Saturday, August 3, 2013

One Year Down...

It is hard to believe that we've already been here in Luxembourg for one year.  I don't think E or myself could have ever imagined what this experience would do to us personally as well as a family.  I don't think anyone really can going into something like this.  Tonight E and I sat down and just looked through all our pictures and blog posts from a year ago, and while we'd like to say it brought back good memories and feelings, it actually did quite the opposite. We both immediately were overwhelmed with the feelings of anxiety and fear that we had as we arrived in Luxembourg.

We both were never really sure what was "calling" us to Luxembourg, it was something that I had always wanted to do.  Living overseas with your family sounded very fun and glamorous, and when the opportunity arose, E was kind enough to say she'd follow me.  Having lived overseas on my church mission for 2 years I figured I would be the veteran/pro for the experience, and I would help E through all the problems (homesickness, language barriers, etc...), little did I know that she'd be helping me just as much as I'd be helping her.

When we first arrived in Luxembourg and walked off the plane, we were absolutely in a different world, while some people were able to speak English, as expected the majority were not able to.  Luckily the taxi driver that I found spoke Portuguese so that I could have him help us take our mountain of suitcases to the hotel with Elise in his car alone, while I took our rental car and kids to the hotel separately.  Those first few hours really made us question our decision, what were we thinking, why would we do this crazy thing, we had such a good life in Chicago, why did we need to now mess that all up and move to this strange land, that everyone, yes, everyone, intially thinks is a city in Germany... (that is until they Google it and see its a small country that is usually abbreviated on maps as Lux).

These feelings really did not subside for quite awhile.  The culture shock was overwhelming.  While western Europe is very similar to the United States, it is also extremely different.  Ultimately, we've grown accustomed to taking a number literally everywhere you go, or understanding that there is no grey areas in rules or policies here, a rule is a rule and if you didn't follow it exactly how it was written or meant to be understood, tough, your problem not theirs.  Also, probably the most difficult thing has been the language barrier.  While the majority of the professional class in Luxembourg speaks pretty decent English, the people you interact with on a regular basis (cashiers, customer service, etc...) usually don't speak English, and if you ask them if they do, don't be surprised if they either just walk away and ignore you, or hang-up the phone and don't answer it again when you try to call back.  Both of us have had experiences with the language barrier that have caused us to shed a few tears, or to want to bridge the language barrier by speaking a few universally understood english words :)

On top of our personal struggles, one of the main worries that we had once we got here was how our kids would respond to such a challenge.  We were constantly worried that we were going to be setting them up for failure.  I can't imagine being 4 & 6 and being thrown into a classroom surrounded by other kids who you can't talk to, and feeling OK about the overall situation.  Layer that on-top of cultural differences, and it seems like a disaster in the making.  On the first day of school, we both were just amazed at how different things were.  For example, the kids all come in take of their shoes and put on slippers before going into class. Well our kids didn't have slippers, so they immediately felt different than everyone else for the first day.

Finally the last big struggle was the church.  While its true that wherever you go in the world the Mormon church is very similar in how it functions and what it teaches, the one thing that we were not prepared for was the languages and cultures that are present in our ward.  It is not uncommon to have the opening prayer in English, a talk in Portuguese, another few talks in French and then the closing prayer in Spanish.  It is amazing, and yet also, overwhelming. Don't get us wrong, the church was such a comfort zone for us.  We immediately had a family and familiar faces to look forward to seeing each week, but it just felt and definitely sounded different than what we were used to.

So you may be starting to question why is this post that is supposed to be reflecting back over the past year is so negative.  Our overall views on this experience have been very positive.  What I want to demonstrate is that even with all this anxiety, pain, worry, stress and add on any other 5 emotions that could potentially drive you into a state of deep depression, we overcame this and we have had such a wonderful and life changing event.

Over the past year, I have seen my family grow in so many amazing ways.  I wanted to speak about each of them just a little because they have impressed me so much.

My Beautiful Wife E

E never ceases to amaze me.  When I asked her dad if I could marry her, he said that she was his only perfect daughter (sorry S, but I think he told J the same thing about you :) )and that I better treat her right. He mentioned how resilient she was and how she was such an independent person.  Our time here has done more to prove to me all that he said.  E has grown and developed and helped me in so many ways.  For those of you who know E, you know she has a huge heart.  She is willing to help and serve anyone who needs it.  She also is very smart and dedicated to her family.  Even with all the challenges and obstacles that she has faced, these attributes and qualities have not faded.  She currently serves in the church in the young-women's presidency, and is constantly bombarded with the language barrier that exists between her and some of the girls in the program.  Even with this barrier, she has somehow figured out how to create meaningful relationships and more importantly build trust with all the girls in her program.

