Moving

City of Woes

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written by ML, a current graduate wife

We don’t like it here.

Not everyone ends up enjoying the location of their spouse’s chosen school. My husband’s graduate school is fantastic and the people he works with are great. He loves his program, has so many opportunities he wouldn’t somewhere else, and it will benefit him greatly in the future.

But it’s different here, 2,000 miles from home. The people aren’t as nice and after five years it’s really wearing on us. It’s much more densely populated. It’s a pain to drive, park, take public transportation, and just plain dangerous to ride a bike. Simple errands I never thought about before are cause for anxiety and frustration. The crime rate is high. It’s humid and floods often. And it’s oh so very much more expensive than any place we’ve been before.

There are a number of reasons you might not like where you are. Here are some of my suggestions based on the last five years of coping.

1)     Buy a local guide book.  I didn’t do this at first because I wasted time thinking of everything as temporary. Now that we’re down to the final year (hopefully), and I’m armed with multiple books, there is so much we want to do but won’t have time for. Yes, we have to get out of town and that costs money, but it more than pays for itself in keeping us sane. There are all kinds of guidebooks, get the one(s) that suits you. Books for families, nature lovers, bike enthusiasts, and people with pets (to name a few).

2)     Make friends who share your attitudes and beliefs. It’s a relief to kick back with someone that is on the same page as you, and friendships make the support system you will need.

3)     Focus on the things you don’t hate. This can be hard at times, but I bet you can find at least one thing you don’t hate about where you are. Sometimes I have to run this list over and over again through my head, but it helps. Now that we’ll be leaving soon, I’m even sad about leaving some of it.

4)     If you can, find a place that reminds you of home. This can be a nice “escape” during a particularly rough week. Maybe there’s a restaurant or bar that’s similar to one back home (maybe they’ll even put on the game of your favorite team back home if you ask them).There might be a hiking trail that helps you forget you’re in a big city. It could be a place that has an activity you did before you left (like a rock climbing wall or an ice skating rink).

5)     Workout. It’s a great way to relieve frustration, and it’s healthy, too. Whether I’m here or there, a treadmill and the music I’m listening to are the same. I also just feel better when I’m in shape.

6)     Make your house your home. This is another thing I neglected for a while because I felt it was so temporary. I slowly added pieces that I like, and now our home feels to me like a sanctuary. Let the weather do what it will, let the traffic out front be bad – I’m in my home with my favorite books, pictures on the wall, and our Harry Potter wands on display.

7)     If you love pets, try to find a place that allows them. This took us three years. This isn’t the most pet-friendly area, and when people find an apartment where pets are allowed, they don’t move. For three years it was like something was missing. Now, coming home to a purring cat after a hard day can make all the difference.

8)     Learn something from it. Before we moved we had some pretty romanticized ideas about what it would be like here. It sounds crazy, but I’m a little glad we’re somewhere we don’t like for this stage in our lives. It’s made me so aware that we need to research an area and find out what it’s really like before moving there for a career. (This is a great time to discuss what you want in the future.)

9)     Visit some place worse. Okay, okay, we didn’t so this on purpose, who would? But we took a trip and couldn’t wait to get back here. Sometimes when I want to complain about this place, I stop and think about all the ways it’s better than some of the other places we could have gone.

10)  Think about when it’s over and you’ll be moving. Is there something you’ll miss? Take advantage of the time you have left to enjoy the things you won’t have when you’re gone.

Though you’re far from home, remember that you’re with the one you love, someone who shares at least some of your interests, attitudes, and beliefs. This person is your rock, and you are theirs; be there for each other.

If you don’t like where you live, what have you done during your graduate journey to make it livable?

Moving

Starting Over

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Over the course of the next few weeks, Universities around the world will open their doors to new students. Some of those students will be moving away from home for the first time; some will be beginning graduate studies with families in tow; some will be newly married, learning to navigate a new city together; but all of them have one thing in common: they are starting over.

I love meeting new students and their families. Their excitement is written on their facial expressions. They are ecstatic to be on a new journey, in a new city. They remind of me of the white patent leather shoes I wore on Easter as a child; the ones that were shiny and new, untouched by the antics of childhood.

But what happens when the newness of starting over wears off?

