By Luciana Corrêa
When we moved to DC two years ago, another journey began for me—a personal one. I would like to tell you a story about discoveries I have made about myself through dealing with the challenges of relocation.
Before relocation, I worked twelve hours a day for twenty years, didn’t cook for my family, forgot my sneakers everywhere, and collected books and movies, which I never had time to look at. I was generally satisfied working as a communication manager after finishing a masters in education, however, I also felt deep down that my working environment did not truly reflect my values, but I did not have the courage to rebuild my career as a professor and education/communication consultant and researcher. Fate intervened!
At that time my husband was a visiting professor at a university in the UK, and I decided to join him with our son for six months. It was an excellent time for a sabbatical and a perfect experience for our eight-year-old to practice his English skills. I got a job as a freelance writer for a website, and spent most of my time in seminars, lectures, exhibitions, and cycling around the colleges of Cambridge. Also, London was a short distance away, and the museums, street markets, parks, teas, theaters, concerts, and all its resources were hugely interesting for me.
We went back to Brazil, our home country, and I applied for only one job, to teach a course at a university, which I got. It seemed like my dream was becoming a reality, but after one month, my spouse received an invitation to move to Washington within two months to work in a multilateral organization. We analyzed the proposal, and felt he could not decline this unique career opportunity. Also, my son could finish elementary school in the USA, and I could keep working on applying to a Ph.D. program, and on my professional changes.
I have always believed that changes are like a puzzle. The final image will be the same--your happiness, but the pieces are going to combine in different ways, time-lines, and environments. This image of my happiness has kept me going through the many difficulties of relocation and being a foreigner in Washington DC.
The first relocation challenge was finding schooling for our son. In the Washington area, they have good public schools, and good ESL programs (English as a Second Language). So, after researching greatschools.org to look at ratings and features, and speaking with other expats, we found the right school district to be in. We are urban people and wanted to live close to public transport and avoid using a car. The school admission process was straightforward, especially compared to the one we faced in the UK, but first we had to have a residence in the school district.
The next big step was housing. We researched websites like Zillow and DCHousingsearch. In the end, a friend found the perfect place for us. She checked it out, the owner sent some pictures, we spoke by Skype, and we were able to move in only two weeks after arriving. If you are not so lucky, list the primary conditions for your family, research online and contact a local real estate agent. But be prepared to let go of two or three of your wishes. Mine was a garage, few stairs, and no obligation to clean the snow during the winter.
Make it easy for yourself! Do not bring much furniture or kitchen supplies, or even any. You can easily buy anything you need to make yourself comfortable, and don't rush because there are so many sales during the holidays in the USA. My tablecloths waited for me for six months, and a sideboard-buffet is still inside the store. Our priorities were beds, dishware, cutlery, towels, a coffee machine, and a sofa. We followed later with a stereo, guitar, and a keyboard because you cannot survive without music. I hear my son’s friends comment on how little furniture we have, but, we are getting by surprisingly well with what we have.
Day by Day
Let’s be straightforward: you are still working even if you don’t have an employer or get paid. So, I started to consider myself as self-employed--looking for new opportunities, developing my professional skills, and being open to innovative ways to keep going with my career change. I decided to split my day into five areas: family, physical health, mental health, household duties, and researching and developing my professional goals and skills. I tried to manage my agenda every day, listing at least one commitment for each, and checking what I did at the end of the day so that I could keep track of my efforts. For example, at the beginning I took my son to school, walked or ran for one hour in the neighborhood, read the news and my emails, researched continuing education, and went to an English class at the library. After lunch, I read for one hour or watched something in English, organized the house, and picked up my son from school, spending the rest of my day with him. After a while, you will discover book clubs, city walks, museums, groups to practice other languages with, and many kinds of social opportunities related to your interests. After a while take courses, especially ones offered by WBFN to understand the professional norms and culture in your new country, and attend their events and networking opportunities. But do not feel guilty spending the first months figuring out how it works, and working on finding opportunities. It’s important to feel welcomed into your new environment. Of course, these tasks have changed over time as I settled in, but I hope to keep my five rules for the rest of my life.
Facing these challenges has taught me not to regret my personal belongings in Brazil, or my country’s culture, which I love and know so well, or even my professional life there. I practice “re” as in relocate, rebuild, and reinvent priorities, dreams, and skills. Rebuilding my relationship with myself and my family, now that I have the time, has been huge for me. Here’s what I have learned: we can be re-happy!
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