One of the best thing that happened to us during Corona Lockdown was that my daughter´s painting was selected to be inluded in the Exhibit for ” Kinder Malen sich Selbst” ( Children, paint yourselves!) exhibition in Münich. I am a proud parent of a 5 year old kid that is inclined to arts at a young age as this! I am wondering what am I doing when I was 5 years old?She is really an epitome´ of an international expat kid–born in Kuwait, of Dutch & Asian origins, and raised in Germany and now, she just had her own drawing escapade!
From March, right at the beginning of the Corona virus global outbreak, the Library began to asks children around the world to participate to draw themselves what they feel about Corona.At first it was a virtual collection of drawings of children how do they feel during the tough times of Corona Pandemic then they began to collect the drawings as well.These are gorgeous collection of children´s talent, thoughts, visions, and feelings which travelled from different countries to Germany. This exhibit was arranged by theInternational Youth Library ( Internationale Jugendbibliothek, IJB ) in the Herrenhaus Foyer of Schloss Blutenberg.
Of course I am the most excited for everything! Like an overreacting stage mother, we were all ecstatic to see finally the Exhibit. We are still in Summer break so decided to go to Munich to see it.For my daughter who was only 5 years old when she did the drawing, I think the whole experience was also great.To think that she almost tore away the drawing and I was able to save it. She was so happy to know that her drawing was selected among many others, and it is now displayed there up until September 9,2020. With Corona restrictions, the exhibitions follows strict hygienic controls, with masks and reduction of visitors inside the halls.
From the beginning, Ms. Weber , who was the one coordinating with me of the drawing submission was very kind and helpful. I was even glad that finally I can write an email in English and not in German !Aside from the helpful assistance in the exhibition, we were ushered to see the amazing Libray archives which really took our breath away. The underground cellar beneath the castle courtyard is the place of extensive collection of books from different times, era, period, languages and countries. It is really an international place.No wonder most of the staff are speaking different languages! From the reception in the entrance of the castle, I heard someone speaking in Hindi, and many guests came from Asia, including Japan and Korea. Even the featured children´s stories were of Japanese origins!It is really a great feeling to belong to such a friendly multi-cultural community like this here in Germany. It was nice to see Asian mothers for a change. 🙂
The Library have accumulated a total of 650,000 children & adult books from different times and periods from 240 languages and covering 4 centuries! I think this is the biggest & extensive Library I ahve ever been to. There are so many different ” Mark Twain´s ” books in different versions and languages in one single shelf that I have ever seen in my whole life. I don´t even know where to start.Also, the Library possesed 30,000 volumes of Scholarly Literature and about 130 current subscriptions to specialized literary journals. If you love Literature and children´s books—this is the best place to be!
We were told that the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Münich is the biggest International Library for Youth and children´s literature in the world! It´s setting is like a fairytale castle—the Schloss Blutenberg.
These 2 paintings draws my attention, one from Iran and one from the Philippines. I am sure these children would love to see their artwork personally as well if given the chance considering the travel restrictions due to Corona. I have read that the Library also grants scholarships to Foreign scholars with the objective of supporting research in the areas of international children and youth´s literature, illustration and promoting scientific exchange and international cooperation.
Aside from the Exhibition, the castle itself and its courtyard is beautiful. Founded in 1949 by a German Journalist, Author and Translator Jella Lepman, this Library has a vision to build bridges for children with books and open windows to the world.
Surrounded with lush greens, lake, and the flowing river makes the castle an idyllic setting.There are different Summer programs , Open Air concerts in the castle´s courtyards and a nice quaint Restaurant with a view of the lake. There was even a wedding in the time of our visit.
We enjoyed the story telling stations, the other exhibitions like the Internationale Wimmelbücher, ” Die Ganze Welt auf einer Seite” ( also collected from different parts of the world!) and the Illustrations of letter Postal envelopes “ Oh wie Bezaubernd Schön !” by the amazing Binette Schroeder. There was huge collection of her illustrated books, objects, mementos,and children toys that are really captivating! My daughter found a little door, I never thought of it as a cabinet! Then she asked me ” Mama, can I open the little door?” .I never thought there was something in there but then to our surprise, there it was…the jewel of the palace, the Binette Schroeder-Kabinett!” There was a little world inside there that captures every child´s heart.
It was a wonderful experience and I am so glad that my kid loves to read and appreciates reading at a young age. It was really a great experience and we will be back for sure to Schloss Blutenberg. I did not expect that during Corona times, we will discover another world of love for reading and children´s literature.
As an expat Mama here in Germany, I certainly commend that we have the opportunity for great Libraries and children´s learning mediums!
Did you know that Germany has a version of Mardi Gras?
It’s called Fasching, Karneval, or Fastnacht which all refer to the pre-Lent season, locally known as Faschingzeit and also referred to as the Fifth Season, mostly in German-speaking countries. These celebrations date back hundreds of years, rooted in both Catholic and early Germanic traditions.
I notice this from mid- January, when all shops changed their displays from Christmas theme into a wide, colorful arrays of costumes for young and old, masks, and various kinds of dress-up materials. And no– this is not Halloween.
Although there are carnival observances all across Bavaria, it should be noted that Fasching customs vary from place to place. Franconia (northern Bavaria) is where most of the action happens, but the capital city of Munich (München) has one of the largest Fasching fests in Bavaria – although the Sunday Fasching parade in Würzburg is Bavaria’s biggest. After the crowning of the Fasching prince and princess (das Faschingsprinzenpaar) in mid-January, everyone prepares for the start of carnival in the week before Ash Wednesday.
Here, Fasching is not that big compared to the ones in the neighboring regions. Most clubs have a Fasching party but I don’t know how does it looked like since I have never been into one. We don’t have those big parades and street party. But they have this big event for the Little ones, where kids and the kids at heart enjoy the festive and cozy dress-up celebration. Kinderball is an event organized by Narrwalla, where kids and their parents are all dressed up in all different costumes. Most of them also have a Fasching event in their Kita and Kindergartens.
If you’re a parent, this kind of event is something that you would want to bring your child to enjoy hours of concert, singing, dancing, entertainment, and socializing. The kids jumped happily and more, interested to see the tricks played by the clowns, the light show, and of course there’s the Fasching songs that makes it so exciting. My Little Pumpkin surely loved this event.
The locals dressed up seriously and it’s obvious that they really enjoy it. Fortunately, it falls on Sunday so most families are there. I originally planned to dress up my daughter in a princess but she keeps on eating the sleeves so I decided to changed it into a Pumpkin where she personally choose. There was a service from the restaurant so Fasching food and drinks flooded the tables.There were cold cuts, sandwiches, different cakes, ice cream, potatoes, sausages and much more.
There’s a nice gallery posted online about this event. You can check it out Here.
When you have a toddler to entertain, you just got to be creative. And when you have enough sunlight even indoors, you’ve got to soak your toddler in it! That is why I love Light & Shadow play concept for kids. It is just a great tool for creative learning for young, curious minds like my daughter.
One of the things that we have an abundance back then in Kuwait is the SUN.Yes, too much sun that when I came here in Europe, I find that the skies are always gray and I get a mood boost when I see its sunny. In Kuwait, we were lucky enough to have a bedroom with a sea view. The big windows allows some great amount of sun to penetrates into our room and many times, I would put my daughter to enjoy the sun and let it create playful shadows on her. She loves it! One of my favorite captures of her is when she was playing inside a laundry basket and the shadows from the sun creates a mask of circular golden tan on her baby skin. She was just about 7 months here. So young, so free, so playful, and so curious.
One of toddler’s fears are their shadows. I have heard of stories where in young children are terrified when they have learned about their shadows. The moment I put my daughter inside the basket, it was amazing! She become so engrossed with the patterns in her skin, pinching it, touching it while it changes when she moves.
In summer in Kuwait, where in the temperature could reached up to 50+ degrees C, there is no way your babies can enjoy the outdoors. The sun can already be scorching at around 5 am so we go to the beach at early mornings or late in the afternoon in weekends. I guess when you’ve lived in the middle east, you would have a fair share of knowledge why people wear the Abaya & the Dishdasha. It is really for functional reasons. Instead of agonizing with the heat and the sun, why not embrace the fun you can get from it, plus, nobody complains that you can actually dry your laundry within 5 minutes!
This post is in response in this week’s DP Photo Challenge |Shadow
Let me define to you what hyper active means in a toddler-friendly vocabulary.