As I think back eight years ago to our first move on our graduate journey, I remember being a newlywed in love wanting nothing more than to assist fulfilling my husband’s dream of completing his Masters. I jumped in with both feet, excited about the endless possibilities and opportunities that lay before us. It didn’t take long for the newness to wear off. Several months later, I thought, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I was navigating a new city, commuting to a new job, and missing my husband who was spending obscene amounts of time at the library. It took a couple of years before I finally found my footing again, and I can give credit for that to the women (some grad wives, some not) who invited me to be part of their community.

As you are out and about over the next few weeks, you are going to bump into various women – women who have given up their careers and left friends and family far behind to follow their husbands so they can attend school – women who will be looking for a new community, a place they can call home – women who would really just like a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a new friend to hear that graduate life isn’t so bad, and often times is actually very sweet.

And I ask….will you be that new community, that new friend?

For you former and current graduate wives, this is a great time of year to sit back and remember what it was like for you as a new graduate wife, when you moved and started over. What were your biggest joys? Your biggest fears? Would you do anything differently? How did you handle giving up your career if you had to? What were your biggest struggles? You have knowledge to influence and inspire the next generation of upcoming graduate wives.

What are some ways you could do that?

Be hospitable. Open your home. Include new faces at your dinner parties. Invite new friends for coffee or drinks. Give someone a bottle of wine. Bake chocolate chip cookies and drop them by a new graduate wife’s house. If you know someone moving to your city, make them dinner and bring it over the first night they arrive. Make them feel welcomed and loved on this new adventure.

Be willing to include new people to your group. Take the time to meet new people! Introduce them to your current friends. You never know who you might meet. I have a friend who used to live here in Oxford who was known as the ‘friend collector.’ It was a term of endearment, because she was always with someone new, inviting new people over for dinner, meeting a new friend for drinks, and introducing those new friends to her old ones. She loved people well, gave them a safe place to just be themselves, and never expected a thing in return. I learned a lot from her, and I’m a better person because of her. I am thankful we were able to live in the same area for awhile.

Offer thorough advice, if asked. Is someone moving to your University? Take the time to answer their questions and help them explore! Better yet, set up a time to speak to them by phone or Skype ahead of time. Believe it or not, Skyping is how MC and I became friends before she moved to Oxford.  Sometimes just having a familiar face in a new place can be the exact thing they might need to make it one more day.

For you new graduate wives just moving and starting over – when every box has been unpacked, the internet set up, grocery store located, and new city explored, you’ll probably start to look for a group of people to spend time with.

What are some ways you could do that?

Be brave. Attend events, toddler groups, libraries, book clubs, parties, etc. I remember the first event I ever attended as a graduate wife. I walked into a room full of women I didn’t know, and it was daunting AND overwhelming, even for this extrovert! But I am so glad I was brave enough to attend. At that event, I met a woman whose husband was a year of ahead of mine in their Masters program. We ended up becoming great friends, and still are to this day. Be willing to put yourself out there!

Be willing to try new things. Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to do, and hadn’t had time to? Grad school is a great time to take advantage of that, and great way to make new friends. I recently took a photography course, and went to an art class at a local coffee shop. In both places, I was able to try some new things, and meet new people.

Be patient. Building friendships and community take time. I guarantee if you’re willing to put that time and energy into it, the rewards will be worth it.

Find a spouses support group. Or at least a group of graduate wives to be friends with. You may find you need the support to get you through the next year, three years or five years. You may find having that constant group in your life will help you process the graduate wife journey.  And, you may find you need a safe place to express fears to other graduate wives about PhD applications, job prospects and uncertainties, and dissertation blues.

Community is very important to me. If there’s anything I’ve learned on this graduate journey, it’s that community is and has been at the heartbeat of everything I’ve done. I’m grateful for every good and hard experience I’ve had because I’ve had the opportunity to walk along and do life with other partners and spouses of those in the academy.

Reach out to someone new today. Give them a safe place to be themselves. Be a friend. Create community.

~Mandy

Moving · Professional Careers

What Will My Toaster Look Like?

-written by Sarah Glenn, a current graduate wife

We were moving in three weeks and items were slowly being sold off one by one. The first real, bittersweet casualty was the toaster. That magical device that gave our rushed mornings so many easy breakfasts and our bread a golden hue.

OK, maybe I am over-romanticizing the toaster. But being forced to fit your family’s life into four suitcases can do funny things to a person.

After two years studying abroad, it is time to return to the USA. For 730 days (give or take a holiday or two), my husband has been buried eyebrow deep in medical school at St. George’s University. It is not a U.S. medical school, meaning that the first two didactic years must be spent abroad. The next two years will hold all the real patient-centered fun, when he takes his book learning into the hospital for his clerkship years.

