What It’s Like Starting a Family While Living Abroad

Guest post by LaShawn at The Yokohama Life

Back in 2010 I graduated from university and entered the job market during the worst economic recession to hit the US in recent history. Jobs were scarce, and the few that were available paid very little and left me feeling unfulfilled.

I wanted to travel and explore. So, after saving up some money, I embarked on a journey overseas in April 2011, and through a twist of fate, I wound up in Japan. My plan was to work as an English teacher for a year or two, and then return home once the economy was more stable.

Well, 9 years later I’m still here. Not only that, but I settled down, got married, and recently had a baby. Nothing went according to my plans, and there were a lot of struggles along the way, but somehow I ended up with a life that I’m now quite happy with.

What it's like starting a family living overseas

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I had taken two years of Japanese language courses while I was in university, and scored pretty well on my exams. All of that meant absolutely nothing as I was lying on the delivery bed in excruciating pain, and failing to understand what the doctor and nurses were trying to tell me.

Nothing that I ever learned prepared me for what it would be like to give birth in a country that wasn’t my own, and in a language that I wasn’t fluent in. Half of the tears I cried were from the pain, and the other half were from just feeling so frustrated by not knowing what to do.

Luckily, I had my Japanese husband by my side to support me as best as he could. Neither of us knew all of the medical terminology in the other’s native tongue, but we worked together and welcomed our beautiful baby girl.

I go into more detail about how I felt and what my thoughts were in my labor and delivery story.

What Are Some of the Benefits to Raising a Family Abroad?

One of the main things I love about living in Japan and raising my daughter here is the national health insurance. Healthcare for babies and young children is completely free all the way up through junior high school.

Whenever my baby needs a vaccination or catches a cold, I can take her to a nearby clinic to get her the help and treatment she needs. Japan has very high quality hospitals and clinics, and the wait time (even without an appointment) is generally not that long.

As for myself, I pay roughly $110 for health insurance 8 months out of the year ($880 total). There aren’t any high deductibles and most hospital and clinic visits cost around $10-15 dollars. Medicine is usually another $10.

On January 1, 2019 I became violently ill after catching a bad stomach virus, and passed out on my bathroom floor. My husband called an ambulance, and I was taken to an emergency room. I was seen by a doctor very quickly and was given medicine before I was discharged.

I dreaded looking at the receipt when we checked out of the hospital, but my grand total came to about $30! I couldn’t believe it. Growing up in the US taught me that ambulances usually cost an arm and a leg.

Knowing that we can afford any medical emergency that may happen to our family gives such a great sense of relief.

Even having my baby and staying in the hospital for 5 days to recover (which is customary) ended up not costing our family anything after all of the rebates from our insurance and subsidies from the government.

Aside from all of the money we can save, another great benefit to raising a child abroad is that they can naturally learn multiple languages. My husband and I decided that we’ll only speak English inside our household, because our daughter will be immersed in Japanese whenever she’s at school or playing with friends.

In addition to that, we hope she’ll pick up a third language. However, we’ll probably wait and let her choose that on her own once she’s older.

What Are Some of the Challenges to Living and Parenting Abroad?

One of the biggest challenges to living abroad and trying to raise a family is not knowing what kind of support systems and opportunities are available. Most of the resources that are available aren’t in English, so I fear that I’m missing out on potential benefits for my daughter.

I recently went to a counseling session during my daughter’s 3-month health check, and was asked what are some of my biggest worries and concerns. I almost broke down crying, because I couldn’t convey my frustrations well enough in Japanese.

I didn’t know how to communicate my struggles with postpartum depression and anxiety. I also couldn’t explain that I was worried about my daughter being bullied once she starts school, because she looks different from the other children. I fear that my shortcomings will hinder her academic and social success.

How will I help her with her homework?

Will being interracial and less fluent in Japanese (at least in the beginning) prevent her from bonding with the other students?

Will she be treated differently by the teachers?

How will I get along with the other mothers?

These are some of the questions that I have that only time can answer.

How Do You Deal With Being Far Away From Your Family?

I’m very lucky because I have family members who are in the military and are stationed in Japan. My younger sister’s husband is in the navy, and they moved here three years ago with their two children—now they’re up to four!

We don’t live in the same city, so it takes several hours by train, or 1.5 hours by plane to visit each other. I love being able to spend time with my nieces and be a part of their lives even though we’re all so far away from our homes in the US.

My sister came and stayed with me the week after I got out of the hospital, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without her help. My postpartum anxiety was through the roof, and she really helped me to calm down by showing me different ways to breastfeed the baby, swaddle her, and a lot more.

My sister and I were both in Japan when our father and stepmother passed away. I was fortunate to be able to Skype with my father and tell him that I loved him while he was in hospice. I couldn’t afford to fly back home while he was ill and wouldn’t have made it in time even if my family members could afford to pitch in. So, those final moments that I could spend talking with him are ones that I’ll always cherish.

Losing my father made it even more important to me for my mother to meet my daughter. Seeing her on a screen just isn’t the same as being able to hold and kiss her in person.

My husband and I are planning to fly to the US this spring so that our daughter can meet the rest of her American family. It’ll be his first time meeting them as well, and I’m so excited about introducing him to where I came from. I know they’ll all welcome him with open arms and he’ll love it there.

Final Thoughts on Living With Family Abroad

If you’re considering moving with your family or starting a new one abroad, you have to be prepared to give up a lot in order to gain a lot. You’ll lose time with family and friends back home, but you’ll also meet new ones along the way.

I’ve met so many great and wonderful people from around the world during my time in Japan. I’ve also been able to travel and go sightseeing while fully immersing myself in the culture here. Would I recommend it to anyone? Sure! Try it out for a year to see how you like it and if it’s right for you. Even if you end up returning home, you’ll at least have a lot of great stories to tell and pictures to show for it—and best of all the memories!

About the Author

LaShawn moved to Japan in 2011 after earning her degree at Morgan State University. She has worked as an English teacher at various public and private schools, and now teaches at a university. LaShawn enjoys sharing parenting, lifestyle, and work related content in order to help other expats and immigrants who are living in Japan.

Twitter: @theyokohamalife
YouTube: The Yokohama Life

Starting a family while living abroad: what it's like

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