Sunday, June 17, 2018

Top 10 Ways How Not to Lose Your Sh*# Living Abroad!

Congratulations, you've won a one-way ticket to a new life in a new country!
When moving to a new place, there is always the excitement of what's to come. You may be a planner and do tons of research about the town and the area before you move. You join Facebook groups and ask questions of other expats, so you are fully prepared for your new situation. You find out about schools for your kids or social groups for you. You'd like your life to be framed out before you even set foot in the airplane and have it waiting for you when you land. In a way, you would like to have a new life with all the comforts of home, but it isn't home...at least, not yet.

On the other hand, you may be more spontaneous and decide to leave it all behind and buy everything new when you get there. No home, no possessions, no expectations, no problem! You'll figure it out and have fun at the same time. Not expecting much of your new home can leave you always happy with what is to come. Unfortunately for me, I'm the first type of person. With too many plans can lead to too many expectations. That is dangerous when moving abroad.

What not to do when moving abroad!
Some days, I feel that I would be the poster child for what NOT to do when living in another country. It isn't anything to brag about, but I have probably mastered the art of sucking at being an expat. You know the saying of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks? At 38 years old, I was nearing the "old dog" phase of my life. Some people hit it much later in life, but I guess I was an early bloomer. After two years of living abroad, I lost sight of what I was hoping to gain in my new home. Life just got too hard. The government kept changing the rules for foreigners and putting their elbows in your side, making it difficult for you to feel secure. Learning the ropes was ever so confusing, and the loss began to feel much more than the gain. I needed a severe attitude adjustment for everyone's sanity. Luckily, my misfortune could be the benefit to all those wanting to know the low down dirty truth about living abroad.

There have been times; however, when I have done a good job of networking and making new opportunities. The trick is to stay with that mindset instead of losing one's sh*# over the small stuff.

Just how can a person move abroad and not lose her sh*#? Here are the steps!!
First of all, I say "her" because I can only base this off my experience. Of course, all experiences are subjective, since all women are different and all people are different, but if you aren't as emotional as I am, I envy you. I'd love a daily dose of whatever you're on.

Step One: Get right with the government.
I can't tell you how many stories I have heard of people, who have moved to another country without fully reading what it is that they need to do with the government first, and then, those people were sent back to their country of origin for not following the rules. If you only fully plan one thing, be sure to follow the plans of the government. I went online and found a page on the government website that told me all I needed to know. Luckily, I also had friends who had gone through the experience the year before, who were willing to give us some tips. You need to still check online, though. Governments change their rules and expectations for foreigners all the time (some countries more than others), and it will only benefit you to double-check. Though I said you will only have to plan this one thing, the list on the government site will actually lead you to plan other things. If you are a planner, this will give you a tremendous amount of joy, but if not, it will be like your mom telling you to clean up your room. Listen to your mother!

Step Two: Finding a place to hang your hat.
The government of my new country told me that I needed to have a specific-sized residence before it would accept my application. Make sure you fulfill this requirement, but don't feel that you have to find your "home sweet home" right away. We had only been to the town we were moving to once, which was when my husband applied to his job. We knew no one and didn't know the area. Were there slums? Would there be benefits to moving to the country? The thought of finding a place was a bit overwhelming, especially since we had to pack up our 4 bedroom home in the US and move over all that crap. Would we find a place for it all? The best solution is to find an apartment that would fit your government requirements and your family...for now. We squeezed in to the minimal amount of space required by the government, and it was miserable. In hindsight though, I was glad we did it, because it allowed us time to get to know the town and find a place that was better for us. We only lived there for 6 months, but it was more than enough time. We found a barn in a neighboring small village to house the stuff that wouldn't fit in the apartment and learned to live on less for a while. It was much easier in the end to leave an apartment for a house than it would've been to leave one house for another, and since we would have had to buy the house without actually looking at it first in person, renting was the best option for us. You may be moving to a bigger city, so know that there are normally many options for apartments. Getting one that is "good enough for now" will save you the headache of trying to find the perfect place from your computer in your home country. Over stressing about where to live in the beginning is a sure fire way to lose your sh*#, so you need to ask yourself, "who needs that kind of stress?" Not you!