While he has carried on this all-consuming love affair with medical science, I have been freelancing, reporting, blogging, running a university organization, earning my Personal Fitness Trainer certification, learning and growing.

But life is a snow globe and once again, the hands of fate are shaking it up. The dust will settle in July when the school finally tells us where we are going. For the next two months my professional title will be “Freelancer who lives in her in-law’s basement.”

Exciting, huh?

Transition is hard for everyone. But a flying leap into the unknown lugging four suitcases is terrifying. When that flying leap is from a foreign country, the stress level gets bumped up a few notches and unanswerable questions start flooding your already overworked mind. Suddenly the stability of having one toaster that you will keep for the rest of your life starts sounding pretty good.

The price of higher education is steep and laying the money and inconvenience down on the table can feel like a nerve-racking gamble. After all of this struggle, will I be able to find a good job in a place where we fit in? What will the neighborhoods be like? Will professional life post-education be the all-glorious heaven we thought it would be?

These questions ring through the mind of every academic (and academic’s family). All students can agree that we are here now (in strenuous hard-work hell) because we want to be somewhere better in the future. The heart palpitations come when we realize that we aren’t quite completely sure what “better” will feel like. The whole thought process can be beautifully summed up by the toaster; will we have a shiny 4-slicer Black and Decker or the $5 Walmart brand?

What will my toaster look like?!

Many of my cubicle-dwelling friends have expressed envy for our nomadic student lifestyle. It must be liberating, right? Leaving all but the bare essentials behind for a life of discovery and progress. As those desk-dwellers come home at the end of their day, household items fade into the background as a dream of unfettered freedom beguiles their subconscious.

Freedom is great, but have you thought of what you would do with the toaster?

Unfortunately it is human nature to be fettered. Most of us are inexorably tangled into a dream of success. We all want something better, and whatever shape your dream might take, it will probably involve lugging around a little stuff with you. Once you decide on the life path of liberated travel, those household items don’t just fade into the background while your Marry Poppins bags pack themselves with everything you might need or want.

As we travel that road towards being a doctor or a lawyer or a rock star, or whatever we may dream, we will each acquire our own “toaster”  – that thing that tells us that we are home. Whatever home means to you, don’t forget to appreciate the little things that give your life stability – such as the toaster.

How do you deal with the transitory nature of graduate education? Is knowing that where you are isn’t where you are going to stay a comfort or a burden?

Moving

Costly Dreams

Today’s blog post comes from Carol Stratton, author of ‘Changing Zipcodes: Finding Community Wherever You’re Transplanted.‘  Carol is a veteran mover (22 times!) and has written articles for The Grand Rapids Press, Zionsville Times Sentinel newspapers as well as Purpose, The Christian Communicator, Fandangle, In Touch, Women’s Touch, Your Church and Forsyth Woman magazines and has reviewed books for the Christian Book Previews. She won the 2005 Paper Cottage “Smart Women” Essay contest and has taught at The Write-to-Publish Conference and at the CLASS Christian Writers Conference. She has kindly agreed to share one of her stories from her new book with The Graduate Wife. You can find more information about moving tips and moving stories from her website: http://www.changingzipcodes.com.

Living in South Lake Tahoe, California seemed like a dream location for a new job. My husband and I had the Sierra Nevada Mountains in our backyard and one of the most beautiful lakes in the world only a few miles down the road. When my husband accepted a position managing a camp, I knew we’d hit pay dirt. I pictured us taking leisurely days off to hike the trails, boat the turquoise lake, and explore abandoned gold mine towns. In winter we’d ski down the powdery slopes.

Reality quickly slammed us. My husband worked almost seven days a week, on call like a country doctor. He faced strong-willed staff members, a flu epidemic that almost shut the camp down, an overturned boat (with the threat of the boater going into hypothermia), and a health department inspection…all within the first four months. Throw that together with my becoming pregnant with bad morning-sickness and my rose-colored view of his job turned gray from stress and led to exhaustion for both of us. Suddenly those snow-capped mountains didn’t matter much. I missed seeing my husband as I craved an opportunity for him to have a day off.

