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What My Mom Taught Me About Expat Life

I know that Mother’s Day is another holiday made up by the greeting card companies to get more money, but I think it’s good to have a day where you show your appreciation for everything your mom has done (and why limit it to one?). That said, I haven’t seen my mother on the second Saturday in May since…2004. It’s not that I don’t want to be there, but in college I usually took off on a summer trip as soon as finals finished, and once I graduated I moved to Australia…and it’s a bit too expensive to pop over to America for the weekend from here!

So, rather than going back to Texas last Sunday, I decided to write about one of the lessons my mother has taught me in life — a lesson that’s been very crucial to my life as an expat here in Australia. That lesson? That you can move across the world and still be as close to your family as you would be if you lived in the same town.

The Repshers and Phillipses

My whole family gathered together on a trip to England.

The funny thing about my family is that I’m not the first expat — not by a long shot. That trend started in the 1940s when my grandparents left England for the much warmer climes of Brazil. They stayed there for seven years, during which time my mother was born, before moving back to the motherland. In the 70s, my mom repeated the trend by moving to Houston for graduate school, except she never moved back. Even my dad got in on the trend when he moved to Singapore to work for two years.

My mom’s moving to America was a lot bigger of a step than my move to Australia. I called my parents as soon as I landed; my mom had to wait six months before she got to talk to her parents, by way of a phone call given to her as a Christmas present by her roommate’s parents. They could communicate by letter, but that doesn’t have quite the sense of immediacy as a Skype call does now. She had to make her way on her own, knowing that she had a support system at home but not being able to call on it like I do now.

Traveling West

My parents & grandparents on one of their trips to America's West.

The US didn’t make life particularly easy for her either. Due to visa regulations, she couldn’t get married in England like she’d wanted; none of her side of the family was able to go to my parents’ wedding in Houston. Once she’d married my dad, the American government didn’t give her permanent residency for another four years, which was fine except it meant she couldn’t leave the country, even for her grandparents’ funerals, because she wouldn’t have a visa to come back in.

Not to mention the fact that the University of Houston wanted her to take an English as a foreign language exam because she was an international student. America is the only country that speaks English, right?

At Duart Castle

On our first big summer trip to the UK when I was 7. We're sitting on a cannon at Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull.

Yet through all of this, my mother stayed close to her family and best friend in England. When I was growing up, my brother and I were closer to my grandparents in England than we were to the ones that lived across town. We had weekly phone calls with them and got to see them at least once a year. Our family trips were never to Disney World or the like, but instead, every other year we spent six weeks in England — and it was so much better than Disney would have been! I’m now friends with my mom’s best friend’s children and I try to see them whenever I go across to the UK.

Even though I knew that moving to Australia was the right choice after I graduated, it was still a scary step. I was moving to Perth, which is pretty much as far as you can get from Houston. I knew no one there and would be starting my first job out of college…but I knew that I could make it because my mom did it. My mom picked up and left her country and made a great new life for herself while still keeping her roots, so I could too. I could live by her motto, “one day at a time,” and try to not let the big picture overwhelm me.

At Selsey

From our visit to Selsey, where my grandfather was born, when I was nine.

That thought, and the fact that I could call her, my dad, and my grandparents kept me going during the rough times that I hit in those first few months in Perth. She probably doesn’t like hearing that because it means that she helped to inspire me even though she was the one that told me when I first studied abroad that I couldn’t meet anybody and move to Australia to be with them, but it’s the truth.

So just like my mom and her parents, we’ve made it work despite the distance. We’ve all found plans that minimise the cost of phone calls (but even if we hadn’t, I’d pay for them) and there’s been quite a few plane tickets purchased between us through the years. We’ve been able to meet up in exotic locales like the Whitsundays and Cleethorpes and have managed to spend quite a few Christmases together.

Family Portrait

Our family all together in England in May 2011 for my grandparents' 90th birthdays.

For this, and so many other reasons, my mother is an inspiration to me. So Mom, happy Mother’s Day (even if it’s a few days late), and I hope that you get some time to relax!

And Dad, you’re the best too and I’m thinking of you this week.

What’s one of the big things that your mother has inspired you to do?

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