Step Three: Learning the language.
Now I put this on here because it is the optimistic thing to say. Let's face it. We are adults moving to another country. We have lots of other things on our minds other than learning the language. Many of us haven't had a language class in a billion years, and the thought of going back to school, even a language school, might be right up there with root canal. Maybe you are younger and full of spunk and think, "I'm ready to take on the world", or perhaps you already know the language of your new country. To you, I take off my hat! You are my hero. Unfortunately though, there are more of us who don't fit into this category than do.

How can a person stay sane and not lose their sh*#? That's a tough one. I happen to love languages...at least I did before I moved. Haha! I took one in high school and three in college. One I went on to use, but the others are sitting back in the forgotten part of my brain next to the elements of the periodic table and the names of the presidents. It doesn't help that some languages are harder than others to learn. The grammar! The spelling! Don't get me started on the pronunciation rules! My best advice to you is to try! There are many people living in their new country without the means of communicating with the locals, or perhaps they have the luxury of communicating in their mother tongue. (Shout out to all those English speakers hoping and praying that they can use the foreigner card pretty much everywhere.) I happen to think that they only way you will really fit into your new homeland is to communicate with the people in your community. If you have kids, you'll want to talk with teachers and other parents, so put forth some effort.

This is what anyone would tell you, but now I will tell you how not to go crazy. Easy does it! That's it really. Easy does it!! If you put pressure on yourself to finish language school or be fluent by a certain amount of months or years, you will lose your sh*#. As I mentioned before, you have other things to keep your mind busy. No one is judging you. If you meet other expats who seem to be judging your progress and brag about the fact that they learned practically overnight, you don't want to be friends with them. Haha! I'm serious. Be friends with the people who are trying. They will keep you motivated and are probably much more fun! Don't stress yourself with a timeline. You'll get it eventually, and when you do, it won't be perfect. The trick is to know you are doing your best and now lose your sh*#. Seriously. It is all a mental game. Your best is good enough and will be good enough, so chill the fu*# out!

Step Four: Making Friends
Now, here is another daily dose of reality coming your way. Adults are just not as good at making friends as children are. For children, they hate each other one minute, but make up the next. Their short attention spans are their saving graces. If only we could bottle that and put it in our morning cup of Joe, I wouldn't need to make this one of the steps. It would be instinct, but let's face it; adults have issues. We judge and get hormonal and hold grudges and judge some more. We are often set in our ways and can be closed off at times to new things. This isn't who we are all the time, but there are days when we just downright suck. Add a new country and the challenges that come with that in the mix, and you might find that the bad days start to outweigh the good. Perhaps, this is just me talking, but the beginning of living abroad can really get a person down. You want to be strong for your family and not let them think you are a Debby Downer all the time. That is why it is so important to have friends to vent your frustrations to and help you laugh off whatever has gotten you down. Just how is it that we go about making friends? I think you could live in your new country for years and still ask yourself this question, especially if you live in the type of country where they are content with their own friends, family and culture, not really having the desire to get to know someone who doesn't exist already in one of their circles.

Everyone would tell you to make friends with the locals, but this can be depressing. You don't know what they are saying, and they don't understand your sense of humor. It just feels like a bad, blind date. You try really hard, but you just feel a bit desperate for them to accept you. There will be a few who will make you feel that you've won, but more often than not, you'll come back empty-handed. This is when you will turn to Facebook to find others like you. You'll take a break from "fitting in" enough to make native friends, and you will band together with the other misfits. This will allow you to find a home-away-from-home. You will find others who know your story, because it is their story, and they will be like family to you. Facebook groups are kind of like the "playground" for the expats, and you might find that there will be so many people to "play" with. Unfortunately, it is hard to find close friends like the ones we have had since we were children. I don't know why this is, but don't lose your sh*#. I'm not saying to lower your expectations completely, but just be more open-minded. Your closest confidants may be the ones you least expected to meet, and you may get lucky and find a new best friend! :)

This family of misfits that you've found/created will be your rock when you try to make friends with the natives again and again. When you try to speak the language or try to immerse yourself in the culture and fail. Don't give up when this happens, and be sure to lean on those expats you've grown fond of. One day, you will be likely to return the favor. Now after reading this, you might think, "dang! Living abroad sounds lonely and pretty much sucks!" Some days, you might be right, but after time, this will change. This leads me to the next step. Have fun!