Not that she’s medically diagnosed with hyper activity disorder type— NO, she’s just super active.She has this thing like a green-blue-yellow-purple goblin inside her that makes her moves so fast, so lithe, always on the go and full of energy. She’s a picture of curiosity,touching, exploring, wiggling, running, climbing hyper-type of toddler. An active fireball monkey disguised in an angelic face. I remember so well that when I was pregnant with her, I always hide my bump in my desk at work because she makes my bump looks like there is an alien about to pop. She gets hard numerous times in a day and my bump looks scary. Maybe that’s the reason why she’s in transverse position and did not rotate even though I was induced for labor for almost 3 days!
She started cruising early , learned to walk at 10.5 months I think, and already attempting to run. She climb out of her crib and fell once so we immediately switched her crib into a bed. Back then in Kuwait, we live in the 7th floor, she loves to climb the flight of stairs by herself automatically. I know that she’s a climber when at 11 months,she mastered climbing the steep Dutch stairs.
I thought only boys are active. I am mistaken. What I read online was a LIE.
My little girl has the stamina, speed and enthusiasm of a toddler-athlete. Always on the go.She runs everywhere.She can’t sit still for longer than a minute especially during feeding so a high chair for us is a must, but not too long.Later on, I saw her standing on her chair, she managed to remove the strap, I don’t know how, but she did it. She runs like crazy the moment I let go of her hand and start looking into my purse for my keys. I dropped my iphone three times already and changed the screen because of panic that she might be ran-over by a car or that she bump into something. She can dance and jump in muddy puddles the entire day and still jumps around once we get inside the house.
Whenever we are out, I am always doing ‘the check’. I look out for doors that can she can open, handles that she can turn, open stairs, glass doors, and especially breakable, fragile items she can run into. As of this stage, it would be a disaster if I go grocery shopping without a stroller, alone. I am afraid that I might pay for damages for broken things. In a restaurant, my eyes scanned the area for any possible danger zones, or things that she might find ‘interesting’, like a table already set-up with knives and cutlery. She can easily get loose if nobody’s watching her. One time I caught her licking the knife!
My real definition of horror: She managed to run so fast while I am closing the door while we need to get into the elevator in our building. She’s on top of the stairs, scaring the horror out of her already-half-traumatized mother. I screamed so loud and cut my lips when I tripped myself running like amok to grab her before she make the next move. I was shaking after that incident and never leave her loose in the hallways. EVER. Not again!
The moment you take a walk with her, she zoom like a fireball, cruising like a maniac and touching everything that goes on her way. Leaves, walls, garage doors, trees, plants–anything.We have a garden but when I let her play there, she climbs the gate leading to the main side street and crawl to the holes in the hedges where the cats go. She’s a pure genius! She can even roll the lawnmower If i will just let her. She loves anything that wiggles, ran after a dog, and count all the cars in our neighborhood plus I need to say the color of each cars.
She climbed out from her crib at around 9 months, you see that photo above, yes, that’s her trying to do acrobat stunts, testing how sturdy her crib was, or was she looking for her Poo bear that fell out. She has a very strong grip of things that she stayed in this position for a minute I think. One time that I let her be alone, she’s already on top of the table, dancing, and playing with the roller shutters.
Going into a friend’s house can be a daunting experience, especially if they don’t have kids like her or they don’t know my daughter’s personality. Our decors and furniture now were set to minimal. Nowadays, we can only eat in peace out in a restaurant if there is a play area nearby. Nearby means it’s beside our table–that is why we love dining out in our local restaurant here that has a play area, like for example in Dinea in Galleria, or doing some shopping in DM where in they have a play area right inside the shop. Total lifesaver!
Honestly, I love to but I don’t really feel comfortable leaving her to be watched (even for a short time) by anyone who doesn’t know her REALLY well. Even friends who we regularly see don’t necessarily realize the speed at which my daughter can do, and how quickly she can get herself into precarious situations due to attempts at climbing, investigating, or get herself drowned because she wanted to dive right into every fountain she sees.
We’ve enrolled her in a dancing class and guess who becomes famous the very first day? Yup! She doesn’t need introduction because everyone knows her name in an instant. We became the center of attention from other parents and kids because we ‘make the best moves ‘ all the time!
Does this sounds like your kid too ?
If this looks like your tot, here are some practical things we do to handle the worries and anxieties and embracing the energy of my hyper attached tiny Goblin. I realized that not all mothers do the “check”as I did, only those parents with an active child. So here it is:
Treat your child like a dog! – We make it a point that she goes out at least an hour everyday and let her loose in a place where in she can climb, run like crazy and just burn her energy. This way, she can sleep fast because her energy is depleted.
Avoid putting yourself and your child to uncomfortable situations– Make playgroups outdoors, as much as possible in places where your child can have more freedom of spaces where she can be herself without damaging yourself and your child be branded as ‘misbehaving’. I try not to bring her to functions where in there is limited activity or crowded places that she might easily get bored and create scenes. I am so thankful that here in Germany, we have play grounds ( Spielplatz ) in almost every corner. We avoid libraries and crowded malls.
Choose activities which feeds her curiosity and the ones you can comfortably handle – We are engaging in Creative Dancing Class or Tanzmaus. Here in Germany, there are so many activities that are suitable for active kids to satisfy their energy such as gymnastics, swimming etc.Find one that suits your schedule best.
Embrace the positive side of being an active child – Her hyper activity makes her personality so different, so unique and special.She is the perfect companion in my Wandertags. She loves nature and being out so you can count on her being out for longer hours. Give her a box of Duplos, Legos , wooden blocks, and books and even by that she can still rock! I can’t count numerous times that we got comments from strangers on her being so friendly and sweet, she could be active, but she’s not the annoying-agressive type.
Remind yourself that toddler stage is temporary – Every child will outgrow toddlerhood . Eventually, you won’t be running after your child anymore. You will realize that time flies so fast that your adorable munchkin no longer asks for your company and becomes independent. I know things will change for her this year that she’ll be in Kindergarten soon and she’ll have more educational and social interactions.
My life with my active toddler had been a roller-coaster ride for the past 2 years. Our long haul flights together are as unforgettable as it could be and she is such a jet-setter! I know that it’s still early years of her toddler life, but the wisdom of just being around such a positive energy is both challenging, yet the most fascinating joys of motherhood.
Have you ever been around with active kids?
Photos in this post are from my Instagram feed. If you’re on Instagram, follow me for more Expat life stories ! Thank you and see you there!
For our 9th series for our Interview-stories for our amazing Expat Mama around the World, I am so thrilled to feature Sasha Wang, a Chinese Expat Mama who makes waves and living La Dolce Vita with her Italian-Tuscan husband and her 2 years old son in the beautiful classical city of Florence,the capital of the Tuscany region in Italy.
Her story is a closer look on another inspiring tale of a WMAF (White male, Asian Female) love story, who beats the odds of living as Expats in Hongkong , raising their bilingual kid and finally finding Florence as new home. But how does one Chinese lady explores Florence like a curious tourist and get second looks from the locals?
Is it because of her flamboyant fashion style? or is it because of her eye-catching Sunnies?Let’s get to know Sasha and her adventures as she falls in love with her new country with a beautiful smile while decoding the Gelato madness and chasing her frenzy toddler with style.
Sasha’s Profile :
Sasha is a full-time mom, as well as a Travel and Expat Lifestyle Blogger behind the Blog –“Stai al Borgo”. She loves Fashion,modern arts, road tripping, doing Blog tours and exploring the off beaten path destinations in her second home-Florence. She takes her passion for photography seriously and her Instagram feed is well worth of follow. Sasha is a natural food lover, whipping gastronomic delights infused with Asian & European influences such as her deconstructed Insalata de Riso or her own version of Linguini Carbonara!
From China to Hongkong and now in the heart of the Tuscan sun, in Firenze she flairs with her own style and blogs on how to fall in love with Florence while raising her tiny human, with the best of both worlds. Sasha finally claimed her place in the internet when her Blog got shortlisted last May 2015 on the Italy Magazine for the Best Travel Blog Awards 2014 . She also appeared in one of the Locals I love interview from Girl in Florence.
Tell us About your Background
I was born in Shenyang, a city in the north-east China. I lived in Hong Kong for 8 years before moving to Florence. I met my husband, a Tuscan Italian, in Hong Kong. We used to visit Florence for holiday, and we both like the city a lot. In 2015 we decided to move and start a new life in Florence. “Amore” is the reason I am here now.
On view of Florence from a Chinese curious eyes
Florence is definitely a tourist ‘s place. It is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe as well as a fashion hub. As a place filled with classical beauty, renowned Architecture, and great food, the real Tuscan food.The countryside is beautiful and definitely picturesque. The wine is fantastic and sitting in cafes can be a leisurely past time. Sitting in ancient piazzas and seeing beautiful works of art can be breath-taking.
