Sylvia, a mom of four from Ireland, was one of my first expatriate friends and an absolutely lovely person. Her middle daughter and my youngest were great buddies during our three-year stay in Germany. Her family spent five years there before repatriating in 2011. Many thanks to Sylvia for sharing some of her expat mom story.

What advice do you wish someone would have given you regarding raising your children abroad?

Learn about the local customs ahead of time, i.e. people don’t work on Sunday, recycling. Use your resources. The school had a buddy system, so that really helped the kids. Make friends with someone who speaks your language and can help you navigate day-to- day life.

What are a few of the challenges you faced?

For the kids I was always so worried about missing family and them not having knowledge they would need. I remember my daughter’s first day school; she couldn’t find her lunch box and was crying but couldn’t say why.

The timing of our move was good except for me- but the timing wouldn’t have mattered. It was difficult for me to move as someone who goes from working to not working. I started obsessing about everything I could control.

I worried about the little things, but I found that once you are in the frame of mind that everything will be different, you do better. Social media was a huge help. Our school started a Facebook page for newcomers to get help, to settle in quicker. You also need to find something you really like and get involved as soon as possible. I cried every night for a long time, but once I put in my head, ‘you can wallow in the self-pity or get on with it’, things became much better.

How did you help your children deal with the loneliness or ‘homesickness’ that often accompanies living overseas?

My oldest did, sporadically and I did my best to make it as much like home as possible. We spent a lot of time together- my kids were young enough that it was an adventure- I made it so that it was an adventure.

We did a lot as a family. We became much closer- first as a survival strategy, but then we all ended up benefitting and think family is the most important thing now. The school cocooned the kids in a good way- it exposed them to so many cultures. As a result, they embraced their ‘Irishness’. They are proud of their heritage, but also want to mix with other nationalities.

How did it change you?

It changed my outlook and perspective. I remember sitting in the commons area at school one day looking around and feeling like I was in a bubble, a world within a world. But the experience broadened my horizons completely. Before our move abroad, my view on life was small and limited. Now that I have been exposed to different cultures and ways of life, I never take anything for granted. I now know to look at other people’s perspective.

Do you think your child has been disadvantaged in any way from living overseas?

My children attended and International Baccalaureate school. It pushed them to become independent, which helped them when they returned to Ireland. They are way ahead of their classmates. They can constructively argue, have the ability to do research, and their technology skills are excellent.

 Tell me about your repatriation.

 It took longer that I thought it would to settle back in. On the positive side, we have family around, but I don’t have the gang of friends that I had. It took about two years to settle in to Germany and then another two to settle back in Ireland.

My oldest daughter settled in really well, and is getting top marks. In Germany, it took her time to make friends. She was deliberate and cautious. Now, she gravitates toward the ‘non-popular’ kids and prefers to help out and bring people in. She likes to make people feel welcome.

My oldest son found it the hardest. All the same kids are still at his school. He made friends with a Polish kid; he is out making friends with the international students. But he has learned not to be so frustrated all the time, to calm down, and accept things as they come.

My middle daughter is thrilled she is not in Germany anymore because she doesn’t have to be with the boys, she is in an all-girls school now.

My youngest settled in quickly. She loves being back home, but misses her friends.

What lessons have you learned in this process?

To be open and ready to accept new things, anything. To be open minded- you have to give everybody a chance, accept people for what they are, and have a smile on your face.

Would you do anything differently?

I wouldn’t do anything differently, I just wish it didn’t take so long for me to adjust. You have to be a strong woman to be an expat, you are left to fend for yourself. You learn a lot about yourself- we are driven and want what’s best for our kids.