From Surviving to Thriving – Our 1st Year Abroad

February 20th.

One Year. 365 days.

It can’t be possible. It’s February 20th. We’ve been in Chile ONE YEAR!

Honestly, I’m flabbergasted. I can hardly believe it.

Because if I am being honest, during this past year, there admittedly was a time where I would actually think to myself:

Only 714 days left; or

We are 2/24 of the way done; or

We have completed 13.5% of our time here.

And with those, I was looking at the low-end (2 years), the possibility of even thinking of the high-end (3 years) was not physically or emotionally possible…at that time.

I was one, unfortunate misstep away from creating a paper chain. Literally.

Please don’t get me wrong. Even in the very beginning, I loved Chile. Even in the very beginning, I was awestruck at its beauty. Even in the very beginning, I had no plans of returning home anytime soon. 1year1

Because see, I knew and felt in my heart that this was going to be what it has been, an experience of a lifetime. But loving a place and wanting to go home don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It is completely possible to miss home with your entire being, and not want to go back…yet.

In the cultural training class we took before our move, our instructor explained to us that a typical ex-pat in a foreign country will experience many, many days of isolation, weepiness, and loneliness in the beginning. She went on to warn us, rightly so, that such days will return again and again throughout our entire relocation period. “But,” she noted, “the time span between these ‘off’ days will grow.  In the beginning you might have more bad days. Near the end, you might see several months pass between them.”

Honestly, as I explained in the past, I really didn’t get it then. I understood where she was coming from, but for some reason I thought our transition would be entirely smooth. Tom spoke Spanish, I understood some, we are fairly outgoing in nature, love to travel, and Chile is a beautiful country. I mean, what could be the problem, other than deciding what awesome trip to take next?

And then, we moved here. And I got it.

We were in a new place. Tom, my translator, was at work every day from sunrise until well after sunset. Practically no one speaks English…and as a result in the beginning, I knew no one. I had no one to call. I didn’t even know how to call someone. No one to ask for advice on anything. No idea where the hospital was. Who reliable or good doctors were. How to use a pharmacy. What was what in the grocery store. What was even good to eat, as much of the food was different. What roads lead where. How to park a car. Driving rules. What people were saying to me. Who, or even how, to call someone to fix things that were going wrong in the house. How to fill my gas tank. Oh no wait, it’s not gas…it’s Diesel. Any information about a typical school day, given my practical inability to communicate with anyone at the school. Where a gym was. Who could watch my kids if I wanted to go to a gym, or for that matter, try to navigate anything without all 3 of them running in 3 different directions while doing so. And the list goes on.

Because, I just didn’t realize how important understanding the language AND the culture was before moving. It’s critical.

And so, at the time, I decided that my entire game plan was to just take it one day at a time. As mentioned in my first post, if I accomplished one new thing each day…learned one new helpful fact, or visited one new place, I called the day a success. I had to remind myself that just as a newborn baby learns language and the culture of his/her home little by little, it was going to take many, many baby steps for us to even sort-of assimilate. Which, after coming from a country where we pride ourselves on completing 8 million things every day thanks to our multitasking-centric lifestyles, was a difficult notion to adjust to. Frankly, I view the first 3 months or so as comparable to the first 3 months postpartum. We’ll call it, postmovum. My postmovum state-of-being is now all a blur. In the blur, however, I do recall frequently reciting to myself, “It will not be easy, but it’ll be worth it…”.

And lo and behold, somehow, it worked. Somehow, we got here.

And where is here? Here is maravilloso! Thanks, of course, to all of those little things…the small pieces of the whole, new, life. A few months in, I started an intensive online Spanish course. We hired Rosa, our nana, whom I fully believe was sent by God, and who has been a huge help with the kids and also instrumental in helping me navigate the city, medical providers, people, etc. We have been blessed to meet many, many wonderful people who, despite my language deficit, have taken us in, helped us in immeasurable ways, and helped our location feel like a home.


585 Rosa with Gris & La Princesa de La Casa (as she calls them)

And then there is Maddie, God bless her, who was somehow born with an insanely social gene…one which makes it impossible for her not to know everyone. As an example, not long before we moved, she found herself to be very bored in our neighborhood as all of her friends were out. And so, as she put it, little 6-year-old Maddie decided that it was high time we knew our neighbors without kids better. She marched herself over to their house, knocked on that door and visited with a woman in her 50’s for an hour on the front step.

1year(7) 1year22 1year19When we moved here, this gift of Maddie’s turned out to be a huge benefit for our family. Given Tom’s work schedule and my nonexistent Spanish, meeting, well really, anyone, in our neighborhood was difficult. However, I think it’s safe to say that of the 100 or so houses in this neighborhood, Maddie has now acquainted herself with 50-75%, or nearly all of the houses that contain children near her age. And as a result, we have gotten to know a lot of their parents.