Sometimes our dreams collide with practical life. We were newlyweds when we took the camp job, but before we left the area for a new job, I gave birth to a 7 week early son. Our Tahoe experience taught us that we, as a couple, need to really think things through before we pull up stakes and jump into a new career. Though we both tend to come out high on the “craving adventure and change scale,” we’ve learned through hard experiences to take time to research and understand the impact a move will make on our family. Planning and analyzing is essential. Seriously scrutinizing a possible move may save us money and heartache down the road. We ended up moving to another state and couldn’t sell our home for eighteen months. That particular dream cost us a lot of dollars.

Are you considering a move state to state or even just a change of houses in your town? There is a story in the Bible that reminds us that when a man decides to build a tower he first counts the cost. How will this possible relocation affect the emotional, financial, educational, and social needs of your family? Trust me; sometimes it’s easier to ask these questions before a move, not after one.

Taken from Changing Zip Codes: Finding Community Wherever You’re Transplanted, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas Available through Amazon.

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving

What I wish I had known… {part III}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the third post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here, and the second post here.

Moving:

  •      Pick and choose carefully when packing those boxes.

o      Consider the climate carefully and realistically. If you’re moving to the UK like we did, you might as well leave behind those flip-flops, bathing suits, shorts and sundresses. This girl paid to move all those things, only to end up stuffing them in a suitcase headed back to the US for the holidays.

o      Pack lightly. Are you really going to need all those t-shirts? Could you purchase Tupperware more cheaply than moving it? Sure that crystal vase is nice, but really?

o      On the other hand, I wish I had brought our wedding album and that quilt that has been in the family for three generations. Those extra special items will bring comfort when homesickness hits.

  • Don’t put off the paperwork.

o      If you need residence permits or visas, know the requirements and get started early. Unless you want to be like us, running through the streets of downtown Chicago during the two hour time slot you have before your friend’s wedding in order to get a same day passport.

  • Brace yourself for the (extra) cost.

o      There are layers and layers of fees and unexpected costs, from setting up Internet to paying for a TV license (what? a license to watch TV?). Make room for this in your budget.

o      A furnished flat/apartment could come without a kitchen table. You’ll probably need some extra cash for that trip to Ikea or Walmart [insert local substitute here].

o      When you’ve first arrived and you’re exhausted, emotionally and physically, it may be worth grabbing a taxi and throwing your grand plan of walking the last mile and a half to your new apartment out the window instead.

  • Investigate your destination city.

o      Don’t settle on a mover or a bank or a grocery store until you ask for others’ experiences, even if they are strangers on the Internet (You’ve struck gold if your destination city happens to be featured on The Graduate Wife’s survival guide section.).

o      Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as your elementary school teacher once told you. Seriously, others have gone before you. Seek them out and get some help settling.

Dealing with Internal Battles:

We came here for the purpose of my husband’s education, and that education came at a cost for both of us, and for our family and friends back home. I had wholeheartedly agreed to this new adventure prior to our coming, and I plunged into the job-hunt and life-making once we landed in Scotland (okay, so I cried for the first couple days).

What felt romantic and adventurous while still living in the US, however, quickly became hard. Figuring out a new culture, going through the process of student teaching in Scotland and again in England (since my American credential didn’t transfer) and enduring a climate that happens to have really hard, dark, wet winters were some of the challenges. Add to that the fact that we moved from Scotland to England to Germany and back to England within three years, and I was tired. Really tired. And my emotional trap was to blame my husband, as if the challenges surrounding the decision to study abroad were his doing. It hasn’t been easy to work through my misplaced anger when enduring a particularly tough season.

The best advice I can give is to turn off the DVD player and start talking. Work through it, regardless of how hard the conversation is. Otherwise, the bitterness is at risk of festering and creating resentment. My companion on this journey is my husband, the one who was by my side through every move and bad day at work and hard winter – we must work hard to protect and enrich our alliance. Without his companionship, I simply could not do this another day.

Simplifying your life:

My brother once asked me if it was true that European and British residents rode bicycles to work and often wore the same outfit twice in one week. Emphatically, I said “yes, and it’s awesome” (okay, maybe a slightly smug exaggeration, but still).

Six years living here, and we may have a tinge of this beautiful outlook on material possessions: you don’t need much to live comfortably. Of course, this outlook is not confined to Europe. Anyone on a student budget can tell you that saving money wherever you can breeds simplicity. This is refreshing, and it is conveniently conducive to the student lifestyle.

So, grab a bike and wear that ten-year-old pair of jeans without a second thought, and do it every single day.

