Several people have asked me this question or a variant of it. Several others have asked me how we cope with the frequent moves that are part and parcel of foreign service life—how do we feel about living in one country while still missing a previous country and simultaneously knowing (and trying to prepare for) where we’re going next? These are good questions! The latter ones were questions that didn’t even start to occur to me until about a year before we left Egypt, when we found out that our next home would be in Cambodia.
I don’t have all the answers. I just began my second attempt at balancing life in one foreign country with the necessary preparations for life in another foreign country. In many ways, I feel like this attempt is my first one, at least the first one that counts, because our final year in Egypt was so chaotic that I was neither living in Egypt in a meaningful way nor preparing for Cambodia at all. (I was physically away from post for 6 of my final 12 months “in” Egypt, because of returning to the States for Alexa’s birth and during the evacuation, and I was focused on my new role as mother more than my life in Egypt per se for 4 of my 6 months there, with the last 2 months focused specifically on departure preparations.) With my time in Cambodia being so short—2 years never felt like such a short time!—and us being only 6 months in, I feel a need to be here, not in some weird hybrid of Cambodia and Kosovo.
So I find myself now in a place that is all too familiar to foreign service families: trying to strike a balance between participating in and enjoying life in the place where I am, and doing the necessary preparation work to ensure a smooth transition to life in the place where I will be. That preparation work includes a whole host of activities: paring down our stuff to an amount that will not cost extra to move and that will fit comfortably into a home of unknown size at our next post; reading books, blogs, and news sources to become familiar with our next home and minimize the culture shock that will come; purchasing the keepsakes that forever will be our reminders of the special people, places, and events of our time here; preparing Alexa to say good-bye to her beloved Miing-Miing (just what have I done to her by encouraging her to attach so deeply to someone whom I knew she couldn’t keep?!); and so much more. Some of those things I could do now, although it would be foolish to do others—really, can you imagine preparing a 21-month-old to say good-bye to a loved one in 18 months? Impossible and traumatic. But others I could do now, and some I have started already. The question is: Just how deep do I want to go into these preparations now? Just how deep can I go without divorcing myself from life here, which I want to avoid doing for at least another year?
I’ve decided on a balance that I hope will work for our family. We’ve announced our next post, but I won’t do much more than that for a while. Jeff and I will begin going through our stuff and getting rid of some (hopefully a lot!) of it—that’s something we would have done in Egypt had we had a more normal experience just before our tour there was over, so the project is as much a leftover from Egypt as it is a preparation for Kosovo. I’ve started following one blog written by an American woman in Kosovo. She doesn’t talk much about daily life there (I couldn’t find a blog that does that in the limited time I gave myself to look), but she does mention items of interest in Kosovan news. That’s about all I intend to do until early next year.
Sometime early next year, possibly in January but maybe not until a little later, I’ll buy a guidebook for Kosovo and start my bucket list. I’ll also go a bit more in-depth in the search for information about the daily lives of expats in Pristina. Our friend who currently is posted there may start getting a lot more questions, and hopefully we’ll be assigned an official sponsor then, so I can start pestering the person who’s supposed to answer my questions. I’ll do another, more intense, search for expat blogs. I’ll do web searches and contact the embassy’s Community Liaison Office in search of English-language churches and playgroups. In short, I’ll start preparing intellectually, laying the groundwork for a smooth transition.
This process, designed to ease our settling-in period in Kosovo, will have the side effect of beginning my emotional divorce from Cambodia. Next spring or summer, the urge probably will hit to go shopping—to buy whatever is most representative of Cambodia that has not made its way into our home already. As I learn more and get more excited about Kosovo, my head increasingly will be there and not here; when that starts to hit, my emotions will clue in on the fact that we're really leaving, and I'll become both nostalgic for Cambodia and detached from Cambodia at the same time. I won’t be at all surprised if by late summer, I’m distancing myself from friends and favorite activities here, making the inevitable good-bye easier.
So to get back to the most common question: Are we excited about Kosovo? No, not yet, by our own choice. We believe that we will enjoy Kosovo, that it will offer unique experiences and challenges that will help us to grow as individuals and as a family, that it will be an exciting place for us to be. The excitement will come. But when it does, we’ll lose Cambodia. So we’re holding that off for now. Right now, we want to be excited about Cambodia. Kosovo will have its turn later.