Planning for the unexpected

I know, it sounds counterintuitive to plan for the unexpected, but just hear me out – there is a case to be made for doing just that. One of the big questions for anyone relocating to a foreign country is how to handle relationships and practical matters back home. It’s an issue that gets easily lost in the hustle and bustle of pre-departure preparations and hit-the-ground-running mentality upon arrival. However, giving some thought to how you’ll deal with an emergency back home is an exercise worth undertaking. Likewise, pondering how you’ll feel about missing some of the fun stuff, such as birthday parties or holidays, is an equally worthwhile exercise. It all comes down to being well prepared.

The good news is that actually keeping in touch with people is pretty easy and affordable these days, so staying informed should not be a problem. However, anyone living abroad for an extended period of time will eventually be in a situation where a decision has to be made to go home unexpectedly for an emergency, or figure out if there is time and money to attend a family event. When that happens you’re not only up against time, but finances and practical issues such as who-will-pick-up-the-kids-from-school-when-I-am-gone-without-having-had-time-to-make-arrangements, will also come into play.

I’ve been living abroad for over 20 years and I have been mostly lucky. Only once has there been a true emergency, where circumstances were dire enough that all I could do was hop on the first flight out, without thought to money or kids or appointments, and hope for the best on all ends.

I got the call during my daughter’s birthday party, saying my brother had been in a life threatening car accident (I’ll spare you the agony and let you know right here that everything ended well). However, the panic and helplessness I felt were intense. There was nothing I could do. I was a 12-hour plane flight away. Not only could I not get home fast enough, but the travel itself was excruciating as I had no idea what was happening while I was in transition.

You can never prepare emotionally for this kind of phone call and circumstance. It will always be a shock and if you live on the other side of the planet, you’ll likely end up feeling helpless and scared, like I did. However, there are some things you can do to be prepared, such as making sure you have an emergency travel fund and a plan for who takes care of everyday stuff at home while you are gone. Do you have a support network that can help with your kids for example? Who walks the dog? Can you take time off work, if so how much, and what is the procedure?

There are other times when you may have to miss out on the fun stuff – either because of timing or money or both. And while it’s not as traumatic as a medical emergency, it can still sting to have to say no to a family reunion, a holiday celebration, a 50th birthday bash, or a friend’s wedding – all of this I know from experience.

In the early days these kinds of decisions came down to money for us, and more often than not did we not have the extra cash to spare on a trip. Later on it was time and timing, and being pregnant or having a newborn, or school or work or …, well, you get the picture – it’s hard to get away when life is in full motion. What you can do: make plans for that which you can control, give some thought to that which you can’t.

By: Felicia Shermis

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