Thursday, November 22, 2012

6 Months in Luxembourg: Update

a sunset from our balcony
Happy Thanksgiving, America!  It's definitely not a holiday today in Luxembourg.  We will be celebrating with some American friends on Saturday.  We're contributing sweet potatoes, of course.

Tomorrow marks 6 months since we moved to Luxembourg, and yes, it's flown by.  I think we're due for an overall summary and update on our experience so far.

Culture Shock and Homesickness: This hasn't been as bad as we expected.  Sure, there were rough patches and difficult adjustments, but if we were going to hit a rock bottom I suspect we probably would have by now.  It is also quite possible that we were sort of Europe-y people to begin with (or at least not intensely American, if that makes sense).

We miss our family and friends - that's the most difficult part.  We don't particularly pine for the USA or Oregon or Portland.  I still miss familiar comforts such as my stand-up vacuum, wall-to-wall carpets, Trader Joe's, Mexican food, and walking around without hyper-vigilance to avoid dog droppings on the sidewalk.   I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to things like our tiny sink with no garbage disposal - I don't even notice it anymore, whereas it sort of drove me crazy at first.  It's all about finding the right system and routine.

Overall, I think the fact that we can treat Luxembourg as home because we are here indefinitely makes it easier.  I think we'd all be more homesick if we were constantly thinking of the the U.S. as our "real home," making frequent trips back and forth, always mindful of the date we'd return for good.  We are free to assimilate into the local culture as much as we are willing and able.

Home and Neighborhood:  We love our location.  We feel fortunate to have found our place for the price this close to the city, yet it's still a very quiet neighborhood.  We like our apartment, it has very functional layout, more than enough space, and we and enjoy the fact that it's all on one floor.  The only downside is not being able to send the kids upstairs to go crazy every once in awhile - instead, all the crazy happens in close proximity to everything/one else.  We recently made a fun purchase for our apartment, which I'll save for another post.  Meanwhile, our house back in Oregon is still rented - no problems yet on that front.  We don't miss it.

School:  Between last June/July and this fall, the kids have completed a total of 15 weeks of school, so about 3.5 or so months.  Considering this was our biggest concern in moving here, we really can't complain so far.  The kids leave for school each morning and return each afternoon in excellent spirits almost without fail.  Academically, they are both doing great.  Daphne practically aced her first German test and she tells me the teachers are calling her "the best!" in front of other students which is a bit embarrassing to her.  She enjoys learning German and Luxembourgish, as well as her religion class, gym, and math.  James' favorite part of school is "playing" and lunchtime.  We've puzzled at the way the school and the teachers operate sometimes because it's different and unfamiliar, but that's to be expected.

Socially, it's not perfect and not all the kids are "nice," of course, but there have been no major problems such as blatant bullying or rejection/isolation this school year.  There are a couple of English-speaking kids at the school in different grades with whom Daphne interacts on a regular basis, which has been a welcome comfort to her.

We are reassured and confident that attending the local school here is an amazing and worthwhile opportunity for our kids, no matter what the future holds.  I'm reminded, though, of what a difficult decision process this was 6 months ago!

Friends:  The kids have a handful of friends from church and from school and we've had a few playdates with each.  I am beginning to make friends with several of the moms at school.  When the weather is decent, many kids and their parents stick around at the playground after school, and this has been a great opportunity to get to know them better.  So many of the other moms have been incredibly welcoming, kind, and friendly.  My closest friends are still probably the people I've met at church, since I think it's just easier to fall into a natural, closer interaction without navigating too many cultural or lingual differences.  But I love the amazing variety of people I've had the opportunity to meet through the school.  It's one of the main highlights, for me, of living here.  And because we all live within walking-distance to school, it's very easy to get together.

Languages:  James is still learning all Luxembourgish (which is like a German dialect but still quite distinct, and largely spoken and not written), while Daphne is continuing to pick it up casually at lunchtime (1.5 hours on M-W-F) and recess and a little bit each week in class.  She is simultaneously learning to read, write, and speak German, and this is the language of instruction.

If I had to guess (and I do have to!), I'd say both kids understand roughly half of what's being said at school.  I suspect James may be more "fluent" in Luxembourgish but it's hard to know because he's less talkative in general.   From the beginning, they could usually figure out what they were supposed to be doing based on gestures and some English translation on the side.  Now, Daphne describes German like this: "I can always understand when there are motions and words together, and sometimes I understand when it's just words."  If either of them are asked a simple question in German/Luxembourgish, they can answer back in German/Luxembourgish most of the time.  So while they understand simple directions and sentences, I don't think they'd be able to follow, say, a movie or large chunks of dialogue between others speaking.  They talk to their classmates and teachers in a sort of "broken" German or Luxembourgish with the occasional complete sentence.  Sometimes they do this with each other at home as well, but it's the exception.

