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"frivolous"; family year abroad

(32 Posts)
caramelgirl Sat 10-Aug-13 20:34:01

We are just coming to the end of our stint in London before we do the classic shift to the countryside.
DD is nearly 4.
We are considering a year abroad, most likely in rural France, mostly living off savings but trying to get local work as and when,, before we settle down in the countryside.
She would probably be 5 or 6 by then, sibling 1 or 2.
What are the chances of this being a successful (ie language infusing and positive) experience for the children (and us).
Is a year, with a pretty definite end date, too short a time to make friends and fit into a different education system?
We are all fairly outgoing people and have reasonable French but I don't know if I am being unrealistic in thinking we'd end up swigging Pernod with the locals whilst DD and DS ran wild with the local kids?
We have lived abroad in our early 20s both together and separately but were maybe a bit too immature to enjoy it properly?
Thanks for any advice!

luvmy4kids Sat 10-Aug-13 20:48:33

Yes too short. Why not travel around the world instead? Too short and pointless, child just on point of fluency would lose it again.

caramelgirl Sat 10-Aug-13 21:01:49

Hmmm, I'm not so keen on travelling around the world. Fancied making nice forrin friends and having picturesque lifestyle more.
Gah, so you think a year would just be a bit useless? I really don't want to just disrupt DD's life and make her feel inadequate (especially language wise as she is fairly advanced speech wise in her native English and so is v keen communicator).

luvmy4kids Sat 10-Aug-13 21:24:36

minimum 2 years and choose well, French can be hard to make friends, you might have to make huge efforts. Would be worth it if you were going to buy, live there, then after 2 years rent out (without much profit) and return for holidays, to keep up French. Why does it have to be France? French is spoken also in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, or even Africa.

FondantNancy Sat 10-Aug-13 21:32:01

I agree that a year is too short. We're just starting our second year in a new country and I spent the first year working REALLY hard to forge friendships, create networks etc. After a year I am just beginning to see results.

The thing is, in a rural area most people already have established networks and friendship groups. It's not like a big city where people can be more transitory. You will have an 'in' through the school but you will still be seen as an outsider for some time - and if people know you're only there for a year they probably won't make the effort to really get to know you.

caramelgirl Sat 10-Aug-13 21:56:51

Yeah, husband v v keen on Africa. Senegal a possibility. He has long standing links with Uganda but I'm not mad keen to go there at all.
Do you think Belgian walloons less insular than France? Have friends in Zurich who are v lonely and, anecdotally, that isolation of outsiders seems fairly common across Switzerland. Plus would be more international schools etc. I imagine.
Would do Canada but for distance for parents.ditto South America. Tho' I think written French more parasitic on speech than Spanish
Guess was thinking about London friends and turnover here, have Swiss friends who arrived last June and will leave coming March (so 18 months) but who are v integrated. I am v good at making an effort but from the stance of you two, I can see that super human efforts might be needed for the full year. Not really a goer.
Would your responses change if was in a city- say Tours or maybe somewhere smaller, but bigger than a village.
And do you really think a year to score language fluency for the children? Again, thinking about London friends, DD's then 2y6m friend arrived at Playgroup speaking only Russian but seemed to arrive at comprehension within a couple of weeks and basic production in a month.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, this is v useful.

FondantNancy Sat 10-Aug-13 22:12:45

DD was a year old when we moved and now, at just over two, can understand simple instructions in Spanish and can speak a little, about the same as she can speak in English. She was very slow to start talking though. I imagine a 4 year old would pick up the language really quickly, especially if she's at school full time (DD was only at a nursery for 3 days each week and I was amazed at how much she learned). I would guess a year would be enough to gain at least a working command of French which you could build on once you got home.

I have lived in a rural area and in big cities and the rural area was definitely the hardest to 'break into' for reasons I've mentioned above. But the cities were huge, London-sized or more and pretty international. So I can't speculate on smaller cities within France.

You could try posting on Anglo Info, they have quite an active France forum and you might find more detailed answers there.

luvmy4kids Sat 10-Aug-13 22:15:17

fluency is subjective, for me it's when someone can have a conversation without any hesitation at all. I've never met a child fluent in less than a year. And if learning under the age of 8, it will be by immersion. The downside to this is that if you then take an under 8 year old out of that language environment and they do not get an opportunity to converse again with the same level of frequency, there is a very good chance they will lose all they've learned.

If you really want a year only, choose somewhere where there is a large international population, where schools and the community are used to non French speakers, where you'll get international friends and / or French first language ones.

