We stepped off the plane, walked to baggage claim and waited…and waited. Our luggage never made it to our connecting flight. We took a cab through our new and unknown country. Upon arriving at our apartment, we find the door is locked. I look down at my children and back at my husband as we stood on a desolate street, tired and hungry, with only the clothes on our backs. At that instant, I was filled with a sudden feeling of dread. What had I done? I made a terrible mistake! After all, it was my idea to uproot my family, leave the comfort and security of our home, family and community, and move across the world to the quaint European country of Luxembourg.
I thought back to the many reasons we chose to do this: financial gain, travel opportunities, the adventure and excitement of living in a country with a language foreign to us. My fears and doubts upon arriving were only natural, and slowly started to dissipate.
A year and a half now has passed since that moment of doubt standing on the street. Throughout my time here I have constantly been trying to piece together what I have learned and gained from living abroad, hoping to inspire anyone toying with the idea of it to take the leap. I know we are glad we did it.
1. It is never too late in your life to learn something new, whether it be a new language, mountain biking or Nordic walking. One should always be open to new experiences.
2. Most people do not like drastic change in their lives, but I believe that change is healthy for the human mind, body and soul. Everyone should attempt to alter their routines, if it’s just slightly. Change can teach you a lot about yourself, your family, and strengthen your bonds. My own marriage has evolved dramatically in the time we have been abroad simply because of the many new experiences and situations we had to face together, without the aid or guidance of our loved ones. And through this process, we learned to be more than husband and wife, we became best friends.
3. You will meet amazing people from all walks of life wherever you go. And finding new friends and making new memories is all part of the experience of this life. It’s important to note that while I did not meet any Muslims in Luxembourg, the friends I made have each taught me something important about myself, life and about being a better Muslim. I am grateful to have met such wonderful people.
4. Traveling with kids is a blessing, not a burden. In the past eighteen months we have traveled to nine different countries and multiple cities within those countries. Even the youngest of children are resilient and learn so much by being exposed to different places, cultures, food and people. Don’t be afraid to explore the world with your little ones.
5. Keeping in touch with people and maintaining long distance relationships is quite difficult, but very rewarding if you make the effort. I have heard from many different people that leaving can either make or break your relationships. However, everyone’s lives change and real friends will always be there no matter where you are or how long you are gone.
6. Being away from friends and family and the support of a Muslim community really makes you appreciate them much more. But it will also make you a stronger person as you learn to be independent of them. Your identity becomes stronger as you face the world of non-Muslims and learn to answer the questions others have about your faith. At the same time, moments of struggle and weakness and even doubt will bring you to your knees. But the point is to always get back up.
7. When you are away, there is a sense of quiet that develops in your mind and allows you to see yourself very clearly. You will see your relationship with Allah(swt) in a new light. Whatever you realize at that moment, whether your relationship is strong or weak, it is truly an awakening experience. As people, we depend so much on others that we forget that the most important relationship we need to work on is the one with our Creator.
8. It is amazing how differently and simply people live outside the United States. The materialistic culture of the US is known to all. To be able to experience a lifestyle and people in a country that does not value consumerism has been the most rewarding lesson learned. To value the beauty of nature, family time, travel, hobbies, education etc, has been a humbling lesson and one to carry with us wherever we go.
Although it’s been difficult at times, being an expatriate family has been one of the most eye-opening and heart softening experiences of my entire life. The beauty of this country, the civility and tranquility of its’ people and culture has left an imprint on my memory. I will forever hold Luxembourg dear to my heart.
Christina Elahmar is a newly minted ex-pat living in Luxembourg. She is a homeschooling mom of two, and a former English teacher and writing consultant. Follow her adventures in homeschooling at christinaelahmar.blogspot.com