Step Five: Have fun!
For crying out loud, you live in another country!! How cool is that? Yeah, I know that things are different, but isn't that why you chose to move from wherever you were living before? You wanted something new, right? Every new place is packed with new experiences and new challenges, but try to focus on the fun stuff. Do some research on places to visit in your area and see just what makes this new place tick. What do the locals do for fun? What is a must-do? Our local library is a great place to find flyers for all the cultural areas like viking villages, zoos and museums. Fun should be stress-free, so you don't need tips on how to stay cool and keep your sh*# from me. If it sounds boring, it probably is, (hahaha!), so pick what sounds fun! One of the reasons I started to blog in the first place to record my experiences. I seem to find more and more places that I want to record in my blog, but there isn't always the time. It is fun to think that we do more than I have time to write about.

Make a plan to do something fun every weekend! It might not be an all day thing, but it should be fun! One weekend, we decided to go to the beach one day, and the next weekend, we rented a canoe and went down the local river. Do whatever floats your boat! Pun intended! This will make living abroad the best decision you ever made. Find those different experiences that stand out from the everyday, and give them your all! No expectations, no pressure. Just a day with fun in mind!! If you are living alone in your new country, there will be lots of places that you can explore by yourself, but you might also want to consider joining a group of people who share the same interests. This leads me to step six.

Step Six: Join a group!
Living in Denmark has taught me that community is very important. A small country such as this is very proud of who it is, and it values keeping their customs and traditions. One of those customs would be joining one of its many groups. Sure, there are like-minded groups in every country. I think of the country club where my grandfather played golf or the moms' running group I belonged to in the US. The difference with my new country is that they like to be together and are very accepting of having the genders mix. You don't see many "all men" or "all women" groups, which can be good or bad depending on how you see it. I like hanging with the girls when I am away from my family, but I have to say that I have talked with many nice old grandpas in my new running group. Yes, you read that correctly. The level of activity in senior citizens in Denmark is insane. I feel that I am the most out of shape and the slowest runner in the world when I get passed by a man I would think could be at least my dad's age if not older. It is humbling to say the least. This was the first thing I did when I moved to my new town. I know that I make it step six, but I probably did things out of order. I wouldn't say that I really knew what I was doing in the beginning, and I'm still trying to figure out what to do most days. However, joining a group, to me, was very worth it. Not only did I get to practice my language skills (Skills is a term I use lightly.), but I also met people I could say hello to when I went to the grocery. This helped me feel more a part of my new town, and I think it also helped the locals see that I wanted to fit in with them. At least, I was trying. Being a member of a local group also gives the impression that you are here to stay, and in my opinion, you might need to convince yourself of that message more than you need to prove anything to anyone. Moving abroad is a big step that many people might not be able to get their heads around. Committing to doing normal things with locals will really help the transition and of course...help you not to lose your sh*#! :)

Step Seven: Be Patriotic
When living abroad, you might find that there are many new customs and traditions from what you are used to. Embrace them! Get a flag and find reasons to fly it. It is a holiday...fly the flag. It is my wedding anniversary...fly the flag. It's my birthday...fly the flag and then put as many flags as you can find in front of your house. I'm completely serious about this last one! Make your neighbors completely sure in which country they are living. Of course, you might want to make sure you don't fly the flag on a random day that might actually be a bad day for your country...like the day the Nazis invaded or something. Everyone in your town will know that this is the worst day in the world, so make sure you know when that is too. You might want to converse with a local about the procedures of when, how and for how long to fly the flag, but I'd say you can't go wrong with a flag!

