What I’m going to miss
most about Vienna, besides my dear, wonderful friends, is neither the culture
nor the excellent public transport network. It’s our support system – this
elaborate logistics mechanism that we have set up around our lives over the
years, which keeps these lives running (well, most of the time). It’s the
schools, the shops, the services, the schedules, the activities…But mostly it’s
the people; the social network that we have built, without which we would not
be able to function. These people are our family, friends, colleagues, caregivers,
teachers, doctors, suppliers – everyone that helps make our life easier both in
practical and in emotional terms. It took us a while to set up this system and
make sure it’s fully functioning. We have had to adjust it every time one of
the variables – our life circumstances (children and their life stages, jobs,
caregivers etc.) – changed, but the basis was always there.
Why is this system so
important? A good support system makes life less stressful and allows us to preserve
our sanity when things get hectic or challenging. Literally, studies show
that having a strong social support system is vital to maintaining mental
health. The System brings predictability and consistency to our lives, which is
particularly important for children. It allows us to plan our everyday, our special
events, our vacations and even our getaways (we know that, because The System
is there, everything will still be standing when we come back). With four kids and
two careers to manage, it is essential that The System works.
The move will upset this
delicate, painstakingly achieved balance. Given that The System is largely
location-specific, we will have to build a new one from scratch in Zurich. This
will be a slow, gradual process. It will take a while until it is up and
running and even then, there will be the necessary testing period, the
adjustments, smoothing out the “bugs.” After that, updating it will be an ongoing
process. As I’m contemplating how to go about doing all that, two questions occupy
my mind. First, do I have an overarching principle that guides me in organising
this support system? And second, how can I get a head start?
To answer the first question,
I believe that continuity is key.
Every move is a transition – or rather, a series of transitions on multiple
levels – for everyone involved. Transitions are inevitable, necessary and even desirable,
but they can also be challenging. Maintaining an underlying continuity can make
transitions smoother and easier. In other words, given that there will be
enough change coming our way, keeping some elements constant should provide a
feeling of familiarity and security, and help reduce the unavoidable stress of
What does continuity
mean in this case? One aspect of it is linked to physical space. We will have a
new house, which is already different than living in an apartment. Keeping some
elements from our place in Vienna will hopefully contribute to creating a sense
of home and help us adjust more easily to the new environment. Again, this is
particularly important for children, who need stability in their natural
“habitat.” For example, I am thinking of having our kids choose what they take with them and
what they leave behind (though I may draw the line at some point) and also
engaging them in arranging their rooms in a way that they will feel as comfortable
as possible.
Schooling and
extracurricular activities are another dimension where continuity is critical.
We thought it was important that our children continue on the bilingual
(English-German) track that they started here in Vienna, so we chose a bilingual
school in Zurich as well. We will try to organise activities – both theirs and
our own – that will have as much overlap as possible with those they (we) engage in
here in Vienna.
Last but not least, one
of the most important elements in our children’s everyday life, besides
schooling, will be their caregiver. It will be hard for them to say goodbye to the
people who have taken care of them for so long, but in the spirit of continuity, we thought
of taking with us a former caregiver, a wonderful person we’ve known for years
and with whom the children (and we) are very comfortable. We are happy that she has agreed to
join us in Zurich.
Now that the “basics”
are settled, I am trying to get a head start on the other building blocks – the
not-so-peripheral “peripherals” – of our support system. A lot of those
arrangements can be done from a distance – online or by making a few phone
For example, coming back
to my post from last week, finding a Greek school was crucial, so I called the
Greek embassy and found, not one, but three. Also, the children’s activities
are very important. My daughter was worried about being able to continue her
Taekwondo practice, so I found her a place where she can do that. Needless to
say she was thrilled. Our lives would not be the same without soccer, so finding
a good soccer club is next on my list. Then there is day care, music school,
etc. not to forget a yoga studio – because grownups need continuity too. The
list is long.
For all those things,
getting recommendations from people who live in the new place and whose
judgement one trusts makes a big difference. We are lucky enough to have very
good friends living in Zurich, so things are a bit easier for us. If that were
not the case, however, my strategy would be to seek out people who have been – or
are – in the same situation with us – mostly other expats – and draw on their
knowledge and advice.
All that mostly settles
the “practical” dimension of The System. What cannot be done from a distance,
but will be even more crucial, is the social network aspect of it. I will
talk about that in my next post.
How did you go about building
a support network when moving to a new place? What were the challenges you
faced and what helped you overcome them?
Have a great week!

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