Holding on to your own dreams:

So if you are the one putting your husband or wife through school, it may be the case that a dream of your own has been put on hold. For me, I’d like to go back to school. My husband’s doctorate and six years later, this dream has not been realized.

I’ve come, however, to understand that waiting to pursue one’s dreams doesn’t have to mean that they diminish, ‘dry up’ or even ‘explode’ as Langston Hughes famously penned. Rather, the waiting has refined my goal, changed its direction and enriched its beauty. The dream deferred can turn into an aging wine rather than a raisin in the sun. And in this space of waiting, I’ve seen other aspirations blossom and flourish: having children and starting a family, establishing traditions of our own, getting to know another culture.

If you could pass along any lessons learned in your own graduate wife journey, what would they be, and why?

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

What I wish I had known… {part II}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the second post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here.

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Work:  When my husband and I made the decision to go to graduate school, I committed to support us. I have worked the entire time we’ve been in school, and have had some really wonderful (but often difficult) jobs along the way.  It’s not easy putting your other half through school, either emotionally or financially. There’s a lot of self-sacrificing involved.

I’ve had several fellow graduate wives work some pretty incredible jobs to be that financial support – everything from clown, journalist, nanny, and lawyer. Usually when I hear their stories, my respect for them, no matter what they do, triples.  If you are working, and your other half is in school AND working, how do you find the time to support each other? I don’t know about you, but time is a precious commodity in our house.

Here are some things we’ve done over the course of the last few years:

  • Be supportive of each other. When my husband has a deadline coming up, I know he’s going to be incredibly stressed. I’ve learned the best way I can support him is to step out of his way, and give him the space he needs. (This means not nagging him whenever he hasn’t taken the garbage out or vacuumed)! He does the same for me whenever I have a deadline at work.
  • Work as hard as you can…then let it go. There are never going to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. Decide what it’s important, and do that. Let everything else go. (For this perfectionist personality, that was a hard one)!
  • Communicate. When we first started school, almost every night we watched television while eating dinner. We both soon realized that with our jobs (in addition to my job, he was going to school full time and working three part time jobs), we weren’t seeing each other. Why were we wasting time doing that, when we could be spending it with each other? We finally turned the television off. We don’t even own one now.
  •  You will be living in different worlds. Unless you are working at the school your other half attends, then more than likely you’ll be in a much different environment than he is. Case in point: during our masters’ program, my husband had friends who were keeping their air conditioning off (in Florida), because they were worried about paying their bill. I, on the other hand, worked in an office where colleagues were buying yachts. Nothing is wrong with either of those scenarios, but it meant we had to work doubly hard to understand and be patient with each others worlds.
  • Celebrate the little things. When you’re both working, hardly seeing each other, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate a good review at work, a good meeting with a supervisor, or a deadline met. So put your work aside, pop open a bottle of champagne, have some chocolate covered strawberries, and celebrate!

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Avoiding Pitfalls:

I do love the sense of adventure that the graduate journey has brought us, even through the most difficult times. One of the things I haven’t particularly enjoyed is moving. I don’t like having our ‘stuff’ strewn through two States at parent’s homes; I don’t like not knowing where things are (even though, I did at one point have all our storage boxes labelled by number that corresponded with an excel spreadsheet – so literally at any time, I could go call my Mom to say, “Will you go to box 16 and mail me ____?” I obviously had too much time on my hands before we moved); and I really don’t like the fact that nothing in our current flat seems like it’s ‘ours’ right now.

When you move and start over, there are always pitfalls to avoid as you wouldn’t want to end up in a crappy apartment with black mold growing down the walls or a neighbor whose favorite past time is playing Jay-Z’s new song, Glory. At 3 am. To full volume. (No offense to Jay-Z, or to Glory).

How do you plan accordingly for moving to a new city? A lot of this will seem like common sense, but there are some things on this list we didn’t do before we moved, and paid a dear price for later on.

  • Research. Seriously? Yes. Research the heck out of your new city. Take the time to learn its quirks, even before you arrive. Pick up every piece of information you can find, from the internet, to the library, to a book store. Buy a special book or journal, and make that your “New City” book. Keep any key pieces of information you’d like to have on hand in your new book.
  • Learn from other people’s experiences. My husband and I are contemplating another move at the moment. I am in the process of meeting or communicating with several people (some I’ve never met) who have lived in the city (or nearby) we are considering. It seems strange to start an email with, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m friends with blah blah blah…” but you know what? Most people are eager to help you on your journey, because they were in your shoes once. The information they pass on to you will be priceless…and perhaps something to put in your new book! MC and I met over the phone, and spent 8 months talking about Oxford before she actually moved here.
  •  Plan carefully, but be willing to take a risk. Plans are never foolproof. Something will always go wrong. There are going to be times you’re going to have to make a decision blindly. When you do, roll with it. Chances are, things will turn out just fine. If not, then you’ll have a wonderful story to tell your grandchildren someday.