I bet Geneva has a sizeable international population, some of whom use local schools, that's somewhere you'll be able to go for a year. Same for Brussels.

butterfliesinmytummy Sat 10-Aug-13 23:05:12

What happens when you come back from France? I was fluent in French by age 10, went to a secondary school in uk where everyone was just starting French and didn't regain that level of fluency in French til I was doing A levels. I just kind of stagnated and remember being incredibly bored during French lessons. I had an hour a week of French chat but still, my confidence and ability fell through the floor.

My kids are starting to do the same with mandarin. After 5 years in singapore, dd1 can speak it reasonably but we've just moved to Texas and she needs to start learning Spanish so although there are secondary developmental benefits to acquiring a foreign language, she won't use it again for the foreseeable and it will take some work for her to regain it to the level she was at.

Don't hang everything on your dd learning a language. Or gaining any cultural benefit, because she won't remember a year abroad by the time she's 7. Why do you want to go?

I agree that France is incredibly difficult to break into socially, cities just as hard as rural locations. I've lived in France for many years on and off, worked there, got married there and have a few friends who are great but mostly have traveled or lived abroad themselves. Also agree that 2 years minimum would be about right. A year is not long enough to settle at all.

caramelgirl Sun 11-Aug-13 09:37:53

Right. So that is fairly conclusive. Thank you all for explaining why rather than just shouting "NO!!"
We were trying to think of an experience as a celebration/demarcation.
We lived in South America for six months when we first got together. DH has then had ten soul destroying years in the city and plans to become a student teacher in a small town. So we were trying to think of something to jog us out of our comfort zone and make us change the way we live/spend/think. Otherwise I worry that he will find the switch from senior high earner to someone without much status yet a bit of a shock. Plus we'll all miss the vibrancy of London a bit. So thought insular rural France with menial jobs might shake us out of our comfort zone.
We are both keen on the move from London, it's just a bit scary to think about the lifestyle changes.
Tho' I am worried about the school moves and insecurity for DD particularly. We moved alot (within UK) when I was younger and I found it quite tough.
Aargh, so no neat plan yet then. Hmmm.
Thanks again!

luvmy4kids Sun 11-Aug-13 10:16:55

You are being unrealistic even in your belief you'll find menial jobs is going to be easy to achieve, much of rural France is in crisis and unemployment is extremely high.

Why don't you just take on something like working for a ski company as chalet host or something like that, choosing a resort that is popular in Winter and in Summer, whereby you could get a small income from working, keep yourself sane with conversations with weekly turnover of skiers, 4 year old in the local maternelle whilst you're working, then a repetition after a lull from mid April to mid June with the Summer holidaymakers?

Or do you have to go abroad to do this? You could take on jobs as Youth Hostel managers or similar in the UK, giving yourself a rural life, giving yourself something different?

I don't really know why it has to be France. The Brits seem to gravitate towards France or Spain and rarely somewhere else. Try thinking of other places to go. Most of Europe is in crisis.

caramelgirl Sun 11-Aug-13 11:15:43

Ouch! Tbh it's because French is a fairly strong language for DH and me. Other common foreign language is Spanish, but Spain has worse economy. We can do without working (especially something as tough as chalet hosting) but, like you say, would probsbly help sanity to chat to people.
Have friends in Hungary but also in recession and v difficult language.
VSO would also be appealing but I don't think we have much to offer.
Thanks for your comments, very useful.

kreecherlivesupstairs Mon 12-Aug-13 00:15:18

TBH, I'd avoid Switzerland. We spent three years there. Fortunately, DD was at International school or I'd have gone cross eyed with boredom.
IME, the Swiss nationals were petty, rule obsessed and frighteningly insular.
We did live in German speaking central Switzerland though.

Salbertina Mon 12-Aug-13 07:10:16

I was taken overseas at similar age and never reached anywhere near fluency, just way too young and way too short a time. Really not worth it for that. However, it is a very flexible age in terms of adaptation, living in the present- not going to be ripping them away from lifelong friends so young. Our first 6 months here were wonderful, the next bloody awful (classic culture shock stages).
Uf you all want an adventure and can afford the time & money, then plan something out - any reason has to be a year? How about a long summer instead and see how it goes? I too lived overseas a lot pre-kids, it is a VERY different experience with them and at a different life stage. Grass not greener, much more complicated life but yes, feels like an (exhausting!) adventure and i appreciate what we have lost by being overseas as well as what we have gained.

doradoo Mon 12-Aug-13 08:20:32

TBH, if it's only for a year and you can do it on savings, I'd just go and have a ball - it will be educational enough of an experience for your DD without worrying about fluency etc- she's only small....

FWIW DS1 was 4 when we moved to Germany (now been here 5yrs) and it took him a good year to be 'fluent' through immersion in the Kindergarten system - DS2 who was 1 when we moved was slow to speak at all - both languages.....

We now have a fairly stable social life - but despite efforts it seems to be based mainly around other english speakers - who like us are here to stay.

