we couldn’t move to Vietnam anymore but he still had to learn Vietnamese. THEN, we found out we were moving to Singapore. THEN, we found out we couldn’t move to Singapore yet because our paperwork wasn’t done. THEN we were ahhh finally living that Olmsted life. Oh, but then a global pandemic happened. Then, I got pregnant. HA! So you can plan all you want, but just know it’s all going to go to crap and you need to be okay with that. If you’re not going to be okay with that, don't worry -- it’s all part of the experience!
2. It’s going to suck. But like…. different kind of suck. Like on the other side of the world, with a language barrier, and no support system suck. If you’ve ever moved before, you know how much that sucks. But navigating through a move, with some broken stuff, and figuring out bank accounts… doctors… hair salons… restaurants… utilities… transportation… cellphone service… where to grocery shop…. where to send your kids to school or daycare… where to live… is just a lot and at times very lonely. The best part is we (Olmsted peeps) are all going through it and you’re not alone (even though it seems like you’re the only one going through it). The best part is getting through it all and looking back on it and being like “wow, I can’t believe we did that.”
3. Getting used to your spouse being home will be weird. You’re going to be antsy. Like, “shouldn’t you be somewhere?” type of thing. Don’t get me wrong AT ALL, it’s great! It’s nice actually HAVING your partner home who you get to hang out with, help around the house, and experience life with. It’s going to be nice to travel with them and go out to eat with them. But after a few months of it, you’re going to be like “hmm… shouldn’t you be going somewhere?” and it will be weird. Not bad. Just weird!
4. It’s going to be LITERALLY the best years of YOUR LIFE. You’re going to experience all this stuff that you NEVER would’ve experienced if your partner wasn’t in this program. You’re going to see all the things, eat all the things, smell all the things, and do all the things! You’re probably going to be broke. You’re probably going to be stressed out. You’re probably going to second guess why the heck you applied for this — but OMG its SO WORTH IT. And it’s amazing. And it’s life changing. And it’s priceless. *all the heart eyes!!!!* If you have kids -- moving abroad will be ah-mazing for them because they're going to be little sponges and experiencing more in their little lives that some adults ever get to do (diving shipwrecks and feeding elephants!?)
5. People won’t understand that you’re there for. The amount of times I had to explain myself was exhausting. There were times where people thought my partner was deployed? or working at the embassy? They didn’t understand the simple task of “immersing in a culture and getting your masters”. Our local friends and other students were 5000% confused as to what we were doing there! hahaha!
6. Take the time to work on YOURSELF. So now that your spouse is home and around the kids, it frees up a bunch of your time. Do things for yourself that you wouldn’t (or couldn’t!) normally do because of scheduling issues, deployments, kids stuff, guilt, time…. whatever! Just do the thing you want to do. Go to therapy. Pick up a hobby. Travel solo. Have kid dates. Have spouse dates. Hire help. Take class. Go shopping. Start the thing. Stop doing the thing. Just do the thing you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t!
6. Get away from US! The whole point of this program is to fully immerse, right? So like... yeah, the embassy is helpful and so are Facebook Expat Groups and so are Americans at school/place of worship but you won’t really get the full scope of the culture if you’re hanging with Americans! You gain a better understanding of America and our culture from someone else! Our friends had many laughs about red solo cups, how high schoolers look in America vs everywhere else in the world, and parenting in different cultures is so interesting and different -- you might pick up a thing or two!
7. Just do it. Yes, book the flight. Yes, stay in a yurt. Yes, stay in that villa. Yes, go diving. Yes, hike that mountain. Yes, bring your kids. Yes, leave your kids. Yes, eat that thing. Yes, go to that celebration. Yes, dance. Yes, take that class.Yes, wake up early. Yes, stay up late. Just do the thing. You’re not going to get another opportunity like this. You’re not going to regret it I promise. And if you end up regretting it, it’ll be a good story to tell your friends when you get home!
8. The holidays might be sad and that’s okay. The whole point is to observe how other cultures celebrate all holidays. Your normal, big extended family celebrations at someone’s house will be a little smaller and quieter AND THAT’S OKAY. Unless you have some stroke of luck, you’re only going to be living in a foreign country once so try and make the best of it!
9. You’ll have a different outlook on America. Living in America and around Americans your entire life is one thing. But living abroad and being on the outside looking in is totally different! You’ll appreciate some things from American culture you never noticed before (like how we say "Hi" and smile at complete strangers). You’ll wish we started doing things the way your country does things. Then, when you move back… you’ll miss your country SO MUCH.
Oh and last thing…
10. You’re going to be an ALIEN when you move back. DoorDash? Instacart? Shipt? Grocery delivery/Grocery Pick Up?! A CHICK FIL A APP??? WHAAAAAT. We were literally gone for two years and suddenly everything is different! Driving wide American streets will be weird. Smiling at a stranger will be weird. Getting used to all the apps and things will be bizarre. It’ll be okay. You’ll be able to get through it.
moving back to America in the middle of a global pandemic after living in Singapore
The program is only a few years long. But all your experiences and people that you meet will be in your life FOR FOREVER. Again, congratulations and live it up and do all the things! These are the best years!