One of the things making the life in Florence “La Dolce Vita” is the flexibility to travel around! Since we moved to Florence, every weekend we try to arrange something. Either meeting friends in the city for coffee or dinner, or me and my husband will drive to places nearby for a lunch or a walk, or we take a one or two-day trip to another city. Tuscany already has so much to be discovered and see, no need to mention other cities/ regions as adventures! Even with a toddler, it did not stop me from traveling, exploring and getting into the local culture as much as possible. With great network of friends and fellow Bloggers, I was able to establish a connection with my new city through Blog tours, food tours, photo walks and other social meet-ups. It doesn’t mean that when I became a mother then I’ll stop to do my passion. Life has been more meaningful with our travels with our Little one.
On the Birth of Stai al Borgo
Stai al Borgo came into life when I decided to share my Expat experiences as a curious resident and showing the beautiful side of Florence. In case you are curious what my Blog name means; Stai is the Italian word for Stay;Borgo refers to Borgo San Frediano.
We have a small apartment in Borgo San Frediano. The first time my husband and I lived there was the New Year’s Eve 2012. We were visiting Florence as tourists back then, but the experience brought me the idea of starting a blog writing about my life/trips in Italy. That’s why I named the blog Stai Al Borgo, because Borgo is where the inspiration came from.
It is interesting to live as an expat, because you are a tourist and resident at the same time. I blog about interesting places I visited as a tourist, also tips for daily life. For example my latest post is about my favorite items for home-cooking from supermarkets.Now we’ve put that apartment in S. Frediano to rent. I use the blog as a channel to promote the apartment and the lifestyle as a resident. If you are planning for a holiday in Florence, you might want to check out our Apartment for rent and I would be your willing host as I introduce you to Florence.
I am working on something related to Chinese tourists here. I’ve registered a website in China, and started my Chinese blog there. I hope to attract those Chinese, who travel independently in Tuscany, and show them different sides of the place, rather than the well-known tourist attractions.
Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects .
On my Expat life in Florence
One of the best things of being an expat is that you live in a city with heart of a tourist. Florence makes my expat life so easy (so far) as there are lots of interesting stuff going on. I am constantly surprised by this city for all the new things happening. Last May 2015 we farewell our friends in Hong Kong, packed our past 10 years into 30 carton boxes, took our 11-month old boy with us on a flight, headed to our new home: Florence.
Florence and Hong Kong are two cities with completely different lifestyles and cultures. Starting a new life here can drive you crazy, especially when you are a non-Italian speaker who are used to fast life pace in a modern city like Hong Kong.
Bureaucracy here gives me the biggest headache. Thank God my husband is an Italian, and he is always so supportive and be there for us (me and our son) all the time. The first year, aka the transition period, was the hardest, but we managed to take it easy and settle things well.However being an Asian expat here, although I’ve been married to and lived with an Italian for 5 years, I am still adapting to the Italian (or should I say Florentine) lifestyle!
On raising a Bilingual child
When we moved to Florence last May, our son was just 11-month old. The whole process has been easy for me, because he was too little to be affected by the different lifestyles. And I am happy about this move, as Italy overall is a much more family friendly place than Hong Kong.
Meanwhile the biggest challenge for me is introducing Chinese culture to my baby. I’ve been talking Chinese to him, and he seems to understand even though he replies me in Italian all the time. But I’d like to keep going and let him be able to talk & read his “second mother-tongue”.
Now our son goes to the local nursery during the day, and he develops the skills of playing and communicating with other kids day by day. It has been easy for him, and now he is turning into a little Italian man.
On getting around with a Toddler in Florence
I love my son and I love fashion as well so I am one of those mothers who made an effort to find the best and Unique Baby shops in Florence.I recently discovered an App called “BabyOut Firenze”. It suggests you places to go for the entire family, such as entertainment places, events, restaurants, even pharmacy, pediatric hospitals, etc. It is good to know what are the baby-friendly places around.I also love to watch Family Food Tube, where many parents sharing their baby food recipes. It is a good channel to get new ideas for cooking.
On the absence of Lifts/Elevators in buildings
For people used to live in a city like Hong Kong, lift inside apartment building is like bread, you have it! But as an antique city as Florence, especially in the city center, most of the building doesn’t. From my apartment hunting experience, I did visit one (only one) apartment in the city center with a lift! But it was soooo small. If it is only used by one or two persons at same time, it is still OK. But if more than three, you really need to squeeze yourself in! Well, it can be a good way to know your neighbors.
It is fine I feel exhausted after a long day at work, and still can spare little energy climbing some steps. But if I have my one-year old, his stroller, and grocery all at the same time, it is not funny! Luckily nowadays most of the supermarkets provide home delivery service, but before I get my Italian credit card and start shopping online, I still need to play it in the traditional way.
On the Italian coffee culture
I love coffee. Anytime of the day. But coffee here is too short. Here coffee by default is an espresso, even the “lungo” version is just in a small coffee cup. As Chinese we don’t really have a culture of drinking coffee, but I used to have coffee from Starbucks while living in Hong Kong. Now I really miss those days that I could walk around the city with my coffee in a tall paper cup.
What’s even more shocking? My Italian husband misses the Starbucks too!
The idea of Starbucks was inspired by a coffee shop in Milan, however there is not a single Starbucks in the whole Italy! I miss those days when I can take my coffee in a paper cup and walk from bus station to the office. Here everybody drinks espresso: bottom up, pay and leave. To me it is like taking shots: too fast and too strong.
On the course of Integrating into Italian-Tuscan Culture
I knew I can’t claim Florence by heart if I can’t speak the language so I decided to learn it. I enrolled myself to a two-week Italian course which I found to be very beneficial & smart thing to do. The learning part was great, but the thing I enjoyed the most about attending language school was that I got to go out, meet new people, and built up social life of my own! I was not sure if attending school made me feel older or younger, since all other students in my class were around 20, but I was just happy every morning to pass Ponte alle Grazie, greet Ponte Vecchio and walk alone to Borgo Santa Croce. I started to feel Florence was my city.
Another thing that helped me to love my new country more was when I was invited to join “Tuscany Among The Star” blog tour organized by Fondazione Sistema Toscana. Together with other four content creators, we visited towns among Tuscany, had lots of special moment and experiences together, which was not only mind opening, but also made me falling in love more with this piece of land.
On Italian’s love affair with their food
After living in Florence for one year, I find myself deeply missing the Asian cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, all of them! Florence is wonderful for Italian dishes, but only Italian dishes. It is almost impossible to find good Asian restaurant here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, and I don’t mind to have pasta 5 days a week. However the Asian stomach calls for the taste of my origin from time to time.
Of course the only thing I couldn’t miss in Hong Kong was the great Chinese food! And among all the Chinese cuisines, the one I missed the most was the Sichuan Hot Pot! 三希樓 is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. They specializes in Sichuan cuisine, which is famous for the spicy taste. In Winter, the hot pot in 三希樓 is a must-try if you visit Hong Kong!
I love cooking, and we most of the time eat at home enjoying my dishes.I adore Italian cuisine,and I’ve practiced presentable skills in making pasta and pizza at home.Meanwhile I also prepare Chinese dishes for my family.My husband and my son both like rice with sauteed vegetables dishes for meal.
Our rule is : eat alternately ,eat diversely.
What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse )
Our son is not considered an expat kid, as he is half Italian. However we are unlike a typical traditional Italian family, which me and my husband are both very happy about.
Both of us have expat experience, and we know how important it is to have the opportunity to know different culture. That’s why I keep talking Chinese to him, and hopefully to involve him to more Chinese cultures while he grows up.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
I am not sure at this moment, as it is too early to say. Rather than me making an impact, the country is making a big impact on me on how to raise a new life.
Growing up in one-child family, I almost knew nothing about what it is like to raise multiple children by one couple. I’ve seen many Italian Moms taking care of their kids, bringing them around, taking it easy when it comes to problems, etc. It encourages me and gives me confidence to expecting a (potential) bigger family in the future.
Thank you so much Sasha for sharing your wonderful metamorphosis as a Mom, woman, Writer, Adventurer, Stylist, Creator,and becoming the inspiring person you are right now.Indeed, with your style, confidence, and happy vibes about life, you are so deserving to be one of the Locals that Florence could be proud of…and now , an Expat Mama!