Step Eight: When in Rome...
Steps seven and eight are a lot alike, because they have to do with following the local customs and traditions, but step eight is more about the culture. Sometimes, you'll notice that your new country will celebrate different holidays or take part in annual traditions that are not what you are used to. I suggest that you get used to them, because they are your new traditions now.

Every summer, the good people of Denmark will make a large pile of sticks on which, they will place a craft version of a witch. Then, they will set the whole thing on fire to burn the witch and "send her to Germany". This is totally messed up! I come from a country that used to "burn witches", and we all thought that was a bad idea. Don't lose your sh*#, and burn the mother-loving witch! Sing along with the locals as they torch the old broad and buy a beer and hot dog from the stand they have set up nearby. My husband, who is a Dane, often says "those crazy Danes"! My advice to you is, "be a crazy Dane!" When they have parties, try their snaps. You'll hate it, but then they can't say anything to you when you show up to the next gathering with your own bottle. Celebrate the holidays the way they do. Attend their festivals and give all your heart to it. If they want to fill candy in a barrel and pretend that it is a black cat they are beating to death, GO WITH IT! There are really good donuts involved with that one!

I'm not saying that you should give up on your own traditions. We still celebrate Father's Day on the same day as in the US. How else will I remember to call my own dad? I NEED to go to church on Easter, and celebrating Thanksgiving is a MUST. This doesn't mean I can't be the jolliest SOB my town has ever seen and sing at the top of my lungs in my mispronounced, broken Danish as they torch the witch. Heck no! I want the best of both worlds, because that is how I make living abroad work for me. Find out what the locals think is a MUST-DO and do it too!

Step Nine: Get over yourself
This step might just be what we all need sometimes. I think that if I would have stayed in the same town my entire life, I would still need this step at some point...probably many points, actually. The fact of the matter is that you are a stranger in a strange land. They don't know you, and you don't know them. Who you thought you were is probably not how they see you. You need to be okay with that! Learning the rules for how to interact with people is a very good thing to do. Watch them and learn! You might be completely offended that no one held the door open for you or gave up their seat on the train. You need to be okay with that! What one country considers manners might be seen as a crazy gesture. You might be shocked when your male doctor doesn't leave the room so that you can put on a gown. You might be even more shocked to find out that there IS NO GOWN!! As I repeat, you need to be okay with that! Queen of Sheeba over here doesn't want to strip in front of her doctor to get her sore knee looked at. They will see you as weird, when deep in side you are MORTIFIED! Perhaps, these are not your experiences, but they have been mine. I have lost my sh*# multiple times. I mean, don't even get me started on the shock of the locker room at the local swimming pool!! These experiences will leave a scar so deep that you feel you have 3rd degree burns of the ego. Again, lets learn from this. Get over yourself!! The doctor is not secretly fantasizing about you in your granny pants! The best thing for you to do before getting into any situation where you might feel remotely uncomfortable (or naked) is to ask other expats what you should expect. Then, tell yourself that you don't care. I have to say that I'm getting used to showering naked with a bunch of strange women when I want to go swimming, but there are also days when I PRAY that the doctor who is in the office is a woman. Take it from me, though, and tell yourself you are okay with it and move on!

Step Ten: Count your blessings
I don't know you, so I don't know what you might consider a blessing. For me, it is my family, church, sweet tea, donuts from my hometown bakery, baseball, REAL Italian pizza, Stouffer's Mac-n-cheese...Just the mere mention of these items puts me in a somewhat euphoric state, and I could seriously go on naming them forever! The only problem is that most of these things don't exist where I live now. In a perfect world, you could take all the things you love about home with you, but for most of us, we either have to learn to live with a slightly altered version of these things or learn to live without them. You might be holding on to your old life like a candle in a wind with many hours online or failed Pinterest attempts, but don't focus so much on what you can't have compared to what you can. You'll drive yourself mad! (...and of course, lose your sh*#!)

This is why I say to count your blessings. You are going to miss home. You are going to feel at a loss sometimes, but you don't have to let that control your life. If you do, you will never be happy living abroad. You'll never be happy anywhere. Dr. Seuss says about life that, "I'm afraid that some times, you'll play lonely games, too. Games you can't win, 'cause you'll play against you." Boy, does that guy get it! You need to be the one to focus on the good, so count your blessings...and lighten the fu*# up!