Traveling:  Hands down, the biggest regret that my husband and I have since living here is that we haven’t taken the time to travel more in the UK. We have an intimate relationship with Oxford, but haven’t made the time to visit very many other places in the UK. (We have managed to travel through a bit of Europe).  Now with a toddler running around, it makes things even more difficult.

With all the groupon coupons, living social coupons, etc you should be able to afford and make the time to travel to other places in the area, State, or country you live in. Get to know the city you live in – visit the museums, hang out in the coffee shops, visit the restaurants. When I first worked in Oxford, I visited a news agent so frequently, that I became friends with the owner.

Our excuse for not traveling was my husband’s schedule. Looking back, would it have mattered if it had taken him another month or two in the long run to finish his dissertation? The answer is NO! So pack your bags and go!

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

What I wish I had known…

Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are staring a three part series on “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Mandy and Julia have almost 16 years combined experience of being graduate wives and they have moved almost 8 times to different institutions between the two of them.  Today’s post focuses on ‘intangible’ things they wish they known to expect, Thursday’s post will focus on more ‘tangible’ things they wish they had known to be aware of, and finally we will close next week with a post sharing a bit of both.  I have read through this and am incredibly encouraged and thankful for the advice.  I hope it speaks to you on the journey as well! – M.C.

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Uncertain Future: The world of academia is a chasm of uncertainty. Open posts are few and far between; our other halves constantly compete for posts against their friends, and inevitably watch their friends win; and most of the time, 250 applications (or more) will be filled out before one interview is granted. I can attest to the fact that most of time, our lives feel like one big question mark after another.

For you graduate wives just beginning your journey, the ‘end’ is the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the present that’s difficult as you try to make it through with a husband, fiancée, or boyfriend who spends way too many nights in the library with his new mistress, the dissertation.

For you graduate wives ending your journey, you’ve proudly watched your other half step across a platform to be granted a degree, your heart nearly bursting with pride. Now, you’re watching him slog through application after application, and you have no idea where you’re going to be living in six months.

 How in the world do you navigate that?

I wish I had an easy answer. This was only supposed to be a three-year gig when we began our journey (sometime I’ll tell you that whole story). Instead, we sit here eight years later, with no idea of what’s around the corner for us. The best reminder that I’ve received from an older graduate wife is this is just a season of life. And it is. Sometimes, when I am incredibly weary, I get tired of hearing it, and I worry that my husband will never find a post, and that none of my dreams will ever be actualized. But, you know what? Something WILL inevitably work out. It will more than likely look completely opposite than what we had in mind, but it will be right for us. And, it will be right for you.

Remember this as your graduate wife story is being penned: This is only a season of your life.

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Familial Alienation: For me, it initially felt easier to leave the stories of our European adventures in Europe when visiting family back home. My rationale went like this: “If I tell them about all the beauty we’ve taken in, I come off as bragging and just plain old obnoxious. Worse, if I tell them about the weekly ritual of scrubbing mold from our furniture, clothing and walls, won’t they just think I am simply ungrateful?”

This way of thinking may have worked for the first year or so, especially when I had one foot in Target and the other just teetering on the edge of Tesco’s (a big grocery chain in the UK) doorstep. But then my marriage, my children, my career – my life – rooted and blossomed here. What then?

I had to get over my insecurities about sharing our world with our families so that our families knew us. It’s hard enough to leave your loved ones behind physically – don’t fall into the trap of leaving them emotionally as well.

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Community: If you read this blog, you know we harp on building community. We do that because MC and I have seen the benefits of what happens when you’re willing to share your life and story with other people traveling the same journey. We’ve previously focused on how you cultivate community, but haven’t really touched on the emotional why parts of it.

The first part of our graduate journey was spent rehashing that lesson again and again and again; I refused to put down roots in our new city, and in the first year of school, I (we) went back to see our friends in Atlanta six or seven times. I had one foot firmly planted where my heart was, and the other foot planted because it’s where I had to be. It wasn’t healthy.

