Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our Relocation – The Nuts and Bolts

(Yeah, uh, take a moment to note the scale of this map at the top left. If a country could be "cute" I think Lux would qualify.)

First, some quick definitions:

Expat (expatriate) – a person who has taken up residence in a foreign country.
Immigrant – a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.

We quickly learned while negotiating Pete’s contract that our situation is a bit different than that of the typical American expat in Europe. Most Americans (or at least those with families/kids) end up in Europe on a within-company, temporary transfer assignment, often 2-5 years duration. It is understood that the family will repatriate when the assignment is over, and so the company covers some temporary expenses such as English-speaking private school for the children (a.k.a. International School).

However, Pete is joining the company as a new employee, and his job is considered "permanent" and indefinite. As such, they will help get us there and navigate the initial transition, but after that we are pretty much “on our own.” Although it’s still safe to say we intend to return to the United States at some point, we just have no clue when that might be. So functionally, we are treated more like immigrants, whether or not that is our ultimate intention. I won’t get into too many specifics here, but things like International School and annual trips “back home” are not covered.

Now, please don’t mistake this as complaining—I’m just explaining. If you know an expat family who’s done this sort of move, it’s likely you know the transfer type. A lot of people have been asking us, “But don’t you get…XYZ?” And the answer has frequently been “no.”

Anyway, the only tricky part is school. We can’t reasonably afford private school for both kids (except on a very temporary basis as a back up plan), but we still want them to learn to read and write in English. So we will just put our kids in the local school, and they will learn the local language in addition to working on English at home, right? Well, in Luxembourg there are 3 official languages: Luxembourgish, German, and French. And at school, Luxembourgish comes first.

Beginning this fall, James (age 4) will be taught in Luxembourgish for two years in compulsory pre-primary school (like a pre-k and kindergarten lumped together). They don’t learn to read and write until the equivalent of “1st grade” in the states. Daphne (age 6) will begin “1st grade” and will learn to read and write in German, and the language of instruction will gradually switch from Luxembourgish to German as well. In 2nd grade she will gradually begin to learn French alongside German. Apparently Luxembourgish will still be the common “playground” language throughout, so by the end of elementary school they should be fluent-ish (at least speaking) four languages, if you add English at home. Awesome—if we stay there that long. Potentially awkward and confusing if we move sooner and they’re suddenly back in English language school.

At this point, we’re just counting on the resiliency and adaptability of young kids, wherever the future takes us. Even if we move somewhere else relatively soon, we’re hoping that their exposure to not-so-widely-applicable Luxembourgish will just mean they have had some good practice learning foreign language in general, and that they will have honed some solid empathy for ESL kids in the process!

Meanwhile, we have resolved to think of ourselves more as immigrants than expats for now, since the kids will be taking the “immersion” route. Pete will be speaking exclusively English at work at his American company. I will be…somewhere in the middle, I guess.

But this is why we call it an “adventure.” ☺

By the way, here’s a helpful (or terrifying?) post about the different languages and when/where they’re used.


Willard C. said...


Rosie, here is the link to the article I mentioned before, about a family immersing their kids in a Russian school. I think it's ultimately an optimistic tale, viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

Your kids are younger so I hope the transitions are easier.

Exciting for us on the sidelines!

Pete and Rosie said...

Wow, really great article and video! Thanks for sharing!

One thing we do know about Luxembourg schools is that because so much of the general population is foreign, our kids will be in the same boat as a large portion of the other kids, and the schools are accustomed to managing a lot of kids who don't speak the language(s) There just may not be too many American kids. I'm betting there could be quite a few Brits, though.

Puffin said...

Thank you for linking to my blog and best of luck with your move! If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to get in touch.