I don’t really know where I’m going with this post as it is a question I have been turning over in my head since we got back from our trip to the States last week. It may end up a bit more wandering than usual. We had a great trip back, Christmas with the family was wonderful and how can you not love taking the kids to Disneyland. Once we got back home I was totally overwhelmed walking into the apartment and felt that way for a few days. It really had me wondering what do these feelings mean and is it a sign that it’s time to go home?
To back up a little I actually really like it here in Munich and love living in the city. Figuring out the day to day has been relatively easy and I think I’ve fallen into a good routine. There have been no major disruptions, the school has been good, and the kids are happy. So everything is going well. The apartment itself has taken longer to get put together than I anticipated because without any built in storage we have had to be much more creative and I have had to go to Ikea more times than I can count. I really think the difference this time is that I’m tired of it. I’m getting tired of moving. When I sit back and think about it this is our 3rd move in 5 years. Each time they are major moves to different places, with different lifestyles and systems. It has been a whole new way of life to learn and adapt to. That is what I think I’m tired of. Munich has not been any harder than anywhere else I just don’t feel the same energy to view everything as a new adventure, instead it feels like a hassle. That mindset change is a big deal when moving abroad. Walking in the door last Wednesday seeing the space where odd things have accumulated because we haven’t figured out a desk yet or the pictures in frames still just piled in a corner of the living room because they haven’t been hung yet, I just felt like I wanted to turn around and run back ‘home’. Instead I have made another Ikea trip for bedroom lamps and a desk. I figured out where the nearest dump is and just got rid of some of that random stuff. After spending the day cleaning everything from top to bottom I can pretty much say the house is finally done.
But the question still remains. Has this move been a sign that I’m ready to go home? I honestly don’t know at this point. Jamie has made a few comments over the last few months about when we move back. The kids have told me multiple times they wish we lived next door to Grandma and Papa (that may be a bit too close). When I think about moving to Seattle it honestly makes me feel a little sad. Of course it would be amazing to be close to family but at the same time the adventure is over once we go home. It is exciting to feel like we are on this big adventure and going home feels like the adventure will have ended. But over the last week I have really been turning it over in my head and try to make myself more comfortable with the idea of moving back. But then today I had an experience that has reminded me that home doesn’t have to be Seattle. The options don’t have to be moving every 2 years or living in Duvall. There is also a lot more to consider than how tired I am of unpacking.
So this is where things kind of make an odd turn but in my mind it all ties in with where you live and what kind of society you want to live in. Patrick is in year 11 this year so there has been a lot of university talk in our house. Jamie ordered a giant book on the 380 top US universities and we have had many discussions about what he thinks he wants to do and where he might want to go. The school is also really good at having a series of universities both from Europe and States come in and give presentations to the students. While we were in California there was a lot of talk about USC, UCLA, UCSD, etc. We are still paying our own student loans and I think Jamie and I both feel strongly that we would love to see Patrick with as little student loan debt as possible. The other night we had the conversation that we will help with the absolute most we can but if he chooses a university that is $60,000 per year he will have to take out a student loan. It just makes me sick that 17 years olds are making decisions that result in them carrying forward loans that many times are the equivalent of a small mortgage. One of the advantages of him staying in Europe would be the lower cost of education here.
Today we attended a presentation from a university in Amsterdam. It sounds wonderful, it is ranked in the top 100 universities in the world, they have a broad range of English language bachelors programs, and they actively recruit international students. When they got to the slide of their presentation covering tuition I just about applied myself. For EU citizens (which we are not) tuition is only €1900 per year, for non EU citizens you are looking at about €9000 per year. So that alone is amazing. Then I asked what their acceptance rate was and the guy looked at me puzzled and said that if you have the qualifications you are automatically accepted. I didn’t understand so I waited around to get more clarification. Coming from a US background where you have to obsess about college applications for year I didn’t understand how you can just automatically get in. He explained that in the Dutch system students graduate high school with different types of degrees based on their academic achievement and if they have the academic qualifications they are guaranteed a place a Dutch university. Now I have done no research on this so I’m sure there are nuances I’m missing, but he went on to explain that for international students if their academic performance is the equivalent of the Dutch standards then they also automatically receive a place. I was still puzzled. What about over subscription to the programs? He said that wasn’t an issue there were enough university places in the Netherlands for all the students.
This floored me. It should not be shocking to think that a society places value on affordable and accessible higher education but it reminded me of the other part of settling down that at some point we have to really think about. There are so many things I really do love about the States, closet space and movie theatre popcorn being two of them, but there are some pretty fundamental things I think we are wrong on right now. I’ve already given my opinion on women’s rights and gun control so I won’t harp on them again. But things like truly affordable healthcare and access to higher education that doesn’t require a teenager to sign up for debt he will carry for 20 years rank right up there for reasons to continue life as an expat.
So back to my original question. How do you know it is time to go home? I would love to hear from other expats on their experience, but right now I think the questions should be do we slow down the moves or settle in one location? Then the question is what location is right for us and what type of society do we want to raise the kids in? I don’t know the answer to that and distance from family adds an emotional element to the equation so it is not as easy as just weighing the pros and cons. Watching the State of the Union this week I was encouraged to see many of the same questions raised so we will see what the next few years bring.