To me, clothing is a form of self-expression–there are hints about who you are in what you wear. ~Marc Jacobs
P.S. All photos and fine print in this post are owned and personal photos of Sasha Wang/ Stai al Borgo. Should you wish to use it, please inform her accordingly.
If you got inspired by Sasha and wanted to follow her Expat Life in Florence, you can follow her Instagram, Twitter, and add her as a friend in Facebook.
For our 7th series of our amazing Expat Mamas around the world interview-stories, I am excited to have the chance to feature Abeer— A jetsetter Mama conquering life abroad and making memories together with her husband Aetesam, his son Hamza ( 4 years old) and Azaan (1-year-old) in the land of the liquid gold, the birth place of Islam and Arabs, in the oil-rich magnificent desert–Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!
So how does one Expat Mama braves the desert life, sandstorms and living in modesty in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques? Here’s Abeer’s story of sharing inspiration and everyday life in her happy corner.
Expat Mama Story : Making memories in the Land of Arabs
Abeer is a Muslim Expat Lifestyle Mama Blogger behind This Happy Corner. She was officially baptized into the Blogworld when she starts to become Contributor for the magazine and online Parenting site ExpertParenthood.com with her article “Travelling with the Littles“. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering and worked in the corporate world before she was promoted to become the SuperMom 24/7 of two boys. She’s a fast driver as well as a Crafty Stay at home Mommy. She have a wanderlust for travel , DIY projects and a talented Freelance Photographer.She’s a budding chef with her signature dishes”Traditional Greek Moussaka ” and Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni“.
On Life in Saudi Arabia as an Expat Woman
Although she’s of Muslim faith,life in the Kingdom is different from Abeer’s home country,Pakistan. “Women do not drive, we cover our bodies, we sit in the “Family Section” of restaurants (single or groups of men stay in the “Men Only” sections). We become “dependents”, hereon “sponsored” by our husbands, who are in turn sponsored by their companies, and we cannot leave the country without an exit visa.Thursdays and Fridays are the official weekends. The stifling heat and lack of cultural activities drive people into malls, encouraging endless shopping for clothes that would go under an Abaya anyway. Fitting rooms in boutiques are nonexistent, so taking the same item in different sizes and returning the ill-fitting ones is the shopping norm. There is also a glaring lack of saleswomen – making you chuckle at the paradox of a man helping you select sexy underwear in Saudi. The prayer times become as normalcy. Shops close five times a day during prayer times, sometimes 25 minutes or longer. Grocery shopping can be a very stressful chore because of this.
On incidental way of fitting-in to Arabian lifestyle
Its been a while for us in Riyadh now and we are getting used to the dry desert environment and the cautious set of rules that govern this part of Middle East. There have a been a few surprises and bummer along the way, like the time when we had to sit on the road side and eat our fried chicken as I wasn’t allowed to sit in that restaurant due to a lack of family space.We celebrated Eid here with a nice lunch together at some friends’, drive around the city and amazing fireworks later in the night right next to our place
On being a mother of two Boys
I had my first baby boy and then I took a break from work, always imagining to go back once he is a bit older. After a couple of years, I had my second one and my hands got full of them! I not only got super busy, but I also changed around that time and realized that I never actually want to go back to the corporate world, it was doing nothing for me as a person. Whereas staying home with my boys all day, gave me small windows of time to find out what my real interests in life are. I started capturing my babies and our everyday life and soon photography became a passion. I would stay up late at night for many hours taking up online courses and learning what tricks my camera could do to improve my photos. And then practice on my kids in the light of the day. I discovered my passion for cooking different cuisines, particularly Italian. And I would make the daily dinner my practice session. I started celebrating the everyday life. And then my blog happened, and i started pouring my heart out on it.
On looking back at life in Pakistan
Me and the husband lived 5 long years in Karachi .. It’s where both our kids were born so we will always have a special connection with the city. Karachi is a big, thriving, bustling city full of glamour, political drama and all kinds of highs and lows of life. The people in that region have a street-smartness edge over the people of the rest of the country. They are fast. they are clever. They are always two paces ahead of you.
Our life in Karachi was perfect, but the security situation of the city was the real deal-breaker for us. Two times in one week while all our family was in the car, a gun was pointed at us and our bags etc were snatched. Both times, I had a baby in my arms and we just couldn’t accept this kind of life for us anymore where we can’t guarantee the safety of our kids from street crime. And so we decided to move! My husband started applying for jobs in the Middle East and soon we were on our way here! We do miss Karachi sometimes, too many memories and fun times.
On the exciting and exhilarating road to Expat Life
Living in the Arab Land is very different from back home. The country is dominated by religious rules and the culture is restricting for sure. Women have to wear Abayas whenever they head out and cover themselves properly. Being a muslim, I am totally cool with wearing the Abaya and the hijab although I do feel how restricting that must feel to non-muslim expats. The thing that I really had to work to get my head around was the rule that women CANNOT drive. This was almost a deal-breaker for me as I love to drive and have been quite independent all though my life therefore waiting for husband to take me out every time was a big adjustment. Now that I have lived in the city for a while, I can easily hail a cab and be on my way whenever I want so it’s not so bad after all.
On embracing the Arab Culture
Weather here is scorching hot for most part of the year although it does get pleasant come evening due to desert all around. Which also makes for an extremely dry weather and drastic steps have to be taken to maintain your skin and hair.
The city is home to a number of big and small beautiful parks, lined with elegant and swaying Palm trees. I have had such a crush on these trees that I still look at them like a kid looks at candy.
On the family oriented values of the Saudi locals
One of the things that fascinates me the most is how the Arab culture is so family oriented! Extended families in large groups are always having picnics in parks together. They bring their rugs and chairs, they bring their food and tea, and just plop down on the ground for hours, sharing stories and love, while their kids are busy building sand castles or riding their automated cars/bikes which they always make sure to bring. They come prepared to enjoy the park! Not like us, who often forget to even bring the ball LOL!
A day in the park
I have my own Car!
On “When in Saudi, do as the Arabs do ” norm
The typical Saudi Arabian woman only wears black Abaya and they cover their face. I was told before moving here that although women do wear colored Abayas in rest of the country, but as Riyadh is the capital and hence more strict, here only black Abayas are allowed. Although that is not true now, I have seen many women wearing different colored Abayas around, for me navy blue Abaya with a colored scarf is as bad as i get !
Mall culture is huge here! There are so many of them and I haven’t been to even half of them yet. The Arab women are up to date on their fashion and style. Even hidden under Abayas and Tarhas, you can spot that their eye makeup game is the strongest among all 😉
Malls loaded with every imaginable brand and cafes definitely is a big attraction for everyone here, but sadly for me, my boys (all three of them!) don’t behave well in malls, the younger ones being too hyper active, and the older one (also known as husband) rolls his eyes too many times that i fear they will get stuck inside his head.
On a serious note, I am not a fan of mall culture as I think it just promotes materialism, and one cannot come out of it without spending 10 times more than one intended too. those never-ending sales. those motorized kids cars, those flashing and blaring humongous play areas, and all the stuff that you eat that you never would have eaten had you not stepped inside one. We prefer to take our kids to parks or anything outdoors, it’s better for the pocket and general well-being .
On Muslim’s Salah (prayer) times
One thing worth mentioning over here is that for Muslims, praying five times a day at specific times is compulsory. Here in Saudi Arabia, business closes five times a day whenever prayer time comes. Shops, cafes, everything. It has definitely helped us get more punctual with our prayers. But at the same time, if you are in a shop about to head to pay counter and prayer times comes, it can be slightly annoying cause then you will have to wait for another half an hour or so. In the start we were so bad at it, and would always reach a place when it was already or was about to be closed for prayer, but with time we have up-ed our game and through careful analyzing of prayer time slots, we can usually plan our outings better .
On re-potting the uprooted kids into a new culture
We are lucky that our kids adjust well to a change in environment, house etc and once they were here, they never asked to go back and never gave me a tough time about the new place and new everything. They get super excited in new places so it has been good for them!
After a couple of months, we enrolled our elder one (who is 4) into kindergarten and the experience has been awesome so far! I am in love with his teacher who I believe is really helping him and bringing out his best qualities and polishing his strengths, at the same time, taking care of his weaknesses in a remarkable way. His classmates come from different countries and backgrounds, and i think he will hugely benefit from this exposure to different cultures. I am definitely happy that he has been given this opportunity to study and interact in a foreign country.
