Moving Abroad: A Decision 14 Years in the Making
What is A Sabbatical?
In June of 2018 my husband, Fernando, and I moved from Claremont, California to Turin, Italy, along with our two children, ages seven and eleven. The opportunity to move abroad was made possible by Fernando’s position as a professor at a liberal arts college that offered academic sabbaticals to faculty, following a number of years of service.
Academic sabbaticals provide faculty with a break from teaching; freeing up more time for the faculty member to engage in professional research. At Fernando's institution, academic sabbaticals are granted a semester at a time. If a faculty member delays taking their sabbatical for enough semesters, they may have the opportunity to earn a second sabbatical - the equivalent of a full academic year.
Our Earliest Years
Fernando and I spent our childhoods crossing borders. Journeying in the direction of one "home" or another, was formative for both of us. For him, it was Mexico, the U.S., and Italy. For me, it was the U.S. and The Philippines. Our family ties and histories of immigration made traveling a normal and necessary part of life.
In some ways, the decision to go abroad for Fernando's sabbatical is as old as our marriage. One thing that we both looked forward to when Fernando accepted the position of assistant professor of economics was the prospect of one day (temporarily) moving abroad to a country of our choosing. It was a destination in time that we were very eager to reach.
As the years went by the goal post kept moving. We went from being a bright-eyed couple to being the parents of one, then two, children. I alternated between "at-home" parenting and full-time positions as a college administrator. Fernando started off as a young college professor and eventually became a (not-as-young) college administrator, who later returned to teaching. At the end of fourteen years of hustling at work, while also raising two children, we were more than ready for a change of scenery and a change of pace.
Introducing the Sabbatical to Our Children
As soon as our small children could grasp the concept of a sabbatical, we explained that one day we would be moving to another country where they would have to learn a new language. “When we go on sabbatical…” was not an uncommon way to start a sentence at home. We did this in order to try and normalize the concept of packing up and leaving for an extended period of time. We always knew that this move would not be an easy one, especially for children.
Year after year we saw Fernando's colleagues come and go from their time on sabbatical. While some faculty spent this time working on research from home - perhaps giving their partner a break by assuming more childcare duties, while also writing a book - others completed fellowships or positions as visiting researchers at a different institution in the United States. A smaller group of his colleagues embarked on sojourns abroad, as we did. We imagined the lives of friends and colleagues in Jakarta or Berlin. Over the years we gathered as much first-hand information on those experiences as possible, especially from families with school-aged children.
How Our Life in Claremont Paved the Way for Life Abroad
For the three years leading up to our departure, I juggled my responsibilities as a mother of 2 children with my job helping provide support for international undergraduate and graduate students.
In my personal life, I bade farewell to friends and colleagues who were preparing for their own sabbaticals; while at work, my colleagues and I prepared for the arrival of Claremont-bound students from across the globe. Meeting many kind, creative, interesting, and motivated students over my eight years in international education encouraged me to provide my own children with international experience at a young age.
The international student community in Claremont also branched out beyond the confines of the colleges. Our son and daughter went to school with the young children of graduate students from countries like Turkey, South Korea, Nigeria, and China. Fernando and I often drew parallels between the experiences of their recently-arrived classmates (some of whom were still learning English) and the experiences that awaited our children when the time came for us to move abroad.
Resigning from my job (roughly six weeks prior to our departure) meant much more than giving up a paycheck. It meant leaving a community of colleagues and students with whom I did interesting and impactful work. Ending my time at an office that contributed so much to my formation as an adult added to the emotional weight of our decision to move.
The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants: Choosing Italy
Choosing the right location for the sabbatical was an important task that had to be done relatively early to allow for ample time to plan our stay. The parameters for this choice were: (1) Finding a group of economists doing research in areas of study similar to Fernando's research, (2) Securing the appropriate immigration status for the duration of our intended stay, and finally, (3) Ensuring that the city we intended to move to was one we could also afford to live in.