My French is coming along, albeit very, very slowly.  I haven't been super diligent or regimented in my studies, but I try to fit in a podcast when I can, and I'm encouraging friends to speak more French around me.  I use more around town as well, but mostly still ask if people speak English first so I can understand what they say to me in return.  I have attended French Conversation at the American Women's Club almost every Monday since September.  Let's just say I'm better than when I first arrived and call it good.

Work: Pete loves his job and walking to work.   He walks the kids to school each morning on his way, and gets home around 6:30pm (excuse me -18:30) most evenings.  He builds complex Excel tools all day, which is kind of his dream job.  Again, no complaints here!  And I should add that he's had almost no culture shock.  Somehow I'm not surprised.

Church: We still attend the first church we visited upon moving here (English-speaking), and it's really starting to feel ours.  I'm sure jumping right in and getting involved with the music has also reduced the impact of culture shock, and it provides a much-needed creative outlet. We've met some wonderful friends and have received a lot of great help and advice.
Operation Christmas Child!
Travel:  We haven't done much except for a few local trips.  Our most immediate goals are a trip to England to visit family and to Paris for fun.  However, we don't feel rushed as we are not on a specific schedule to move back to the U.S.

Weather:  The weather has been very similar to Oregon (although a bit colder) which has probably also gone along way toward culture shock prevention.  The weather forecast on my phone often says "Dreary."  Is that a technical weather term?  Seems rather subjective to me.  Anyway, today = fog.

Transportation: Life without a car has been fine, for lack of a better descriptive word.  It's not always fun or convenient, but it suits us well.  I spend a lot of my "free time" while the kids are at school trekking from place to place on foot or by bus, but I don't mind.  We've borrowed or rented cars about a half a dozen times since arriving.  The hardest thing for me is adjusting back to no-car after we borrow one for awhile.  I get spoiled and I really don't want to leave the house the first time I must go grocery shopping after we've returned a car.  But it's okay.  And I don't feel bad about relying on others for transportation every once in awhile.  People seem happy, even eager, to share.  Overall we do not miss having a car, and people still think we're wackadoo.

Food/Shopping:  We're still going grocery shopping three times a week.  It would be great if I could reduce it down to two eventually.  I've developed a decent arsenal of dinner recipes I can make with the available ingredients.  When we eat out, we usually get doner kebabs or Indian food.  We're buying most of our clothes at H&M (they're everywhere!).

Communication:  Sigh.  This is not my strong suit under normal circumstances - staying in touch, making regular contact and communication a priority.  I hope my family and friends accept and re-accept my apologies.  Between Facebook, email, video chat, and regular old phones, there's never been an easier time to move to a foreign country and stay in touch.  However, one of the main reasons I blog here is that it's my way of reaching out to friends and family to stay in touch.  Maybe it seems impersonal and one-way at times, but I'm comfortable with it so I just go with it.  I think of you all specifically at different times as I write and share, hoping you are reading and that we are connecting in this way.  All this to say - I do it because I love you!!!!

In the spirit of 2-way communication, however, do you have any questions or comments about our first 6 months?  An area I didn't touch on that you're curious about?

(P.S. As I read back over this, I realize it's a bit sunshine and flowers.  Please know that it's really not always.  There are bad days and really bad days, but we also tend to set our expectations on the low side.  I think that overall our experience has been positive, and that what I've written probably just reflects that.)


Unknown said...

Probably unbeknownst to you, I've subscribed to your posts and love reading about your Luxembourg adventures. It brings back so many memories of my own childhood experience of living in Germany. Thanks for your blogs and updates; you are dearly missed and loved!

Anonymous said...

Uncle Bill and I are being highly entertained this afternoon reading this 6 month update. Hard to believe that this is the same little girl who was "afraid" of her uncle as a child. Love to hear how you and the family are dealing with the "fears" in a foreign land. Congratulations to all the T's!!!!!
Love, Auntie Grace

Anonymous said...

This is just a silly question, but I wonder nonetheless. Is it true that male Europeans NEVER wear white tennis shoes? Can you really tell an American by his footwear?

(Thanks for indulging my question!)

-Rachel Anne

Tara said...

Hi! I am loving reading your blogs, and experiencing all the new and different through your family. I would love to hear sometime about how you guys are experiencing the church and faith there differently/the same as here. You know, a good ol' compare and contrast. So glad you guys are doing well, and mostly enjoying it!