Living abroad has its perks and challenges. Experiencing a different culture can open your mind to the diversity of the world. It is an opportunity to travel to many amazing places and to meet diverse groups of people. However, moving your family to a different part of the world is not easy at all. I like to connect with fellow expat moms in order to learn strategies in coping with the challenges of adapting to a different culture.
This week’s Expat Mom is Denisha Mathews, the creator of Love Joy Blessings. She blogs about lifestyle, travel, and motherhood. Her family moved from the United States to the Czech Republic.
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1. Tell us about yourself and your family.
I am a wife to an amazing husband of 7 years, a proud mommy of 3 little girls 4 and under (yep, I had them all 18 months apart), and a woman inspired to live my best life and help other women do the same! I love autumn, warm chocolate chip cookies, crafting, reading/journaling, and new adventures!
2. What is it like to live abroad as an expat family?
Our experience has been absolutely incredible! We are very close to our families who are all back in the United States, so even with the seven-hour time difference, we video chat once or twice a day. Living abroad as an expat family is rewarding in so many ways. We get to experience new cultures, a different way of life, and we’ve visited nearly 10 countries in the six months that we’ve been living here. Something magical happens when the locals realize you’re not just passing through. Their attitudes become more accepting, and they even seem excited to see us when we frequent our neighborhood grocery store. Every day is an adventure, and I treat them as such. It’s almost like being on a long-term vacation, a tourist in your own city. The excitement still hasn’t worn off. We’re settled in, the girls are taking ballet, I’m continuing to make new friends, and explore this beautiful city.
3. What do you like about the Czech Republic?
I love the beauty of the Czech Republic. Every time we walk around downtown, it feels like we’re strolling through the pages of a gorgeous history book. The countryside we see each time we head out on a road trip is even more breathtaking.
I love that even though some Czechs take a while to warm up to you, once they do, they make you feel like you belong. As a mommy of 3 toddlers, I also appreciate their willingness to help moms getting on and off public transit, even offering to give up their seats. I like the fact that I live in a quiet residential neighborhood, but the action is only a short tram ride away. Did I mention that this country is super kid-friendly?! There is so much going on for the little ones. Beautiful parks, museums, and cafes with dedicated play areas. All of this is right up our alley! I could go on and on about the things I love about this country, but I’ll stop there.
4. How is the Czech Republic different from the U.S.?
The Czech Republic is different in that it is a smaller country, so public transit is a way of life. Strollers are almost as valuable as cars, and taking transit is usually preferable to driving because there’s way less stress to find parking and then walk to where you’re going. The culture of the people here is a bit more laid back and focused on spending time with each other. In the United States, people tend to work longer hours, take on more obligations, and we rush our lives away. I’m learning to enjoy the simplicity of just being. Not keeping a jam-packed calendar feels good!
5. What challenges have you faced in your life abroad and how did you handle them?
The language barrier was a bigger challenge than I anticipated in the beginning. During my first week here I went grocery shopping and realized none of the labels were in English, and none of the workers (that day) spoke my language. I was overwhelmed with the challenge of figuring out the difference between 6 different types of flour, and whether Tam or Sem meant push or pull. (The doors open and close the opposite way here by the way) I’ve been yelled at by bus drivers and store clerks for not understanding how to do something correctly, but I’ve also experienced some really gracious people who helped me out when they saw I was struggling.
The key to handling challenges abroad, or anywhere for that matter, is to not take things personally, and maintain a positive attitude even when things get tough. I could’ve easily gotten upset because I was being yelled at in front of a bus full of people, but I took it in stride and thanked the teenage girl who explained what the driver was saying. Also, I have made an effort to learn some of the language in order to communicate better, which helps a lot. I am in control of how my challenges affect me, and I choose to protect my joy and peace above all.
6. What are you looking forward to in the future?
I am looking forward to my children having a broad perspective that is accepting of and intrigued by other cultures, a curiosity for the unfamiliar, and a thirst for new adventures. This experience has already changed me in ways I didn’t quite expect, and I’m seeing a difference in how they view the world as well. I look forward to revisiting the fond memories we’re making here in Europe years from now, and recounting the blessings experienced during our journey!