After many discussions (I use that term loosely ha ha) with my husband, we agreed it wasn’t emotionally healthy or balanced to try to maintain a life in Atlanta when we did not live there.  It seems like a fairly simple concept now, but at the time I truly felt like, once again, my world was being ripped from my hands. We made the decision together that we would not return to Atlanta for one year.

By investing in the city or community you live in, you are choosing to live in the present. If you spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, then you may miss an important part or piece of your life’s growth process. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’d rather be somewhere else.  When I began the process of actually getting to know the Orlando community, I discovered it wasn’t such a bad place to live. When I started investing in relationships, I realized there were some amazing people that were worth getting to know. I look back now, and often wonder what life would be like today, if we hadn’t made the decision to cultivate community and plant our feet firmly where we lived. When we moved from there in 2007, we left some wonderful friends that I was genuinely sad to leave.

I do think it has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned along this path: Live in the present and invest in those around you.

Community · Moving

My Patchwork Heart

I hear the warm whispers of the North Carolina summers calling me.  I feel wooed by the fast-paced life I once lived in Washington, D.C.  and I hear echoes of the intimate and truly precious conversations that I shared with friends on our small street in Arlington.  I smell hushpuppies and my Dad’s BBQ and all the warm flavors of the deep south tempting me home.  I hear the ancient bells here in Oxford and I savor the fun times shared with dear fellow graduate wives.  I remember the glorious sunsets on the Chesapeake Bay and the unforgettable and sometimes painful community that was forged while living there on the Eastern Shore.  I feel the Big Apple charming me with the adventures & life lessons that unfolded there, and countless meals at my favorite café near Harlem.

Although my graduate wife journey has only really lead me to two different locations, I feel at times like tiny pieces of my heart are scattered about a hundred different places.  Do you ever feel this way? Have you moved around a lot on this journey?  Have you watched friendships grow and then had to watch as one of you packed up and said goodbye, or fallen in love with a city and a community, only to have to let go?

At times I feel so grateful for all the pieces of my heart scattered about around the country, and even the globe.  At other times I feel the weight of heartache for never getting to have all those precious friends and memories and experiences combined into one perfect place.  It’s a blessing and a curse at times…but alas it makes up who I am. A giant patchwork quilt.

I feel that recently I am learning how to relish and treasure all the vastly unique experiences that make me who I am.  Each place I have lived and each community of which I have been a part hasn’t been perfect…but each has been incredible and beautiful in its own way.  In these places I’ve been loved and hurt and supported and broken down.  I haven’t necessarily chosen these communities…they have more or less chosen me.

I feel that as a graduate wife, as a supporter, a mover and a dreamer, I have sometimes tried to resist these changes.  I have tried to resist the sharing of my life and ultimately of my heart with new friends and new settings.  For some reason it never works though.  As a fellow graduate wife once shared, “I tried so hard not to make friends in our new graduate community.  I was in denial of the move and thought that by wishing it away and not connecting, it would go by more quickly.  And sadly after a season of depression, I realized I was very wrong.”

I know that at times it’s easy to just try and ignore our current situations.  To dream of bigger houses and steady incomes for our families and to try and deny the reality of where we are now for this season of life.  And so I just wanted to encourage each of you fellow graduate wives today.  You might be avoiding your current grad school location and counting down the days until graduation or you might be feeling heavy with heartache over a previous home and community that you once knew.  You might be anxiously dreading an upcoming move and new graduate program, or you might be so in love with your current graduate wife life that you never want to see it end.  Wherever you find yourself, I hope you are able to step back and soak up all the flavors that make up who you are.  Smell and hear and taste the unique tapestry of friends, places, jobs, and experiences that this journey has brought to you.  I hope you can open up to a new community around you if you haven’t already.  Share bits of your story with others and be open to letting them make an imprint on it as well.  I know it’s not always easy … but when you take a step back, aren’t patchwork quilts breathtaking?

On your graduate wife journey how have you dealt with moving and uprooting community, friends, jobs, etc.?

-M.C.