Helping our children become fluent in Spanish was important to us so we entertained the idea of moving to cities like Mexico City, Cartagena, Buenos Aires, and Pamplona. But in the end, Fernando had to follow the half of his heart that he inherited from his Roman-born, Tuscan mother: It had to be Italy.
As long as our family could move to a different country and study a new language during the sabbatical, I was happy to help Fernando, and our children, connect with their Italian roots. Fernando proposed Turin, the capital of Piedmont in Italy's northwest. Both Fernando and I have clear memories of my visit for work, a decade prior. The memory of this trip is clear since it was the first time I had ever been away from our then two-year-old son (and the first time father and son would be left on their own). While away from our little one, I loaded up on Italian children's books and music. In hindsight, these souvenirs served as the early foundation for his study of Italian. We also liked that despite Turin being a large, historically important city, it drew fewer crowds than cities like Rome, Florence, or Milan.
Veronica, a friend of Fernando's from graduate school, lived there and was immediately willing to help us navigate housing and schooling, including sending us a personalized introduction to Turin. With all of the things that made our move difficult, having a local resource who was as generous with her time as she was thoughtful about our experience, was heaven-sent. We even gave her the nickname "The Angel of Torino", because of how significant Veronica's support was to our final selection of Turin and how much she helped us with logistics.
Getting Our Children On Board: A New Phase of Parenting Begins
By the time the preparations for sabbatical began, our son was in his final year of elementary school and our daughter had just entered the first grade. Even though we worked hard to sell the dream of moving abroad to our children, neither was excited about it. Telling them about children in our community (including some of their friends) whose families had moved abroad for a year, (and survived!), was our way of normalizing a dramatic decision. In truth, all of the talk of sabbatical may have backfired; perhaps giving them more to worry about long before it was a reality. Whatever it was that may have contributed to their moods, they remained resistant to leaving their hometown for another country.
Facing moderate (significant?) resistance from the younger half of our family, we were reminded that taking their experiences and feelings into account would be crucial to the success of our venture. Although we were taking a “sabbatical” from our life in Claremont, we were very far from taking a sabbatical from our life as parents. In fact, moving abroad remarkably intensified the experience of parenting.
The fact that we were moving abroad with children led to many of the choices Fernando and I made. Where we chose to live (walking distance to the kids’ schools), how we spent our time (lots and lots of soccer!), and how we spent our money, were all heavily influenced by our children’s needs and interests. Sometimes our children's desires and what we perceived as their needs played an outsized role in the decisions we made. It was easy for me to overcompensate when I felt guilty about the struggles they were facing. They grappled daily with socializing and schooling in Italian and sometimes I worried that all of it was too much to ask.
Meeting the challenges of raising our kids in Italy lasted nearly the entire time we were abroad, but certainly got easier over time as each of us acclimated to this new stage of our family's life. It pushed each of us to grow in different ways, for ourselves as well as for one another.
Light at The End Tunnel
Parenting our children through the sabbatical in Italy was the biggest test of our life as parents (so far!) Our endurance was rewarded within three months of returning to California when both kids asked - in all seriousness - when the next sabbatical was, and if we could all go back to Italy. Although Fernando always had faith that this moment would arrive, it still shocked us both to see how ready our children were to return, especially since they had spent so much time (in the earliest months) voicing how much they missed California and pointing out everything that was "better at home".
The challenges of the sabbatical (and parenting) didn’t exactly end when we landed at LAX in June of 2020 with the pandemic still claiming lives at an alarming rate around the world. Our children spent that summer mostly at home and were required to attend school online for more than half the year. Returning to the United States ushered us back into a new period of adjustment that required important and distinctly different considerations for our children.
Want to know more about the two years my family spent in Turin, Italy (including what it was like to experience the pandemic)? To learn more about my family's two years in Turin, click here!
Subscribe at: https://www.jessicaalampay.com/blog