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Moving on or staying put

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This past week I got a series of emails regarding picnics, moving sales and a final girls’ night-out in honor of some Prague friends moving back to their home countries at the beginning of the summer. Although early summer moves are par for the course, as school’s end for families with children makes it a natural transitioning period, this year has been one of the first times that we’ve had close friends participating in this moving phenomenon.

Having a Czech partner seems to make our family somewhat isolated from the unavoidable merry-go-round of expat influx/exodus associated with living abroad, which is particularly true for families who live in a country where neither partner has citizenship or roots. It’s natural for international companies, missionary endeavors and diplomatic posts to reposition their employees and families every few years. Still, although the thrill of moving and experiencing a different culture is enticing, I’m relieved that I finally feel settled into my life in the Czech Republic – enough to feel that it is home.

When I was living in Prague the first time, the comings and goings of my fellow expat English teaching friends were expected. Most of the Czechs I met thought I was an anomaly to be willing to commit to staying in Prague, and none of Radek’s friends was surprised when we told them we’d decided to live in America for a few years. Yet once we returned to Prague, most of our Czech friends took it for granted that we were here to stay long-term.

When I talked with my girl friends who are also married to Czech partners, many of them say they felt similarly. Although we all wax poetic about our childhoods in our home countries, most of us agree that raising our children to appreciate their Czech heritage and to be multilingual is definitely a major plus. For myself, knowing Czech, at least passively and being comfortable with Czech culture, also contributes to my sense of having developed deepening roots here.

When the question of schooling comes up among my mother friends married to Czechs, it seems reasonable that we’ve chosen to enroll our children in the Czech school system. Some however, plan to supplement their children’s primary education with after-school courses in English, Russian or French. The linguistic benefits and the continuity that our children experience by attending Czech schools seems to outweigh the less-than-ideal aspects of Czech grammar school education, such as larger class sizes and the more-rigid approach to particular disciplines. From my own perspective, these aspects definitely outweigh the drawbacks of the international schools, particularly the hefty tuition fees and a more transitional student body. I know that this standard doesn’t hold true for all mixed families, since my expat friends who have children in the international school system tell me that many of the families who attend are at least half-Czech.

Although I know that children often adapt to new circumstances with more grace than adults, I do wonder how the children at the international schools adjust to the constant transitions Adjustment is required for both those who are leaving and those left behind. It was for this reason primarily that I had vetoed purchasing a townhouse in a residential neighborhood known for a high percentage of foreign renters a few years ago. The townhouse itself was nice, but I couldn’t get over the idea that our neighbors would be comprised largely of non-Czechs who’d be leaving every two to three years. Even if I’d make new friends quicker than I might in a predominantly Czech neighborhood, I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to my children to expect them to have a normal Czech upbringing in such a transitional neighborhood.

One of our friends leaving Prague this spring is actually one of the few non-Czech families that I know who enrolled their daughter in a Czech state preschool or grammar school. I admired their decision when they told me about it initially, and when Anna Lee and her friend had a recent play date, I smiled when the little girl told me she could speak Czech “a little.” Since she’s not likely to hear much Czech back in her English-speaking home country, I wonder how she’ll view her first school experience with some perspective. Granted it may seem strange now to wear her regular shoes, not slippers, into class or to eat a packed lunch after eating soup and a hot main course for the past two years. Her younger brother has also been exposed to Czech with his babysitters, so perhaps the two will have a reason to return to Prague as adolescents or young adults and rediscover the country that gave them some of their first life experiences.

For my children, having their friends move away to another country is hard. Up to this point their friends have either lived in America or the Czech Republic, but haven’t relocated beyond changing apartments or transitioning from the city to the suburbs. Initially, Anna was more saddened to learn that her friend will move away before Anna’s “name day” party in the summer, rather than the fact that she’ll be leaving “forever.”

Over the past four years, we’ve lost touch with some of the friends that we made when we first moved to Prague, the playground buddies, former students, and children we’ve attended activity classes with, yet there’s always a good chance that we’ll run into these families out-and-about in Prague. On more than one occasion, I’ve met a parent from one activity class a few years later at a different course or seen someone I taught walking down the street pushing a stroller. I’m always surprised and delighted to see these glimpses from my past, since it gives further proof that my life here as a foreigner isn’t as transitional as it might seem.

I’m keen to celebrate my friends’ last few weeks in Prague, and I’m just as eager to see where their adventures take them down the road. I won’t say I’m not jealous. I’d love to exchange the security of home for the thrill of something new – at least once or twice in the next decade, but for the moment I’m content to live vicariously. Knowing that these friends will pass out of our daily lives, just gives me impetus to pack our bags in a year or two and head for a summer holiday or an extended visit to their home country, to broaden our horizons and reminisce about their days living in the Czech Republic.

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