Anyone who does an expat experience will always talk about the "trailing spouse".  This is the spouse who is not moving overseas because of their job, but because of the job of their spouse.  Surprisingly, this is usually the spouse that takes on the majority of the burdens and culture shock that is associated with moving overseas.  Generally, they are the ones who don't immediately have a purpose and reason for being in a foreign country, and therefore, generally they are the ones who struggle the most.  Also, this spouse deals mainly with the day-to-day routine of life, and as such is faced with more of the interactions with the culture than the spouse who is working.

E struggled, but when I look at how she was able to look inside herself and figure out how to overcome the difficulties that she encountered, I am amazed.  She has adapted like I never could have imagined.  Probably the biggest evidence of this would be the fact that she was able to have a baby overseas without even flinching. Watching her figure out how the system here works, and making sure that she did everything exactly as the system asked (which once again is something that is absolutely required here), was amazing.  She spoke with different doctors, talked with different people at church, and ultimately found a situation and doctor with whom she was very comfortable with.

Ms. A

Ms. A has more than knocked our socks off when it comes to how she has grown.  A few months back E wrote a post about A and how much she has grown here.  In the 6 months following that post, the growth has only continued and A has completely adapted to a new environment.  Probably the most impressive example of this relates to her Luxembourgish.  If you didn't know that Luxembourg has its own language, well it does, and it is definitely something that sounds different.  Its sounds like German and French and Dutch got all together and made a baby!  At our final teacher conference for A this year, her teacher had nothing but positive things to report.  She said that out of all the non-native speakers that she has ever taught, A was the one who impressed her the most.  By the end of the year, they had started to put A into classes that were made for kids struggling to speak Luxembourgish, not because she needed it, but because they identified her as a very good speaker and one that could help the other kids with their vocabulary and pronounciation.  Our neighbor a few weeks ago mentioned that A speaks with a better accent than her own brother who was born in Luxembourg.  Here is a little clip of her singing one of the songs that they have taught her at school.

Finally, to top it all off, there is not a day that goes by that we're not walking down the street and a kid yells out "A...!".  She has sooo many friends here, and they all love playing with her.  It is awesome to see the confidence that she has gained in the last year.  Moving into first grade here she now switches from learning Luxembourgish over to learning German.  She isn't worried in the slightest, and actually made sure a couple weeks ago that we were infact going to be coming back from our vacation in the US, because she wanted to be sure that she could learn German in 1st grade.

Mr. L

Mr. L, well where do we start.  When we moved here, he was still our little guy.  He turned 3 within a few months of us moving here, and he was literally within a few days of being too young to miss the cut-off for school. Ultimately he was the youngest of his class and he was also the only one that did not have any peers who communicated in his mother-tongue.  Much like A he adapted and rose above the challenge.  In our final parent-teacher conference for him, his teachers mentioned how much he has grown over the past few months/year.

It is really cool how they do school work here.  They don't send home a lot of what the kids do in school, and instead they save it in chronological order in binders at the school so that when you have conferences they can show you the child's development and progress.  Seeing L's work at the beginning of the year and comparing it to the end of the year, was like a night and day difference.  On top of learning all the normal things that are expected of kids in school, he was also required to learn a completely new language and do all his work in this language.  Needless to say, he did that, and his teachers and us were very proud of him at the end of the year.

Ms. H

Well Ms. H, she's just been our little firecracker.  Over the past year, she has learned to be miss independent and she loves the words, "No, I will do it by myself...".  She decided that she was ready to be potty trained when she turned 2, and now she is deciding that she wants to learn all the letters in the alphabet and is actually picking up some french along the way.  Its pretty funny, but if she does something she is proud of, she will do it and then say, "Mom, Dad, look, voila!", whenever I leave for work she always says goodbye in 3 languages, "Au revior, Tchau, √Ąddi".  We're looking into trying to find a program that will teach her Luxembourgish for the next year, so that she can keep up with A & L, I have no doubt that if we find one, she will excel.

Ms. E

Well, she is just cute, and she melts our hearts every time she smiles at us.

Overall, I have come to understand why were were "called" here.  We needed to grow.  Last week in church we were discussing several topics, and a member of the class said that the Lord doesn't want us in our comfort zones.  We don't grow when we're in our comfort zones, so he gives us challenges and opportunities that push us outside our comfort zones so that we can grow and develop into what he needs us to be.  Luxembourg has been that experience for our family.  I know that we are all better people than we would have been had we stayed in our life as it was in Chicago.  We have had experiences, seen places, and interacted with people that we would never have imagined.  Thank you everyone for being so supportive and sending us encouraging messages throughout the past year.  We're so blessed to have such a wonderful support system, and we can't wait to see what the next year has in store for us!

Some Changes Over the Year

We thought it would be fun to compare just a few pictures from a year ago, to a few pictures from this year. The changes are pretty crazy.  Enjoy!

Last Year's Family Photo in July

This Year's Family Photo in July

Last Year A & L at the Pirate Ship Park

This Year A at Pirate Ship Park

This Year L at Pirate Ship Park

Last Year H at Pirate Ship Park
This Year H at Pirate Ship Park,
she has no fears...

Our Yard Last Year in July

Our Yard This Year