When you move, move for real

“We were prepared for change when we moved from Denmark to Australia. The change we were totally unprepared for was the move from one place to another within Denmark!” — Rolf & Jane


Enjoying the snow near Munich

Rolf, Jane, and their two boys, enjoying the snowy alps near Munich

The Expat Earth Interview Series #1

Rolf and Jane are Danish. On their way to Munich where they currently live, they’ve explored city and country life in Denmark, the Big Unknown in Australia, and a short stay in Bern (Switzerland). In Sydney and Bern, Rolf was following his career, but now they’ve swapped roles with Jane justifying the career move. They’ve got two boys aged 15 and 12 years. We interviewed them during a nice dinner at their home

Expat Earth: What was your main motivation to move abroad? Adventure, career, escape,…?

Rolf & Jane: It was a mix. It was a good career move for Rolf, but the main motivation was adventure! We had been travelling the world together before we had children and that’s where this idea of living abroad took root. On our world tour we passed through Australia and we liked it a lot. When we left the country, the lady at the airline counter asked us “Will you be coming back to Australia?”, and we immediately answered “yes!” So it wasn’t really hard to decide when Rolf was offered a job in Sydney, even though we had a 1-year old at the time. With small children it’s actually not difficult to move – they’re totally flexible as long as the parents are fully behind it.

EE: How did you manage the transitions? Did you seek expat communities or was it total immersion?

R&J: Our opinion was – and still is: If you move, you move for real! Let nothing stay behind. Don’t let anything stay at home, let there be no home to return to. Moving is emigrating. You can’t have this split attention of living in one place, but at the same time telling yourself that it’s only temporary and you can always go home… at least we couldn’t. So, having the mindset of emigrants, we found that we settled quickly in Sydney and we quickly became very fond of it.

On the other hand we gradually realised, that you can’t bring up your children abroad and then expect them to be Danish, We wanted our children to have Danish roots. But it was not “going back” to Denmark; it was more like a real move, just this time to a country that we thought we knew. In fact, we experienced a reverse culture shock. We discovered that we did not know, how it was to live in Denmark as a family with small children.

We found good jobs, a nice house, a good day care for the boys – but it didn’t feel right. I remember I woke up one night in our house near Copenhagen. I looked around me and I thought to myself “What am I doing here? Is the adventure over?”. We realized we felt trapped by the house, the good jobs,… it felt empty, yet confined. We wanted to have time enough for every day hobbies, for travel and we wanted our kids to be familiar with animals, the forest and the sea. We could not do this in Copenhagen, so we moved to the countryside, to the south of Denmark. And that in itself was another major move and another culture shock. We had no idea there could be so big differences within such a small country.
It’s funny: We were well prepared for change when we moved from Denmark to Australia, but the change we were totally unprepared for was the move from one place to another within Denmark!

EE: What strikes you in particular about the life you’ve had – is there something you’d never have imagined before you left Denmark?

R&J: I think the most striking feature of our life now is the level of self-reflection. We think a lot about what we are doing, the way we do things. Not like the village mentality of saying “we’ve always done things this way, so that’s how we do it”. We think a lot about our own behaviours and the responsibility we have to act as good role models for our boys. We are having very different conversations than if we had stayed in Denmark, analyzing expectations and reactions. And we’ve found a new level of clarity in our lives from having to deal with the question of “what is home”?. “Home” has taken on another meaning; it’s not only the place you grew up, or the place you live now. It’s more about values and attitude towards others , and it incorporates all this; our upbringing, our experiences, our family. It’s hard to explain, but I feel we have clearer priorities now and this concept has become obvious to us .
I think that’s probably the main benefit of moving abroad; this sense of clarity.

Clarity. Culture shock. Reverse culture shock. Please add your comments below, or share your own experience.

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