When I was eight, my family moved to Belgium. You knew that about me, right? No? Well, we did, and we were there for a little over a year (not the three to five it was supposed to be, but that’s a different story). Honestly? It was my favorite place I ever lived.
In Belgium (at least at the time), non-citizens weren’t allowed to own houses, so we rented a 500 year old farmhouse. We had a huge backyard with apple and pear trees and lived on a one lane cobblestone road – gloriously named Chemin du Bas Ransbeck in the tiny village of Ohain just outside Waterloo. I remember the stone floors and the root cellar, the chalkboard on the kitchen wall for the daily shopping list, the lack of screen on the windows because there are no bugs, and the lack of closets in the house.
It was eye opening for an eight year old. Not every country has closets built into the house? You have to purchase wardrobes instead? People go shopping on a daily basis instead of stocking up for the week (that was my mom’s favorite – and she never made it to school to pick us up with a loaf of bread intact)? And wait… they eat horse meat? That one we discovered when my mom cooked a roast that just wouldn’t bake. It stayed pink/red and never turned brown. After three hours, she finally threw it out, only to discover later that “cheval” means horse in French. She was really careful about what she bought after that.
My sister an I attended St. John’s, an international school not too far from our house. It was taught in English, but every student learned French. I don’t mean “studied” or “had a half hour class once or twice a week.” We learned it through songs and slideshows and conversations and more. Apparently I was pretty fluent by the time we left. And had I stayed into fourth grade, that’s when they added a third language aside from English and French. And a fourth language followed. Did I mention that they followed the block schedule even in elementary school so that we studied our subjects in big blocks of time to get through the material without having to rush to get to the next subject? I found that fascinating, and it was a hard adjustment when I moved back to the States.
I would move back in a heartbeat, but my husband’s job isn’t made for us to be expats, so the wee ones will never have the same experience I did – driving through Europe on weekends to visit Poland and Spain and West Germany (hey, it was the 80s – there was a West Germany) and more. I saw so many things that were just normal to me that made a lasting impression.
I’m grateful that Little Miss is in a Spanish immersion program and will have the language – and a little culture – that most Americans don’t receive in elementary school. I’m happy that Mister Man takes a Spanish class once a week to at least expose him to the language. And one day, I hope we’ll be able to spend the summer renting an apartment in Europe so that they can have some of that experience. Regardless, I’ll encourage them to do a study abroad program in college if not in high school.
Because this understanding the rest of the world and where we fit into it ? It’s kind of important stuff. Have you ever lived abroad? Would you want to – with or without kids?
In the interest of full disclosure, this post is part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts based on books we read as opposed to traditional book reviews. I received a copy of “The Headmaster’s Wager” by Vincent Lam to facilitate my post, but I was not compensated. All opinions remain my own.