Zumba class

A thought… maybe a “Soy la Mama de Maddie” t-shirt is in order. There’s a conversation starter (-:

1year(8)But seriously:

Maddie, your gift at making and keeping friends has never ceased to amaze and inspire us, and I always want you to know just how many people came to adore you while we were in Chile, and just how PROUD you make us to be your parents!

And Greyson.  We have watched you go from a busy toddler to an energetic, joyful boy. Whom everyone knows as the little blond guapo, and whom can constantly be seen sprinting  after butterflies.

And Ellie.  We have watched you transform from a baby to a toddler who understands both English and Spanish, and who magnificently keeps up with your older siblings, if you are not outdoing them!

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention Karen Aguilar and Hans Steffens. Hans works with Tom, and his wife Karen and I became fast friends over many shared coffee dates, play dates, spa dates, nights out on the town, trips out-of-town, and now as of recently have learned to create various Chilean murales (art made of yarn) and munecas (dolls made of wool). I am so thankful to Karen for patiently slowing down her Spanish for me and I’m quite sure listen to me speak utter CRAP (though she’d never admit it), in order to hang out. What a difference having a friend, someone to TALK to, makes. And how blessed are we to now have them as lifelong friends!

1331year21 1year18 1year13And so, with knowledge of the city, the people, the language, and most importantly with having friends, Valdivia has turned into home. I have always thought it takes one full year in a place to get to that home feeling. Chile, an entirely new country and culture, surprisingly hasn’t been any different. Of course, the kindness of Chileans, the natural beauty of the country, and the incredibly peaceful way of living that exists here, all haven’t hurt. We continue to maintain, if ever there was a place to go, this was it for us.


The first time I thought maybe she felt sick, but then we returned and realized, nope…she likes to sun bathe!


This one has an obsession with snorkeling, and that is putting it lightly!

1year11 And so, the foundation has been laid…now we can build!

That does not mean we don’t have those “days” our instructor referred to. I just had one yesterday, in fact. It might even still be lingering a bit. But, she was also correct in her assertion that they will become more infrequent. It had been a couple of months since I had felt that kind of ache in my heart, and I’m hoping it’ll be a couple of months at least before I experience it again. And thankfully, Tom and I seem to experience our “days” at different times, allowing us to be each others “shoulder to lean on.” 1year10 1year12That is not to dismiss the fact, of course, that there will always be a piece of our hearts that wants to be at home.  After all, home is HOME.  And there is no place like home.  

Moreover, social media and the Internet have been Godsends. Even simply through this blog, through sharing our experiences and your generous outpouring of support, the edge of any loneliness or isolation we feel is dulled…because in a sense, you are with us .

And on the flip side, I have actually had days where I have thought 3 629years isn’t long enough. I have thought, if we really want Greyson and Ellie to be fluent at Spanish like their sister, we need to stay longer! If we really want to see all these places, we need more time!


And so, how absolutely BLESSED are we to have gotten to where we are today, as a family, and to have been gifted with a number of things as a result. As individuals (particularly our children), we are now blessed not only with the new language, but also with the ability to more readily adapt to new surroundings, no matter just how different they are.

It is also my hope that this experience has instilled in our children what we already possessed, a desire to see the world, and the understanding that we are children of the entire world, not just of the United States.


Note-closest to Antarctica!

And as a family, we have become so much closer, in ways that would have been otherwise impossible. When you rely on and lean on each other that much, I tend to think you either break, or conjoin and create a stronger unit. Without a doubt the latter has happened to us. I can now proudly and confidently say that I believe we could do anything together.

So what next, you might ask?

Well, we still have no idea how much time is left for us here. Tom continues to be in the middle of his plant start-up, doing wonderfully I might add, (so proud of him!) and he will need to start looking for a successor. Could be a year, could be 2, could be more. But you know what, thankfully, we decided long ago that counting the days was absolutely no way to live. Because that was not living. That was surviving.

And so now we live! 1year2 1year17

Now, our “Chilean” anniversary arrived and we didn’t even see it coming until a few days ago.

Now the days are going by too fast!

Now we don’t just try to accomplish things, or survive; now we assimilate, appreciate and ENJOY!

Now we learn ALL we can.

Now we meet people we will know for a lifetime.

Now we make memories that we will CHERISH for a lifetime.

In other words, our new game plan is to MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY DAY THAT WE HAVE HERE.

Because we know that a time will come when with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes we will be saying our goodbyes to a place that will be home and to people that we love.

Free of Regrets and with Full Hearts.





By Dr. Seuss


Today is your day.

You are off to Great Places!