Moving · Sacrifice

Our Little Adventure

written by Emily, a current graduate wife

My journey begins probably much like many others who have, along with their spouses, made the decision to attend graduate school.  John and I were college sweethearts and had the wedding of our dreams soon after we graduated from Samford University.  After our honeymoon, John and I fell into a wonderful rhythm of living and working in Memphis, TN, and enjoyed a season of sweet friends and family there.  We bought a house and spent months renovating and decorating it, planning on staying there until we had a few children of our own.  Well the Lord had different plans for us and a fire was ignited in John’s heart to pursue his dream of going to graduate school to earn his MBA.  We prayed, and prayed, talked and talked, cried and cried (ok, just me), wondering if this was the right decision.  We decided to uproot our comfortable lives and move twelve hours away to North Carolina.  We left great jobs, great friends, our first home, and a wonderful church, not knowing what the future might hold.  We did know however that we were in this together.  Our little adventure, we liked to call it. Something so ‘out of the norm’ and something so challenging, exciting and new.

 

Here we are 1 1/2 years into business school, and we are very much still living in our adventure.  We have gone through the ups and downs that come with moving and going back to school.  Such as: John staying at school until 10pm every night, only to come home and do more work, adjusting to a tiny apartment where we can hear our neighbors sneeze, me finding a new job and having to work for 52 straight weekends in a row, the we’ve suffered through the stress of being apart for an entire summer as John went away for an internship.

 

Spending the summer apart might have been one of the hardest things we have done together as a couple.  Since I wasn’t able to pack up and leave my job here in NC, John had to gather up his things, his side of the sink, his pillow, and drive 10 hours north to Philadelphia…without me.  For eleven full weeks.  I still remember the day he left, not knowing how I was going to make it without him.  We had never been apart over the 7 years together (3 1/2 married).  Could we survive with just phone calls and skype dates, and only 2 visits over 2 1/2 months?  I seriously contemplated hiding in his suitcase and just quitting my job all together.  The first week was definitely the hardest.  Going to bed alone, cooking dinner alone, and seeing his face on skype brought tears to my eyes every time I saw him.  BUT, the first week came and went…and so did the next two.  each day, I felt stronger and my love for him began to grow in a new light. I could DO this! Our conversations were deeper and more meaningful.  Our skype chats were long and mushy.  My trip to visit him in the one of the following weeks was one of the sweetest times we’ve ever had together.  They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I am now a 100% believer in that.  Being apart made us cherish our time together so much more, and although we had to face trials and frustrations, I am so grateful for last summer.  If I had to give any advice to someone who is gearing up for time apart from their spouse (whether it’s an internship, or residency, etc.) I would say these 3 things.

 

1. Start a new “tradition” with each other for that time (whether it’s calling to say goodnight, a “good morning” text, a weekly piece of snail mail, or sharing a daily scripture verse).  Having something to look forward to each day together is fun and exciting and it will bring at least some form of consistency to your life.

 

2. Listen to each other.  Phone and email conversations are probably not what you are most used to in the daily communication with your spouse.  It’s really easy to misunderstand or mis-communicate when you are not sitting right in front of each other.  Sarcasm is sometimes very hard to interpret in a phone call.  Listen well and make it a point to let each person talk about his or her day.  Ask questions.  It’s a new and different way to communicate so treasure learning these new ways to share and grow.

 

3. Enjoy the present.  It’s very easy to just mark off the days on the calendar until you are together again, and constantly look towards the future, but try to enjoy the ‘in between’ phase.  Spend time with your girlfriends and watch “the notebook” 15 times in a row.  Light candles and eat popcorn for dinner.  Take long baths and buy yourself fresh flowers.  Sometimes it’s the little things that make you enjoy the day.  Take time and do that for yourself, trust me you’ll be glad you did.  You will be refreshed and happy when you have your phone call with your spouse later that night, instead of feeling isolated and alone.

 

Through our entire graduate journey, we have learned a lot and have grown in so many ways.  We have learned to never take a single moment together for granted.  We have learned that our cozy little apartment makes us cuddle that much more.  We have been reminded of the importance of encouragement and unconditional love in a marriage.  We have re-learned our love languages and have strived to put them into practice every day.  We have learned how necessary it is make decisions together and for us, to pray together.  We have been through weeks at a time where a quick meal at the dinner table was the only time we had together that day — and have learned to turn off our phones and tv’s during those times.  We have been shown that having friends that are in this same phase of life can make such a difference to your sanity.  And, we have learned what it means to be TOGETHER every step of the way.  Homes may change, friends may come and go, doors may close, and dreams may change, BUT, no matter what — it’s our little adventure. It’s one of support, sacrifice, and unconditional love.  And as long as we are together, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. 

Have you had to live apart from your spouse for an extended period on your graduate wife journey?  How have you handled the transition?

 

Children · Family · Moving · Patience

Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?