With so much to do in preparing for a move abroad, it’s easy to underestimate the impact that your move will have on your friends and family. Many of them may react in a way that you consider to be totally out of proportion. They may feel abandoned and frightened, and react with unexpected anger and sadness, feeling betrayed and hurt. For a long time, they may refuse to believe that the move is really going to happen, and may even belittle or mock your clearly stated intentions. All of this can be very hard to deal with on both sides.
Remember that they love you
It’s important at this stage to remember that they are only acting this way because they love you. They will miss you and they are also worried about how you will cope in your new life, where they won’t be there to help you. It’s natural that their response may make you also feel angry, not to mention guilty and defensive. You may feel selfish about not staying to care for elderly relatives.
Try not to let this escalate into conflict or a refusal to engage. The worst thing that you could do is to leave on a sour note, allowing an emotional distance to open up between you as well as a geographical one. If things get really rough, you may need to attend counselling with intractable family members.
Moving with children
Moving abroad with children can be especially difficult. Grandparents and ex-partners may feel that the children are being taken away from them. Explain as sympathetically as you can that this isn’t the case and make arrangements for them to stay in contact. Your children may have their own anxieties about the move, so talk to them about it, show them films and pictures, and answer all of their questions. Help them to look forward to the move while making plans for them to stay in touch with relatives and their friends.
One question that is bound to come up is how your children’s education will be affected. This will be a particular issue if you are moving to a non-Western country. They may be concerned about the kind of qualifications they’ll receive or the cultural environment they’ll be navigating. A good solution to put everyone’s mind at ease is to enroll your child in an international school. Stamford, a school for Americans in Hong Kong, offers an internationally recognized curriculum and is designed for expat children, helping them to adapt and fit in.
Timing is everything
It’s important to tell your family about your move first, even if that’s the step you’re most dreading. Closest friends should come next. Answer all of their questions honestly and positively, and give them time to get used to the idea. Make a clear plan for staying in touch, and set a date to see each other again. With older relatives, take time to explain Skype or FaceTime, and set it up for them.
Eventually, everyone will adjust to this major upset in their lives, but it may take careful handling. The bonds of friendship and family will endure, however, and your new life abroad will ultimately be enriching for everyone.