More lovely mid-life-moving musings on the blog today (it’s clearly an topic that’s got you all going) from one of TWR’s very first readers and supporters, Steffi, whose guest post tells about the ups and downs of moving abroad. Over to you Steffi…
When I read Kathryn’s Mid Life Move post on TWR, I was instantly inspired to follow suit. Funny how these things seem to dovetail in one’s life, as recently I had been giving some very serious thought to what has been our life over the last 9 years and only now that I have come to terms with our “move” do I feel ready to write about it frankly and relatively objectively. Thanks TWR then, for this perfectly timed opportunity to write about my own mid life move abroad.
Just shy of 40, my husband and I had made the decision to move – the babies were no longer babies and we intended to live the next chapter somewhere completely different than our beloved Brighton, whilst we still had the energy and just enough idealism to get us there.
We said “no” to London (although in hindsight, that would have been a hell of a ride, too – I need more lives!) and we knew we didn’t want the English countryside just yet. So, ever the risk takers, we decided to move to Switzerland, aka the safest place in the world.
Admittedly we chose the least-known region, the Italian speaking Canton of the country, called Ticino. An idyllic tourist destination and very near the towns of Locarno and Ascona which are set on the largest of the Italian lakes, Lago Maggiore. We enjoy a wonderfully Mediterranean climate and cuisine and are only about one and a half hours from Milan, fabulous! And as for the Ticinese people, they are very much fuelled by their Italian heritage. I love their mentality and their relaxed let’s-have-a-little-Merlot view on life.
Funnily, for me it was a bittersweet homecoming, as I had spent my very hideous and deeply unhappy teenage years here and for this reason it took my husband more than a little effort to convince me that it really was a “very good idea” to move there again. After several test visits, seeing old school chums again, and watching the local children and youths, all tanned, free and healthy – we knew it would be an amazing opportunity for our boys to grow up in this climate, this nature.
The quality of life blew our minds and was the deciding factor when we eventually said “let’s do it”. Beyond the schooling (which is excellent) and the obvious linguistic advantages, we really wanted our boys to be free and us all to have a much slower pace of life. It totally worked because not only did we move to Switzerland, but we also moved to a teeny tiny village… albeit a gorgeous one.
Initially there was just euphoria – it was amazing to walk my 5 year old to nursery up the hill, through the vineyards and past the church whilst my 8 year old took himself off to school by himself, just across the field. It was just what we all needed. We spent the first three years living as if in a dream yet consciously making the most of our new life. We had found the most amazing house to rent with an option to buy and the exchange rate at the time was fiercely in our favour so any money we had made and were still making in the UK was worth more than double here in Switzerland. We were SO winning!
Then the economy turned.
The husband couldn’t afford to bring work into Switzerland from the UK anymore and had to go local. We spent the next three years plowing a massive hole into our savings, trying to set up a business when in fact nobody round here had ever even heard of such a thing as Interior Design, never mind what an experienced 40 year old, highly creative and resourceful London Interior Designer could do to turn around your business.
It was the most soul-destroying experience of our lives. No work, no money, so much stress at the thought of having to return to the UK; up sticks again and explain to the boys that actually, this wasn’t going to work out after all. Not only had the money run out, all that idealism had understandably evaporated too, leaving in its wake stark reality and a very questionable marital status.
But, unbelievably, we made it through. We persevered and didn’t give up for a second. We believed in our choice, in our new home and in the future here for us as a family.
Slowly new work scenarios crystallized on the horizon, not only for the husband but also for me, and this meant a gradual improvement in home life structure and renewed hope in our Ticino life. The “honeymoon” was well and truly over – never ever to be experienced again. Thank God I say, because quite frankly who wants to be THAT idealistic /naïve ever again? I’m so over it! We ended up not buying the “dream house” but the much smaller house opposite with all the garden you could ever want and a pool, too. The boys are now teenagers and *whispers* they drink AND sometimes they even smoke! Yep, it happens in Switzerland, too.
At the end of the crisis years, as I like to call them fondly (around year 6), we also got ourselves a strapping dog who I personally credit with LITERALLY saving my life and sanity and who helped me discover my growing and very powerful love of the mountains and hiking. And there I was thinking I was a beach person! So I know that whilst the dog lives, I ain’t going nowhere and the mountains are my therapy, as is he.
I conclude my little tale by pointing out that, apart from the love of my man, the kids, and of course the dog – the internet and social media have thankfully kept me near the cutting edge of my previous life and made me feel like I am not completely off the chart, geographically. They have made the world of an expat much, much smaller than before and they make the heartbreak of not seeing one’s family or friends on the spot, much easier to bear. So thank you, thank you, thank you TWR, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
Now, whilst I speed towards my 50s, I wonder what the next three years will be about and whether it actually matters? Life is a constant journey and I love where it has taken me and what it has taught me, especially of late. The things that matter most to me, my family and my dog, are here and if they are not, then I can travel to see them and that, dear readers, is all that I need to know to get me through whatever comes next.
To follow Steffi on Instagram and see daily images of this beautiful place, follow Steffsoar