This is the post in which I sum up all the wonderful and exciting things I did over the last year, painting a glamorous picture of Foreign Service life that will make you jealous as hell.
Expat life is a weird combination of exciting, stressful, and totally mundane. That was our 2015, right there.
Yes, we moved to Europe! Except, of course, it is our third time moving to central Europe. So, kinda been there, done that in several ways. Of course, there are some unique things about Warsaw, but moving from Vienna to Warsaw is more like moving from say, Washington, DC to Philadelphia than from Moscow to Madrid. There are more similarities than there are differences. When I look out my window here, I could be in Vienna—or Prague, for that matter. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying, aside from the language, it’s not that new to us. Now, if we had been posted to Madrid…but that’s neither here nor there.
When you get right down to it, life is about grocery shopping, traffic, finding a vet, or getting the sink fixed, no matter where you live. It is more exciting to shop in a new country than to buy groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, but it is also a lot more work. That said, I have finally learned not to buy the sweet cheese pierogies as a side dish for dinner, to cook parsnips so that my husband will eat them, and to successfully ask for a quarter-kilo of kielbasa at the deli counter. So, the little hurdles are falling, one by one. Getting back to mundane can be a good thing. A person only needs so much excitement at the grocery store, after all.
Yes, we learned a new language! Or tried to. While it may sound very cool to speak five languages (at least in theory) in fact, my husband spent months “sitting on his butt” in a tiny classroom and many, many hours memorizing verb conjugations and case endings. He would be the first to describe this as well-paid drudgery. Not something most middle-aged guys would sign up for voluntarily. But he did it. He passed his proficiency test in one of the top ten most difficult languages to learn, and I am proud of him. (I’m proud of myself, too, for learning the little that I have!)
Yes, we traveled! OK, that was pretty exciting. In fact, travel is one of two reasons we signed on for another overseas tour. The first reason, quite honestly, was to pay for our son’s university. Free housing for four years (three in Warsaw, plus one year of language training) pays for college. Pretty mundane, right? But many a Foreign Service tour has come about for exactly that reason. We just feel very lucky that we were able to do our “college tour” together, in a nice place.
Back to travel: our only major trip in 2015 was to Denmark, but we also made several in-country visits to places such as Wroclaw and Krakow. The Diplomat has regional responsibilities which will take him all over the country, and so I will continue to tag along now and then. I’ve also signed up for airline discount newsletters to make the most of our time in a European airline hub. Our first cheap flight will be to—guess where?—Madrid! Yes, in a couple of weeks I will be speaking the one foreign language I have actually somewhat mastered in a city that is considerably less cold and gray than Warsaw. I’m really looking forward to it!
Travel is clearly going to be more than just a luxury for me during this tour: I need to get the heck out of Poland in the winter. After returning from Madrid, I’ll be flying to California to visit my daughter, and home to Nashville to help my mom out after a knee operation. Next winter, I’ll be scheduling similar trips, hopefully minus medical procedures.
I have noticed that longtime Foreign Service spouses tend to spend more time away from post. Without young children to set the schedule, there is much less incentive to stick around. I don’t feel terribly essential here. It is both liberating and annoying. It makes me impatient. Really, I would like to be getting settled in my own home, running my own life for a change. Putting in a new kitchen. Planting a garden. Seeing my kids and my parents more than twice a year. Getting a job that is in a different building (and a different hierarchy) than my husband. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right? I mean, I’m almost fifty years old people. Not sure how that happened (and I definitely don’t feel old) but still. There are some things that can’t be put off forever.
So, I’ve accepted that this will be a transitional sort of post for me. I will have one foot in Poland and one in the States. I have a tentative plan to leave post early—skipping most of the last winter in Warsaw, funny thing—in order to get us settled back in DC. There will be either be a house to renovate or a house to buy, one or the other (or both). There will be many, many mysterious items coming out of storage. There will be a job to find, people to see, family to visit, connections to re-establish, roots to put down. Finally.
In the meantime, I have some plans for the New Year. OK, let’s call them resolutions. Training (and trimming down) for another hiking holiday in the UK next summer. Keeping up the art classes. I also just signed up for online photography classes. I’m going to learn more about my camera, and use this blog as a jumping-off point for selling travel photos online. Time to take it up a notch.
2015 was very much like 2011, and 2004, and 2000, and 1997, and all the other years in which we moved from post to post. Which is to say: exciting, stressful, and mundane. 2016 will have a slightly different combination of those three things. But in the end, my resolutions look pretty much like anyone else’s, don’t they?
A final note: last year’s resolution was to read more. And I kept it! Goodreads says I read 58 books in 2015. I’m not sure it was that many: I think I added a few that I had read previously just to keep track of series. It was certainly 40 books, anyway. Mostly popular history, mystery, and historical romance (the Outlander series). I don’t know if I actually “fixed my brain.” But I definitely rediscovered the joy of reading. Big quality of life improvement—and a nice stress-reliever during a moving year!