What makes you happy? Babies? Butterflies? Beer? Something that doesn't start with B? Whatever it is, focus on it!! If you are sitting inside on a beautiful day, focus on what you'll do when you leave, not on the fact that you don't want to be inside. If you are dreading your language exam, focus on how you'll spend all your free time when you pass the class. I don't know. Shouldn't you have guessed by now that I'm not the perfect person to tell people how to get it all right? I just know how not to lose your sh*# because I probably have already lost my sh*# about three times before changing my actions and thoughts. Before when I didn't get what I wanted, I stomped my feet and pouted like a two year old, or at least, that was how I felt. I'm sure if you asked my husband, he'd tell you that that was about right. I've thought all the wrong things and have gotten really low, but I have to say, thinking (or trying to trink) positively about your present state or even having something to look forward to really makes a difference. It is all a mind game. There is a song in the old movie White Christmas that says, "when I'm worried and can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. I fall asleep counting my blessings." It sounds like the corniest thing ever, but I have to say, that it really works. Life is too short to sit and mope about what you are missing. You have the chance to start anew. It can be overwhelming and scary, but it can also be filled with excitement and fun. What are your blessings?

Who's ready for a great living abroad experience!!?
Now that you have read through this list, you are feeling ready to take on the world, and to you I say, "Go get 'em!" More likely, you are now thinking of what NOT to do, since I have seemed to fail at every step on this list before seeing the light. May your light ever be shining on the right path in your new homeland!

Unfortunately, you might be someone who is actually living abroad now and looking for more help, because, let's face it, existing in a new culture can be kind of hard. You might be saying to yourself, "I've done all of these things, but it isn't working for me. What am I doing wrong?" The answer to that is "nothing". Sometimes, things don't work out the first time, or the second or the sixteenth. There are tons of couples who try for years to get pregnant, but nothing happens. Yet, there are many others who are blessed with lots of children. Sometimes, life isn't very fair. When it comes to living abroad, I have experience, but I wouldn't say that I am an expert.

Final Thought
I will leave you with one final thought about living abroad. Consider you living abroad is like trying to work a copy of a key in a keyhole. It isn't the original key, and the moment you put it in the keyhole, you can just tell that something's different. There will be days when it doesn't matter, and the key will work just as if it were the original one. But then, sometimes, you'll try to turn it, and it just won't go. You'll need to give it a good shake and a wiggle to keep it moving. There may be a bit of back and forth motions, but eventually, you'll get it. If you don't at least try to move the key, you'll never get the door open. That can leave you trapped from where you want to go. The trick is to know that it WILL work, so don't give up! You'll get there!

Check out the rest of my blog for other posts of experiences living abroad or places we've been in our new country!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Family-Friendly Copenhagen

Since we have family in Copenhagen, we have been there a few times and will continue to go there often. While we are there, we also try to do a family-fun event or activity in order to kill two birds with one stone. Here are a few places we have been in Copenhagen, in which we would recommend taking kids. This is for those who are interested in visiting there with kids as much as it is for us to remember just where in the world we have been! ;) One day, I will get around to completing blogs about all of these. Until then, here are some pictures to give you a sneak peek! Enjoy!!

Round Tower (Rundetaarn)






Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek






Little Mermaid Statue

Tivoli Gardens


























Amalienborg Palace (Changing of the guards)






Nyhavn (Some from July and some from December)









 


The Forgotten Tree Giants
I have written two separate blog posts about these guys. Check them out here and here! :)

City Hall Square and the Hans Christian Andersen Statue 

Traveling by Water Taxi 


Christiania





Bakken 
  Replica of the town from the popular Danish miniseries, Matador. 
 Tons of rides for kids of all ages.



 





 

 Tycho Brahe Planetarium
 

Taking the Ferry from Aarhus to Zealand (the name of the island where Copenhagen is)





MORE TO COME...