We’ve learned a lot during our time here about what it means to live in a different country with little ones. Cultural adjustments, like learning Spanish and trying new foods, were surprisingly smooth sailing. We threw the kids into 100% Spanish school/daycare head-first and they have both thrived (they're young - 4 and 1 - and I think kids are more adaptable than we think). At home, we speak mostly English and cook mostly American foods (though I will have to learn how to make sancocho and habichelas con dulce). Here’s what’s worked for us as we got used to our new life in the D.R.
Lesson 1: Connect with family often
Although watching family gatherings on a computer screen can make the kids feel like they’re missing out (especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas), it usually made everyone feel more connected. I think we talked to family members Skype or Google Hangout about 4 out of 7 days per week rotating through grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We also put up pictures of family around the house and talked about them with the toddler to make sure he knew everyone’s names….little people sometimes forget. Homesickness came and went in waves for all of us, so get your life boat ready.
Lesson 2: Climate Considerations
The Caribbean has hot, humid weather and bugs we were not used to handling. Because of the weather, we started using baby powder on the toddler to ward of diaper rash and fungus growth – even though we never used it in the U.S. We are vigilant about sunscreen at the beach but less so in everyday life. Bugs-wise, the kids sleep with mosquito nets and we sweep and mop most days to combat the ants looking for the delicious crumbs my toddler leaves after every meal.
Our smartest investment was having screens put on windows. Most houses/apartments don’t have screens and I would say none come with air conditioning. So the windows are always open to keep a nice breeze coming in, which is giant “welcome” sign for flies, mosquitoes, moths, and other UFOs. My preschooler is particularly terrified of moths. They flitter to and fro in a very unpredictable pattern. He spent several days cowering under his mosquito net and suppressing terror while eating meals. Nails, wood, screen material: RD $7700/US $180. Peace of mind: priceless.
We learned the hard way to clean out the car seat more regularly. One night, the belt from the car seat was closed in the door…all night long. In the morning, we found a swarming army of ants who had stealthily marched from the parking lot to the inside of the car using the handy ramp provided by the car seat. Needless to say, they thoroughly enjoyed their feast of cracker crumbs and raisins.
Lesson 3: Have a daily/weekly routine and a calendar
After uprooting them from everything they know, the kids (especially the preschooler) seemed to find comfort in knowing what came next. School/daycare Monday through Friday, PE at school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, soccer practice after school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, smoothies on Fridays…anything that marks the rhythm of the week. We also posted a kid-decorated monthly calendar on the wall where we marked holidays, birthdays, and special events. Having something to look forward to put a smile on the little ones’ faces.
Lesson 4: Try some traditions
If there’s something your family does every year for Halloween or Valentine’s Day, try to do the same thing in your new setting. If not, make some up! If you can share your traditions with your neighbors, even better! The preschooler loved taking heart-shaped candy to his friends at school and hunting for Easter eggs with his neighbor. If there are traditions in your new country, try them out. It’ll be fun for the kids to be the experts when you bring some traditions back to friends and family in the U.S.
Lesson 5: Be tourists
Don’t forget to do the things that make it into the family photo albums! We visited beaches, hiked in the national park, visited caves, got a day pass to a resort, took boat rides, and held starfish. Time flies when you’re making memories :-)
What's worked for you and your family?