We spent a month in England enjoying our first UK Christmas in three years. Having dropped our daughter back to her boarding school in England, I left heavy hearted with my two sons, dreading the return to the minus temperatures in Seoul and being away from her, friends and family. Here are my tips for how we coped:
We made an effort to offer proper sibling time before our return
One of the difficulties boarding a child in the UK and keeping other siblings in the international school overseas is the different holidays. On the plus side this may mean some parents are able to spend individual time with their child when they fly over for half terms, whilst the other children are at school, but it does also mean that siblings have less time together.
The boys were meant to return to Seoul with my husband but instead we postponed their flights to fly out with me a week later so that they could enjoy that extra time with their sister. We felt this sibling time was more important than missing a week of school.
I spent some free time by myself at home
Unless you are lucky enough to have kept a base in the UK, while you are there you end up moving locations between family, friends and rented accommodation. You also spend much time in the car visiting friends and family which is very special but is also tiring and unsettling for you and the children.
Don’t underestimate how great it is to return to your own space, even if it’s in a country where you do not feel quite settled! Make sure that in those first couple of weeks back you manage some free time for yourself whilst the children are at school.
We found the children’s return to school was easier than expected
I was worried how the boys were going to cope back in Seoul away from their extended family and friends, as well as my daughter back in boarding school after Christmas.
Actually a month of no ‘structure’ was enough for the boys, particularly my youngest, and they loved regaining that routine and seeing their friends, and they were made to feel more special by returning a week late. My daughter was soon immersed into the (deliberately) busy and fun life of her school, excited to be back in a new dorm amongst friends.
Our daughter has great coping strategies – and so do I
The hardest part of the term for us seems to be those three weeks after her return to school, which is as I write now. Memories of that closeness together become more diluted, longing to see and cuddle her again. The boys have each other and are pretty resilient although obviously miss her too. Luckily she is in the most wonderful, nurturing prep school and knowing she is very happy there is of great comfort.
How does my daughter cope?…
The choice of school is obviously key and we wanted somewhere that was relaxed (a consent form for climbing trees is an important part of the joining pack) and needless to say provided excellent pastoral care. She can phone us whenever she wants at break times (often three times a day) and even if the call is a minute long, she just phones to hear our voices. As the time is so special, these calls are positively intense and she often talks about anything troubling her or something she is proud of – which is often more than I get out of the boys when they return home everyday! My wonderful parents are her guardians and live less than an hour away. She visits them every exeat and the odd weekend on top, as well as spending time with aunts and uncles. However she also enjoys being at school during those weekends when there is a smaller group of friends and lots of caring staff and activities on offer! We ‘Skype’ once a week (used to take place during a break time when she was always clock watching but now has moved to UK Sunday morning, which is much more relaxing for her).
How do I cope? …
Keeping busy, surrounding myself with friends who have a positive outlook on life here and knowing she is happy and in the best place for her. During our previous posting in Doha, I worked full time in the children’s school but here it is harder to find suitable work, especially to fit around her holidays. However I immerse myself in other areas such as the committee of the British Association (many have older children boarding which is of great comfort, unlike other nationalities where boarding isn’t as much part of their culture); voluntary English teaching and helping out at the boys’ school.
The return to our expat home has been better than I expected
I was dreading the freezing temperatures but in actual fact it is not as cold as I feared and I am enjoying the blue skies and crisp air.
It is so positive doing activities which you can’t do back in your home country. We love walking to school with the boys; something we didn’t experience back in UK. Also we are skiing every weekend we can, the slopes being only 1-2 hours out of Seoul.
Skype and Facebook make life so much easier
It is so much easier now with e-mail, Skype and Facebook. Online access isn’t just great for booking all our flights back to England over the course of 2015 to see my daughter, family and friends…It’s also a wonderful way to observe that little changes back home when you are away!
Hannah is a British expat who has lived in Seoul since April 2014 (when her daughter started boarding school) with her husband and two young boys. Before this they lived in Qatar for 18 months.