On thoughts on Motherhood
Motherhood is cuddling, squeezing and smooching at every chance possible. Motherhood is waking up a little too early and going to bed a little too late… Not to mention the countless wake ups in between. Motherhood is a monster bag filled with diapers, wipes, snacks and toys. Motherhood is the worry, anxiety and stress about every cough, sniffle and sneeze. Motherhood is questioning yourself about every decision, big or small. Is he eating right? is he sleeping enough?
Motherhood is absolutely and undeniably hard. So hard that some days end in tears, some mornings also start with tears.Life with two kids is pretty challenging and messy and chaotic and down-right exhausting, but it’s also everything I have ever wanted.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
Some of my most precious memories were made during this last year. Believe me when I say that it’s not double the work with two little ones, its FOUR TIMES the work. You have to take care of them individually and also their relationship towards each other in both directions. Its non-stop, never-ending and it makes you longingly look back on your single baby days. But I still won’t have it any other way. If I am given the chance to do it all over again, I would maybe have them closer in age but not further apart. The joy of it all trumps the hardships any day by miles.
And this is the kind of impact I wanted to be remembered–touching the lives of my sons, shaping them for their future, and I, myself being transformed into a better version of being a wife, mother, sister, friend that I could ever be –and best of all, being the woman who chose the HAPPY CORNER of this so-called Life!
Thank you so much Abeer for this wonderful interview. Good luck and best wishes for your next Expat Mama adventures!
P.S All the photos in this post is courtesy of Abeer and her personal property. Should you wish to use it , please do inform her as courtesy.
Try to Picture this: An excerpt of not-so-Ordinary Life
-Your Father is German, your Mother is Finnish.You’re born in Germany and yet you’ve spent a considerable amount of your childhood in Finland. Growing up, you have a fair share of Finnish & German culture instilled in your brain but somehow you felt confused where is your real home country. On the positive side, you smile for a fact that you hold 2 passports & 2 nationalities. It’s no surprise anymore that you are Bilingual yourself. Suddenly your life turned upside down when fate let East go to the West and you fall in love with a Chinese woman. Fast forward, you got married, and now had a child growing in an interracial household and quite obvious a mixed genes. Now, you probably noticed that history repeats itself.You are raising your adorable Kung Fu baby from the Scandinavian environment to a crazy Chinese diversity and now, he is toddling back to your own roots, to the land of your father,Germany. Doesn’t this made you smile?
Above is the story of Half German,Half Finnish Expat-Papa.How does he handles all these while raising another multi-cultural son?
For our 5th feature in our amazing Expat Mamas around the World interview -stories, we are featuring Timo, an Expat-Papa, who who will share to us his perspectives about his unique Fatherhood in raising his son in Germany. We are so used to seeing Mommy Blogs and Motherhood stories, but how about Fathers? It’s not common to see a man writing about his experiences as a father and Blogs about it, let alone totally embracing the adventure of being in an Interracial marriage, right?
I am very thankful that Timo allowed me to have this interview-story and I am hoping I could do justice in sharing with you how fascinating his journey through Fatherhood.
Here’s my interview-Story from Timo, His own Expat-Papa story;
Expat-Papa Story : Raising my Kung-Fu Baby in Germany
He is already a Coffee addict before he got hooked in Blogland. Timo is a proffesional Swimmer, a gamer, a computer geek, an adventurer, and an aspiring Fantasy author that’s why why he keeps a rather exquisite Tolkien & Manga collection. His favorite Title is being the humble father & photographer to his son named Nathan, and Husband to his beautiful Chinese wife. They got married in Two continents and continue to explore places as a family. Now they are settled and live in Schleswig-Holstein in the Northern part of Germany.
Tell us About your Background
This is usually an easy question to answer but in my case it is a bit different. Sure, I was born in Germany and lived here for many years however my mother is Finnish and my father is German. Due to this I spent many years also in Finland during my upbringing resulting that I never developed the feeling of having a real home country. For example I lived until 2014 for over 7 years in Finland where I met my wife and now we both live with our little Nathan in Germany, a country which should be my home country but I always feel a bit like a stranger here.
Anyhow as mentioned before we moved to Germany back in 2014 and we are having our own little Export Business for 1 ½ years now. Though it is hard work it is much better in our opinion than our old jobs we had before in Finland, especially as we have much more time with our son.
On being in an Interracial Marriage
I can’t count the times where people stared at us and wondering why I am married to a Chinese woman.During the first year my wife got a lot of stares from people on the street however it seems most of them got used to it already. In Finland no one really cared about us or Nathan.The thing is, a day in the Life of an Interracial couple has deeper meaning for both of us now.
The funny thing is that both my wife and I couldn’t be more different when it comes to our interests. My wife just loves to relax whenever she has the opportunity in order to watch some Chinese or Korean TV-Shows with tons of snacks while I try to be doing sports whenever it fits into my schedule. This might be also due to my past as a professional swimmer all those years ago which does not allow me to rest too much (otherwise I just feel too guilty). In my opinion those differences don’t matter at all, I even think it makes us more compatible as the differences allow us also do have some time “on our own” with my wife relaxing on the couch and me for example bicycling alone for one or two hours.
On Journey to Fatherhood
During my wife’s pregnancy up to the birth of my son, I am the one behind the scenes. I make sure that I am there for them for all-time support. Of course there is MIL who insists on doing Zou yuezi for my wife , but my wife is strong enough to be in control of herself and do what’s best for our son & her recovery. So little talk about how I am handling it as I am too busy preparing everything for the arrival of my son. I am glad that when my son was born in Finland, I was physically present and we got a family room in the hospital so I could be with them. Fathers normally doesn’t say much but we just worked hard through it. I have my fair share of diaper changing & late nights on the early months but as a Father, I look more ahead for his future. The responsibility of being a role model as well as to provide for the family is my utmost concern especially now that I have a Kung Fu baby in my arms.
Have you seen how Nathan’s room turned out after long hours of hardwork? Don’t you think this Totoro theme is cool?
I for myself am planning a great future in sports for him but I will have to see how my wife will approve of it. Of course studies will go ahead of sports but we still have a lot of time to think about it. My wish would be for him to follow my steps into the swimming world or start Taekwondo .
The Little Monk-ey!
Interracial Kid in Germany
A very serious Monk!
On having the best Maternity Healthcare in Finland
The best thing about Finland was probably Neuvola, a child healthcare centre, where parents learn everything about having a baby. There the mother gets all health check-ups and after the child is born it also gets all check-ups regularly until elementary school, all for free! To make it even better mothers are getting a baby box with contains everything important for the first month with the baby such as diapers, drinking bottles, clothes (even a snowsuit!) and the box itself can be used as a baby bed as it comes with blanket and a thin mattress.This makes all mothers smile but also for expectant fathers like me.
Finnish Baby Box
Why having a Baby in Finland is so exciting!
On Germany as a Kid-Friendly Place to grow up
I myself was born in Germany and my parents raised me well. As a child we lived in the same apartment that we lived right now. Imagine the nostalgia of growing up here & at same time raising your own child. Nathan was even baptized in the same Church that I was baptized. He played with some of my old toys and during our holidays in Finland, we took him to the same Summer cottage that I used to go when I was a kid.
What I like about Germany is that there are many activities for children. It is really awesome being a kid in Germany. Everywhere you can find nice playgrounds and, at least where we live, we have many kind of parks and Zoos within short driving distance which are just perfect for little kids. For example here is a donkey park, a park for old livestock breeds, a park full of boars and deers, a climbing park and so on. To make these parks even better is that each one has great playgrounds where kids can go wild till they are too tired to stay awake for the drive home.It is very normal to put your child in the Kindergarten (Krippe/Kita or nursery school) especially if both parents are working. But the system in Germany is that you have to enlist your child as soon as possible or you’ll end up in the waiting list waiting for a slot. Even expectant mothers that are still pregnant are already listing their child for a spot.We hope to get my son into the Kindergarten soon.
On chinese Diaper-Free Culture and Unsolicited Advices on Parenting
My wife is Chinese and she have her own background of how a child is being brought up the Chinese way, which are absolutely different from a Westerner like me . When MIL stayed with us, we are bombarded with stuffs that really surprised me. As much as I highly respect my wife’s culture, things like babies wearing the split-pants and wearing too much of clothes even it is 30 degrees C just makes me crazy. It’s no fun at all having a kid in split pants and diarrhea. In Finland, it’s normal to take your kids outside even when its freezing cold and have their naps, of course with common sense to dress them up warmly. Even here in Germany, there is no such thing as a bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. In the end, we do what’s best for our child & for us.
