Living Abroad

sakura_cherry_TNHaving spent the majority of my childhood living abroad, and spending no longer than three years living in one single country, I am lucky that St Mary’s Calne has given me somewhere to lay down my roots and gain a sense of belonging.

At the age of five, my family and I moved to Tokyo. It was definitely a culture shock moving from our peaceful life in Ealing to the hustle and bustle of Japan’s high tech capital. Our classic family meals switched from roast chicken and potatoes to sushi and noodles, we moved from a house to an apartment and our commute changed from school runs in the car to school runs on our bikes. Earthquake drills became the norm; we all had yellow helmets under our seats at school whilst small tremors and swaying skyscrapers became an ordinary part of life. I remember family visits to stunning parks and the Japanese love of their quintessential sakura cherry blossom in the spring.

A year in Japan was followed by five in the Netherlands. Life in the large southern city of Maastricht was comparable to life in England and we quickly felt at home in the cobbled streets with adjacent canals.  We cycled everywhere, a feature that I often wish England could replicate. Dutch came much more naturally to us than Japanese and the ability to communicate with the locals made us feel much more at ease and helped us make the emotional transition from tourist to resident. In 2008 we moved three hours north to the vibrant city of Amsterdam. I miss the poffertjes (miniature pancakes) with icing sugar and I’ll never forget cycling through the striped tulip fields in the Keukenhof. The Dutch enthusiasm for ice skating and the importance they place on learning how to swim from a young age struck me as unique and will always stick in my mind as something typically Dutch. Queensday marked the Dutch Queen’s birthday and involved all the children taking to the streets dressed in the national colour, orange, to sell their old toys and clothes. The Netherlands was undoubtedly one of our favourite places to have lived and, as a family, we have found ourselves adopting the active Dutch lifestyle.

When I started at Calne in 2011, my family packed up for the fourth time to move to Bucharest, Romania. Yet again, this was a totally different experience. Romania had many contrasting environments, from the unique Danube Delta to the unchartered mountains and then the urbanised city areas. Its rich history fascinated me and evidence of its communist past still scars the city centre of Bucharest. With insufficient funds to turn it into a tourist destination, Romania is home to an impressive 60% of Europe’s remaining wild forest. We discovered an equestrian centre in the mountains of Transylvania where we would spend half terms going on hacks into the countryside where we would often hear of sightings of bears and wolves.

Having lived abroad for so many years, it was a stark transition back to London. Although it may seem uninspiring in comparison, it made me appreciate the welcoming nature of expat communities, as paradoxically it was harder to gain a sense of belonging in our own country.

I am currently living in Hong Kong where we moved to in January this year. Our life on the southern side of the island has been incredible so far with all the hiking and beaches and, with the city being so close, we really do get the best of both worlds. The people we meet living abroad, I think, are what help turn a space into a home. Living in an expat community where all the families are in the same boat has been a thoroughly valuable experience for me. When you move to a foreign country, being welcomed into the expat community where there’s a sense of security and familiarity for things as simple as celebrating national events like Christmas and Easter makes the move far less daunting. Even finding familiar foods makes a house seem more like a home (although one of the best parts about living abroad is exploring the new and exciting cultures).

Following a childhood abroad, I now feel more open to trying new things and experiencing different cultures. Chopping and changing schools every three years or so has taught me to never miss an opportunity. That being said, having a solid base to move around from has been immensely comforting and I’m hugely appreciative that has been St Mary’s Calne.

Isobel (LVI Form)

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