You are off and Away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there                142
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.


You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.                               photo(16)

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?          222

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and stayingOncol21
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!315 - Copy

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.203

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,hh14
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.Oncol5

On and on you will hike,       880
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,Oncol23
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never foget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!127
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


17 thoughts on “From Surviving to Thriving – Our 1st Year Abroad

  1. You’re entries bring tears to my eyes. Not only because I miss you, but because you continue to completely amaze and inspire! You are truly a gift. As a wife, as a mother, as a friend, daughter, sister and so much more!! I love you and miss you like crazy!!!

    • 😍😍😍 thank you so much my love! And coming from someone who inspires and amazes me every day! These crazy things in life wouldn’t be possible without people in our life like u ❤️ Love u to pieces!!

  2. I am crying reading this, it is so beautiful, you are so beautiful! I love reading about your incredible experiences in such a beautiful country and seeing pictures too. You inspire me to try new things with my kids (on a much much much smaller scale). You continue to be in our prayers.

    • Trisha-i am teary reading your post! Thank you!! Though the only thing I think I can really inspire anyone to do is “hang in there” (cue cat poster! Ha!) AND there are COUnTLESS ways you inspire me!! I am so thankful for our friendship! Love u!

  3. Laura, Tom and Family – This is a beautiful post! I love reading how you and your family have jumped into life and let it take you on every adventure imaginable! We Love You All!

  4. I was blubbering through this blog in part because you are our closest kin and you’re thousands of miles away, and also because it took me back to our move to Celaya – place that I referred to as “pinche pueblo bicicletero”, when we first got there, yet we really grew to love, especially the friends we made (still keep in touch w/ some on Fcbk😊). When we returned to live in the US it was reverse culture shock (be prepaIred, ’cause it’ll happen😒). (Note: I, spoke the I was blubbering through this blog in part because you are iur closest kin and you’re thousands of miles away, and also because it took me back to our move to Celaya – place that I referred to as “pinche pueblo bicicletero”, yet we grew to love it & especially the friends we made there (still in touch w/ some on Fcbk😊). When we returned to live in the US it was reverse culture shock (be prepared, ’cause it’ll happen😒). language & met a small group of Americans shortly after moving there). I, too, am grateful that Rosa came knocking on your doorstep, that you & Karen & family have become great friends, that Maddie has introduced you to ALL her MANY friends parents 😊, (I met some through her too😊), that Tom has received so many accolades from his co-workers & that he’s accomplished such an outstanding job (not an easy task in a culture that believes that “mañana ” is sometime in the future😃), that all 3 cranbabies are healthy & happy kids (what else could one ask for?). Keep your blogs coming Laura – we love them! Adelante mi querida😘

    • My phone has been acting up again, a piece of my comment copied itself, so sorry. After I wrote (Note: I, spoke the… Skip down 13 sentences to the sentence that begins with language. Time for a new phone!

    • Hahahahahahahaha! I love your old nickname for your town! Having your experiences and advice has been lifesaving for us. we cannot express enough out appreciation for that, and all of your support in this 😍 love you guys! ❤️

  5. Laura, I loved this! what a wonderful outlook on your incredible experience – and written so well. And such great words of wisdom, some of which we can all use! Take care, and keep up the blog – it’s great!.

    • Thank you sooo much for reading and kind words Debbie! It’s fun, and hopefully something the kids will be able to look at fondly someday 😍 hope all is well with you and fam! 😘

      • Laura, thank you so much for dropping by my blog. Your timing is impeccable! Reading your 3 month and 1 year blog posts remind me of where we are and where we´re headed, emotionally speaking. I agree that Chile is absolutely the most wonderful place to live through these growing pains.
        Keep posting, and check in with us from time to time! Community from near and far makes all the difference, doesn´t it? Un abrazo fuerte, Courtney

      • Courtney-I am SO happy to have connected! And so excited for you as you begin your journey! It reminds me a little of pregnancy-difficult and i so wanted to get through it-but now reminiscing about it makes me want to go back and do it all over again! Enjoy this ride-every day counts!!! And I LOVE your blog-your writing and photos are beautifully captivating -please keep the posts coming! And I’m here if you have any questions at all! Abrazos!

      • That is so wonderful. We got to experience Pucon about a month ago (that post needs to be written!) but only got a taste of the beauty of Southern Chile. It reminds us of our beloved state of Oregon! If we head south again in the near future I would love to pick the brain of a local. That means you! Salud!!! And keep posting!

      • That would be great! It’s lovely down here-and yes-reminds me of that part of the U.S.! but rainy-so my suggestion would be between the months of October and April. we would love that! We also need to get up that way-I will let u know if we do 😀 keep in touch! 👏🏻

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