On life Essentials in Germany
The food is some other matter…I certainly love all kind of potato dishes which are so common around here but as we live now pretty much between two seas, the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, seafood is just everywhere and I just can’t stand it. Not that I hate it but I just don’t like the taste somehow. Sure some standard fish dishes are fine with me but anything beyond that is just killing me. My wife on the other hand has no problems with seafood but she does not really like any food which is not Chinese which brings a whole new level of complications as we have no authentic Chinese restaurants anywhere nearby. Yes she can cook fabulous Chinese dishes which she loves herself but ever since we have our own business she finds very seldom time for that.
On Life in Finland as an Expat family
When it comes to nature, Finland is by far better than Germany. Germany is also full of beautiful nature & forests as well but you need to drive a certain time to reach it. I can’t think of a better nature than the place I grew up with. But living in Finland is no cheap at all especially for a family. Although the standard of living in Germany is also high, I find that the living costs here is much better than what we had in Finland. Of course it varies from different persons and lifestyle.
On German warm hospitality
For my wife the biggest difference compared to Finland was how nice our neighbours are. Many offer to take care of our son when we are too busy, they all have some small talk with us whereas in Finland there was just silence. We barely knew our neighbours though we lived at the same place for five years. That just shows how different social behavior is within those two countries.
On having a Steady support system from Family esp. from the MIL
We were lucky to be one of the privileged Expat family who have the steady family support from both sides of our family. Having a nanny is never a norm in Germany neither in Finland . We are always grateful to have extra help from my MIL visits to us in Finland and here in Germany. She is doting so much love on my son as if he is a our “Little Emperor” but my son is too young to complained from her teachings and her cooking.My mother is also very present in taking care of Nathan whenever we need extra hand. Even with so much differences on both cultures, I see that my son is endowed with much love from his grandparents.
How is it being a parent while working? How do you handle the change brought by Fatherhood ?
On being a hands-on Father
We moved to Germany when our son was just 6 months old. Back then I had stopped my freelance work and my wife was on leave from her work as a beauty consultant. Here in Germany I found rather quickly some new job at a bank but had to give it up due to health issues. During my time at the bank I would leave for work at 6.45 am and be back at home around 5pm giving me barely any time with my son. Things got better though! Since last year my wife and I have our own business and we mostly work from home giving us plenty of time with our son. I am one of the fathers who love to spend more quality time with my family and bond with my son. I love to write about my son and his growth in my Blog.For me, He is our Happiness.
On tough German Bureaucracy
The biggest struggle we had was when we moved here in Germany.The paperwork was just insane, we needed verified documents for every single office and such documents are not cheap when you need official translations of each one and go to a lawyer to verify them. The silly thing is that different governmental offices which even share the same building do not share these documents; everything needs to be handed in to each office respectively. Something like the digital age must be technology the German bureaucracy does not want to reach in the next 50 years at least. I mean in Finland when we notified one office of something all the other offices knew it immediately so we saved time and money.
What is your opinion about raising your child as a third culture kid?
This is not an easy question to answer as I have never thought too much about it. We try that he experience as much as possible from both of our cultures. With me that means I try to give him as much as I can offer about Finland with keeping the German part relatively low as he is anyways surrounded by it every single day. Nathan speaks with his mother only Chinese and she tries to teach him certain Chinese ways. I on the other hand speak mostly English with him and some Finnish besides trying to get him to love Moomins!
On Raising a Bilingual Kid
Being Bilingual is a privilege that not all kids nowadays have. Having this access for multiple language learning would be a great benefit for my son when He grows up. It is tough on adult learning a new language as my wife is also doing German Lessons but for kids, its easy for them to adapt to the culture that they are exposed with.I can’t wait what language would my son would be babbling soon!
When thinking about which country might be better for raising a third culture kid I must say Finland was a much better place, at least Helsinki, to live as an interracial couple with a mixed child. There was much more diversity there than here in this little town and people seem to be more open minded in Finland.
How do you make an impact as an Expat -Papa in your country of residence?
I try my best to set an example to others in this little town what is all possible in this age and that interracial relationships are nothing strange or complicated and that a mixed child is just perfectly fine. As this town is not that big some people still have different views towards such relationships. This might sound strange when thinking it is the year 2016 and not the 1950’s any longer. I know that if I am a good father & example to Nathan ,then I am contributing to the world in raising a responsible future generation.
Thank you so much Timo! Vielen Dank and more power to you & your Crazy Chinese Family. It’s a pleasure being in your circle.
If you like to know more about Timo, you can follow his adventures through his Facebook Page & Twitter.
P.S. All photos are courtesy & owned by Timo and are his personal property . Should you wish to use it, please inform or mention him.
Make sure to hit the Follow button for more Expat stories on this Blog, and Hey, if you are an Expat Mama, or Papa! , you might want to be featured in this Blog for our series on Expat Mamas around the World! Just drop me an email at email@example.com.
Are you on Twitter? follow me on my Twitter and my Instagram for more updates on my Expat Life in Bavaria.Thanks!
My husband is Dutch and you would probably known why & how Dutch are naturally born cyclists. I mean, they learn to cycle the moment they learned to walk and run. Believe me,there’s no kid in the Netherlands without a children’s bike! Maybe not everyone has a computer but really, statistically speaking, every single person has a Bike. A humble Dutch Bike.
There is no such a thing as cycling culture for Dutch, It is their #1 CULTURE! It’s no surprise that they are the Cycling capital of the worldespecially Amsterdam. If you are a tourist, please,please think twice before you hop on to that bike. Amsterdam is one hell of a crazy hub for cyclists.They rule this city and you as a tourist is a liability in the road. Your selfie stick & bike is not just a perfect combo during rush hours. But if you wanna piss off the Dutch, go on. If you’ve visited the Netherlands, you know what I mean. For me,one thing that lingers in my memory about Amsterdam is Bikes. Millions of Bikes.
There is not a single space or place without a bicycle. There are more bicycles than residents in The Netherlands and in cities like Amsterdam and The Hague up to 70% of all journeys are made by bike. They don’t cycle for recreational purposes only–They cycle for life!
No wonder that the Dutch people are on top (3 km) in cycling kilometers per day while Germans cycle only for 800 meters average daily compared to other European countries. The Dutch also have the least deaths (1.6) per 100 million kilometers. They don’t even wear helmets! You can check out these surprising statistics Here.
So, being married to a Dutch, this is a major culture shock for me. The things is, I’ve never heard about or seen a Bakfiets before, so I was really ogling the moment I saw it. Not that I wanted to have one, but the idea of transporting another human (let alone babies & toddlers!) with that box-type cargo thing attached on the bike looks so strange to me,so crazy,so genuine & yet very interesting.Knowing you can also put your bag of groceries and your pets, your plants etc. in there, then that made me smile.When you’re in Holland, you will cycle…because that’s how they roll.
Eventually, cycling is also part of our little family now. I learned to cycle when I was about 13 (or something I can’t really remember), but it was just for recreation, a time where you just want to experiment new things in your teenage life. After years & years, I have never ridden a bike.The next time I rode a bike was when I was in the Netherlands and cycle for about 25 km and my ass really hurts. It felt strange, but once again, exciting.My daughter who just turned 2 last August got her walking bike and I could see that it’s in her genes too, loving her bike for the love of it! When we moved here in Germany, I was also surprised that Cycling is also a great part of the German culture, almost similar to the Dutch. Here they have the Anhänger(or kid’s chariot) and the Kid seat (Kindersitz) attached to the bike when cycling with babies & kids.People cycle with their kids, to go to work,doing errands,even when it rains! Trust me, if you move to Germany, you will buy a bike!
My husband got me a bike as well. Hoorraayyy! I am a trying-hard Expat Mama who wanted to integrate and fit in as much as possible so I was really thrilled when we got my new bike. Deep inside I was horrified,nervous and saying prayers. Can I really do it? Can I really ride my bike with my daughter on my back, with me? What if she fell? She sits and I cycle? I tell you, it’s no joke! It scared the hell out of me. But at the same time, challenged me.
I just got to do it, and go for it.
It’s not easy at first. But it felt good. It actually felt great. Toddler-Cycling is possible and very safe. I think it really creates a special bond between families. Responsible Cycling as a family is one of the things I love here in Germany, and why not, it’s so much fun.
I have never realized that Cycling could be so much more than just cycling itself. When I saw how Dutch people and the Germans now go on with their life through life in two-wheels, I was really impressed. Cycling is healthy, pollution-free, natural, and very environment-friendly form of exercise and means of transport. But more than all of these, It’s a great lifestyle. No wonder these countries have high quality of Living.