If you can manage to have some work organised before you go then great - the chalet idea sounds fun - but if it's only for a year don't stress it - just enjoy it for what it is.

As an aside, I have American friends who came to Germany in December with their family (DCs 15,10,8) who were only coming for a year - and in fact will leave in October - their younger DCs went into the international system, but the oldest into a German bilingual school - with no previous German knowledge and she seems to have survived smile

caramelgirl Mon 12-Aug-13 08:24:08

Yes. Maybe a long summer inter railing or just camping out somewhere might meet my need for feeling like we've drawn a line under London.
Or maybe another baby.....

caramelgirl Mon 12-Aug-13 08:25:53

And my friend is currently going spare in Zurich. Her experience is that she's very isolated. Definitely would not fancy that.

Laquila Mon 12-Aug-13 08:31:42

I'm inclined to agree with Doradoo. I think it would be an experience, whatever happened!

I don't think it's realistic to take on jobs as exhausting as chalet hosting, though, with two small children. I'd say you'd be more likely to find work doing things like private English tuition, working in B&Bs, restaurants etc, which probably wouldn't be full-time.

Anecdotally my friends who've moved to Germany have made the most successful moves, as it were. They've found it a very family-focused society, and have found it easy to make friends, although this does of course depend on jobs and also how easy your kids find it to make friends. Although friends who've moved to German-speaking Switzerland have also had a fantastic time (they were child-free though). Another family with a DS2 is in Basel, and every happy there - lots of expat friends though, rather than locals.

I'd definitely second trying the boards on somewhere like Angloinfo, Caramel. And don't be too put off by thoughts of Europe in crisis!

ShoeWhore Mon 12-Aug-13 08:32:36

I agree that rural France is not a place where it's necessarily easy to make friends. I'm curious as to why you think rural UK would be so soul destroying (in which case why move there at all? grin )

Do you mind your eldest missing Reception year in school btw? It's a nice year ime.

I like the idea of an extended trip somewhere interesting.

mummytime Mon 12-Aug-13 08:50:23

Also does your DH have a clue just how hard work being a student teacher is?

caramelgirl Mon 12-Aug-13 12:19:03

Sorry, the soul destroying bit was the slog in Canary Wharf- to fund moving to the countryside. It's just that, inevitably, there will be stuff we miss about London, so my thought was to have a bit of distance. Extended holiday might be best wat.
I think we know teacher training will be tough in the same way we knew having children would be tough- in theory we get it. He'd apply for the TeachFirst programme and see if they'd take him. We have plenty of teachers my side of the family so he hears a fair amount about difficulties. Not put him off yet.

caramelgirl Mon 12-Aug-13 12:25:20

And yes, irritatingly, Germany does look like a great bet to move to, but I have no German so would be reliant on DH to chat for me for a while.
Ooh and thanks for comments doradoo and laqulia. I sort of think it might be something for the family "memory box" of experiences we've shared.
laquila -any progress on versa carrycot mystery btw?

Laquila Mon 12-Aug-13 13:31:13

Ooh Cramel I was thinking of that as I was posting but didn't want to confuse this thread! (But will do anyway...;)) Nothing further on carrycot mystery but we had the chassis and seat unit out of the box last week and the bloody seat unit got stuck on! Couldn't get it off for love nor money so made the loooong trip back to the shop, they couldn't do owt either so they've sent it back to the manufacturer and we're waiting for a replacement. So basically carrycot issue may be irrelevant if it doesn't come back in time and my husband has to adapt one of his old go-karts or similar instead ;)

Having said all that I've remembered I did have a look in JL last week at the carrycot on one of the other BJs - think it was a City Mini or Elite - and although it was labelled a Compact, if had different connectors to the Versa one I have. Still not much help though. Basically am hoping for a long, thin baby!

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Mon 12-Aug-13 13:35:35

I'm not sure that your friend's experience in Zurich is typical tbh- most of my friends who have gone there have enjoyed it, albeit they did find it hard to make Swiss friends due to the language barrier and the fact that it was almost impossible to break into long-standing social circles, and that's usually the issue tbh, rather than language. If you're going to be somewhere for a short period of time, you can't rely on palling up with the locals- to have a good time you need a high concentration of expats who are almost all wanting to meet new people because their friendship circle suffers 25-40% attrition every summer when people move on to the next posting. That obviously begs the question "why live abroad if you're just going to hang with other expats?" and it's a fair point, but it's that or drink alone grin.

Zurich could be fun for a year I reckon, although you'd bleed cash.

heather1 Sat 17-Aug-13 15:36:09

Caramel girls does your friend know about the Facebook group for mums inSwitzerland? International Mommies in ch. it can be hard to meet people here. Their tourism pr is so good that the reality is a bit of a shock!

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