Who builds a bicycle road on a 32km-long sea dyke? One akin to a really, really long Severn Bridge, made of earthworks, tumbleweed and gulls, with a six-lane highway? Yup, only the Dutch ! To make cycling safer and more inviting the Dutch have built a vast network of cycle paths.These are clearly marked, have smooth surfaces, separate signs and lights for those on two wheels, and wide enough to allow side-by-side cycling and overtaking. As a first-timer & a tourist in the Netherlands, I find these things really delightful. Here in Germany, there are enough cycle paths for anyone to cycle until they drop. It’s a cycling paradise as well. I am so looking forward to explore so much more of this country through cycling. I am excited to cycle more with my daughter and indulge in this new lifestyle that we’re having. A lifestyle with our humble bicycles.
Germany & the Netherlands have decent infrastructure for cyclists since there is a remarkable variety of people cycling, of all ages and from all walks of life. I saw old couples riding side by side on e-bikes on long bicycle roads between country towns. There are people in normal clothes riding in astonishing numbers in the cities at rush hour. There are parents with kids, sometimes one on the front, one on the back, even kids sitting on Bagagedrager and holding nonchalantly on to the cycling adult’s shoulders. There are children cycling unaccompanied to and from school, and cycling and playing in the streets, even in busiest cities. Children who goes to Kindergarten (or Krippe) and Pre-schoolers are riding their Bikes. I saw ladies in skirts & heels cycling in style..so fashionable. I was really dumbfounded, why this can’t be done in the Philippines?! This could be a part of the solution of the worst traffic in Metro Manila. If only the government is willing to invest in the cycling infrastructure….If only they could also fall in love with Bikes & have a steady love-affair with bicycles.
Do you like Cycling?
What activities do you share as a family?
Have you enjoyed this post? Make sure to hit the Follow button for more Expat stories on this Blog, and Hey, if you are an Expat Mama, you might want to be featured in this Blog for our series on Expat Mamas around the World! Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you on Twitter? follow me on my Twitter and my Instagram for more updates on my Expat Life in Bavaria.Thanks!
Is it just a cliché talking about Bringing Up Bébéin the Philippines? or is it a renowned global myth that French kids eat everything? I really wonder about this.How about trading hiking the Swiss Alps for the beaches in Bantayan Island in Cebu?
Well,I am going to tell you that one French Expat- Mama juggles on pursuit of zen, balance & rumbling through the whole foods section in the supermarket and at same time raising her Blonde Third Culture Kids in South east Asian culture. How on earth she’s doing it?
On our next feature for Expat Mama around the World series, we go to far away South Pacific where Estelea,an ex-Red Cross workaholic femme, enjoys the tropical sun and hopping the tricycle mania in their island life. She and her Swiss husband, Marcel, are currently based and living the not-so-ordinary Expat life in Bantayan island in Cebu, Philippines. Together they trot this place upside down with their 2 adorable kids, the Attilas; (aka Maëlle 5 y.o and Léandre 4 y.o.).
With a bubbly spirit, a pocket full of wisdom, she shares her big heart to her host country, the Philippines through her meaningful writing such as “All we need for Christmas is a roof over our heads” . Aside from her Blog, she tell us how to handle the fanatic Filipino craze on Karaoke, the not-so friendly-typhoons and the hustle of being tagged as Parisian-stage-mama to her kids at school . Here’s her very own Expat -Mama Story: Raising my Blonde Kids in the Philippines
Estelea is the woman behind Estelea’s Blog, a French Mama of 2, A yoga enthusiast and a budding teacher,a dreamer, a beach lover and a humble humanitarian rolled into one. Stephanie is a minimalist by nature ,Vegetarian by choice, and makes it a point to have & enjoy a good kind of laugh.Everyday. Living almost 3 years in the Philippines, she still can’t believe that it’s for real that she’s living a life in the shores of the pristine beaches.
Estelea is a good friend of mine..from a far. Thanks to technology that we became modern-Penpals. When the Attilas gives her a break-time from being their super-mama, she wrote a whole lot of inspiring, funny, and down-to-earth posts about motherhood,Expat Life, and family oriented adventures.
Tell us About your Background
I am French, originally from Fontainebleau, a beautiful historical town by the forest, about 60km from Paris. My job from the years BC (Before Children) definitely took me to places, from Eastern and Western Africa to South East Asia, when I was working for the International Red Cross. We are now based in the Philippines and for the first time in decades, I am not working. I mean, technically…I mean, for a paycheck.
On Life as a Full time & Stay-at-Home Expat Mom
I am actually working full-time every single day of the week, no day off, as a Stay at Home Mum. My very very significant other got a job on the little island of Bantayan and the kids and I are living some 6h away, on Cebu island.
For visa reasons, I can not work in the Philippines, and it has been pretty challenging to adjust to this new kind of lifestyle. A door closed but another open as I had no excuse to finally dwell into more significant yoga practice. And here I am, just completed a 200hours yoga teacher training, and I gave my first class just 2 days ago . My kids’s teachers are very interested in teaching yoga to their little students too, so aside from my adult classes, I am so excited to work on classes for children.
How Yoga changed your life
Yoga is about exploring and discovering who you are (peeling the layers of the onions, as our teacher would say). Being kind to yourself so you can be kind to others too. Be sincere, be healthy without pushing you to your limits.Yoga to me is such a powerful vehicle of change. Through the toning of my body and my mind, I build strength and I start to believe in my own potential. My whole experience of change through Yoga is written Here.
Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects of life.
On Philippines as a Child-Friendly country
If you were to choose the most child friendly country in the world, Philippines would definitely be in the top 5. I never ever heard anyone complaining because my kids are loud or “slightly” active. And it is not because my little Attilas are incredibly behaving, the real reason is that people love children. Kids are everywhere, there are playgrounds in each and every mall, and they are genuinely welcome by all the staff of the resto and hotels. It’s pretty unique I must say!
On emphasis on Family and splurging on Kid’s birthday parties
Filipinos are very family oriented, they go out on weekends all together, and I can’t recall the numbers of times we have been invited to share food just because we happened to be around. One has to attend a kids’ Birthday party to get my point loud and clear. Their Birthday parties look like our kind of engagement or even wedding party back home. It’s grand compared to the way Europeans do. They take it incredibly seriously, there are so many clowns, presents, games and they invite the whole neighborhood along with the whole clan. There is no way you would leave the party without a big bag of food and give away presents. It is very heartwarming for expats like us, so far from home.
On Motherhood starts at a young age
Philippines has a a very high (TFR) Fertility rate, ( as per 2016 World Factbook CIA report) ranking at # 53 ( 3.09) compared to France # 110 (2.08) or Switzerland, # 188 (1.55).Of course there are lots of differences, most of the women have their kids in their 20s and many young couples drag their progeniture everywhere, day and night. My kids’ friends have watched so many scary movies my children won’t watch before they turn teenagers!
On overwhelming Exposure of Filipino kids to all kinds of media
The media exposure is so overwhelming here. They are exposed at a very young age to me, and they learn to perform on stage from 4 years old and the beauty pageants start very early. This is maybe because Filipino kids are exposed to realities of life at a young age. Little children are up-to-date watching all the tele-novelas and primetime shows in TV where they see all the hard realities of life,including the funny side.Ask any young children in the street about the current dance craze or the reigning Miss Universe and they will answer to you blatantly!
On borderline of personal privacy
Filipinos adore “Blonde”babies and kids they treat them like dolls! It could come as a compliment but also could come across as crossing the borderline of privacy. Don’t be surprised if people take pics of your children without asking, it is just because they find them “gwapo” (cute). Nobody is shocked but the expats actually,we in France are very veery yy protective of our privacy and that is quite a cultural shock. We don’t want foreigners to take pictures of our children, let alone selfies! But you can always get your point with a nice smile.
On the debilitating Karaoke culture of the Philippines
Nobody, nobody, sleeps when the karaoke is on!
It is very easy to live in the Philippines as a family. The only minus being the karaoke that is so loud, night and day. But tell you what, after a couple of years here, where singing is like breathing, the kids and I are very competing with taxi drivers when the radio plays a song we know. That’s another great thing with living in the Philippines, how easy it is to laugh for anything and everything. Very very different from Europe!
On food diversity
Foodwise …Philippines is very diversed and Filipinos are definitely meat eaters. And I am vegetarian. Voila! People really used to look at me as if I had just fell from the moon when I refused the legendary “lechon” (pork) or “lechon manok” (grilled chicken). They gave me the same look when I said my kids can’t eat pastas with condensed milk and sugar or sausages with marshmallows. When it comes to junk and sweet, you can tell that the American did not leave the best behind when the Philippines became independent . But things are – slowly changing, and there are now many vegan options that are very good! And thanks Pinterest for teaching us to make the best out of the vegetables and the fruits we can find on the market (try me on eggplants and bananas 😉 )
How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country? Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments, struggles you’ve overcome?
My kids are 4 and 5 and it is super easy. They are little sponges, absorbing the cultures, the languages, and they don’t feel foreigners in spite of their blonde hair and their long eyelashes – that always impress Korean women!
Especially now that they can speak some of the local language. You should see them in the jeepney (local bus) talking with the driver in his language, they make every one laugh so hard!
My daughter was born in France so when I was expecting her brother we wondered for a little while if we should get back to Europe. But I am so glad we did not. All the beautiful prenatal yoga classes, the perfect attention of the medical staff of the Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok were beyond all my expectations. Plus Thai people really care for pregnant women, I felt like a super VIP all the time! Everything was cheaper and far better quality than back home.
It is been really easy and fun, I feel it would be much more challenging if we had to relocate to Europe – France or Switzerland. We have lost our mute button a long time ago, and the kids hate wearing socks ..
What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse )
So far so good because I am not sure of the benefits of this lifestyle in the long run. We are going back to France and Switzerland once a year, and it is not enough to build the kind of memories I have built with my cousins and grand parents for instance. Bless Skype, Whatassap and Viber, for sure! But nothing can replace a real big hug. That’s the reason we are planning to relocate in a country closer to home, at least a few hours by plane (direct flight!). Cebu- Paris takes us about 20h, it is definitely too far. Can’t have it all !
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
We are legends! People think we have countless helpers, a driver available 24/7 and we spend our days in SPA… And most of them have no idea of where the Philippines are!
I don’t think I am making any impact actually. Some of my friends would definitely think I am living the easy life, simply because I don’t work. They google “Cebu” and see pristine beaches. I’d rather leave them with the illusions, not mentioning the rainy season, the insane Manila traffic, how small the expat circle is here. And that the nearer beach is some 5 hours away ..
Interestingly enough, the expat life made us reinforce our links with our family much more than with our friends – unless expats themselves.
Disclaimer : All photos are owned & of personal property of Estelea, special credit to her FB page and should you wish to use it, please mention the owner.Thanks!
Inspired by this post?
Have you ever wonder how an Expat-Mama is raising her Kids in the Netherlands? Or what about a Muslim mother raising her child in the oil-rich desert country like Kuwait?
If you want to get to know more about Estelea and like follow her Expat Life, you can add her in her Facebook page Here and follow her Expat adventures in her Instagram Here.
Are you an Expat Mama and have a unique story to share, feel free to email me at email@example.com and don’t forget to follow my Expat Life in my Twitter for more stories of Expat Life like this.
The first time I saw in Amsterdam a mother cycling with her 2 kids inside a rather impressive ‘ BakfietsBakfiets‘ and’ Kinderzitje’ ( Kid’s seat attached on the rear end of a bike) I almost shrieked and laughed! How could this be, in Philippines, Bakfiets or the modern SUV in Holland could resemble much like the ‘Kariton‘ dragged by an animal ( mostly carabao) with the harvest from the farm, mostly sacks of rice. In the fields, kids play while riding it, but purely for fun. In Holland, it’s functional. Bakfiets are attached to a bike and in it, is your child, along with bag of groceries, plants, toys, you name it, it’s all in there! Such a surprising part of Dutch culture that Dutch are known for.
Here in Germany, I saw something else. As I roamed the streets getting to know our neighborhood, I saw and witnessed more and more surprising things about Parenthood that only German parents do with their kids. To tell you frankly, before coming to Europe, I thought Germans are strict, cold, and severe people, let alone being parents, but I was completely mistaken. Here are the reasons why ignorance doesn’t pay and why I love just how German Parents doing it, the German way.
Play comes first (until 6 years old!)
I saw from my friend’s feed that their toddlers & pre- schoolers are already being taught how to scribble, write, draw, count and do the academic side of learning. Do you know what German Kindergarten kids do ?
They play, play & play.
As I was applying for a space for my daughter in a Krippe & Kindergartens , we were invited to visit and have a look at their school and this is where I got the whole picture of playing as the best form of learning for toddlers until 6 yrs. of age here. Kindergartens in Germany are based on the concept that learning is a game of mind (or lernen ist ein spiel der sinne).
While Kindergarten normally starts at the age of 3, most parents who are urged to go back to work immediately can already put their child ( from 6 mos) in a Krippe or Kita. I saw that the kindergarten is full of different play-areas, fun games and interactive media for kids to just play while learning. Learning to read, write and count is not being pushed. I was shocked at same time totally impressed to see a tiny 2-year-old toddler struggle to put on her socks and jacket in the corridor, all by herself. All kindergartens have a spacious outdoor playground with sand pits, climbing areas, ball pits, slides and natural maze that kids can enjoy free-play,while having fun! When they get tired, they have a nap room.
Most kindergarten kids are taken out for a walk touring around the city or just a walk in the woods for an outdoor learning. They also visit nearby playgrounds to play, outside their classrooms. They really give a whole new meaning for playing while learning.
Germans just love the outdoors so they take the kids outside everyday. According to a German saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” which sounds logical to me. The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the “garten” in Kindergarten. It’s also obvious in Germany’s numerous playgrounds. In our neighborhood alone, you can go to 3 different playgrounds within 2 hours! No matter how cold and grey it gets, parents still bundle their kids up and take them to the park, or send them out on their own. I see babies napping in the forest, parks and in the busy streets. Kids are taught subconsciously the value of nature to overall well-being. Walking and strolling everyday is part of every family’s routine.
Freedom and Independency is encouraged as early as age of 2
Along the streets you see mothers walking with their kids on their walking bike at a very young age. Almost still toddling and yet learning how to balance and to pedal the bike. It’s not unusual to see toddlers already cycling at the age of 2.5 y/o and preschoolers cycling going to school. When they eventually learned to cycle, they took them cycling almost everywhere. German parents instill in the minds of their kids to be independent by equipping them with skills to explore by themselves,alone & unsupervised. As research have proved that walking around without parental supervision, or “independent mobility” is good for kids. Nobody follows a kid in the playground. If you see a mother following wherever her kids go, then she’s a foreigner! I tell you, this is what surprised me the most, I am the only mother who runs after my daughter while all the other mothers are just sitting in the bench.
In the parks & playground, mothers are often drinking tea, coffee and chatting with their friends while they let their kids climb and play. They are so lax in parenting because the safety measures and security is highly efficient. They already removed all the risks even before a child touches what’s in the play areas. Playgrounds are very safe for kids, mostly made with wood, with sand and plastics are mostly omnipresent.
Giving them Bikes instead of iPad or Playstation
German parents give less regard on tech gadgets to entertain kids such as iPad or Playstation or XBox , psp etc. I seldom see kids playing with iPad or computer games. This is because of great emphasis on playing outdoors. Almost everyone owns a Bike carrier, kid’s seat and a big part of toddler life is owning a kid’s bike. Why? because it promotes being active, functional & again, independency.
If the Dutch have Bakfiets, then Germans have their carriers. Of course, take it on German efficiency. I observed that kids are brought into an early exposure to be part of the society. The kids are tucked into their carrier, in a kid’s seat at the back of the bike or in a stroller and off they go in everyday life. There is no excuse for German parents for not bringing their kids along. I love the fact that having a kid in Germany shows that a child is not an excess baggage that you bring along with your chores or errands. Add up the efficient transport system then parents doesn’t need to worry about bringing along a baby in a stroller. Even if public transportation isn’t your thing, Germany is a very bike-friendly country. Even if with kids. Especially with kids.
Bringing their kids to Biergarten
German parents knows how to enjoy before and after the baby comes. We all know that they love (adore) beer and Oktoberfest. I was shocked to see locals bring along their kids while they socialize, drink beer and relax.In our place alone, you can find Biergartens almost in every corner. Nowadays they are transformed into a great family destination. Who doesn’t want to do things as a family on a Friday night?
Biergartens have become a go-to destination for family outings, play dates and toddler birthdays. On weekend afternoons, many transform into Gymboree-like spaces with multiple brews on tap. If beer is not your thing, then don’t worry, there are juices, lemonades and hearty bites for you. The great thing is, having a kid doesn’t hinder your social life.
What do you think of German parenting?
Do you think you can raise your own child the German way?
If you enjoy this post, make sure to follow my Expat stories in my Twitter and Instagram.