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From Saudi Arabia to Italy: Moving with family

With our “Santa Fe Around the World” project, we want to give our customers the opportunity to tell us more about their moving experience. Because moving to a new place can be challenging, we wanted to capture our customers’ side of their journey with us. With this series, we will be discovering their expectations, feelings and fears.

Johannes moved from Saudi Arabia to Italy with his family and in this second part, he describes the approach that his children had towards the move, the challenges of leaving friends and family behind and making new friends in Italy.

Making new friends in a different country can be difficult, how did you find it?

Johannes: For me it is easier to make connection at work with colleagues, who often become friends, due to the fact that we all speak the same language (i.e English) and all the communications are the same for all the offices.

I think it is more challenging for my wife Swan: she is active in the local community and she has to communicate with our daughters school. But for her, it’s more the real life in the real country. Because of this it is more important for her to learn Italian, since she has much more to do with daily Italian life than me.

It takes about six months before you start having your little circle of friends which is great, but at the same time sad if you have to leave them after a couple of years: it is a bit of a gypsy life. But mostly if you make friends, they are friends for life because they are often in a similar situation. You make new expat friends but of course also new local friends so you end up with friends all over the world.

What did it feel like to leave friends and family behind?

Johannes: That is probably the main con of moving abroad, but then you do make many new friends from different countries.

It is always interesting to have friends with different perspectives and different backgrounds. You always have a place to go and they have a place to come to us. And after all, 18 years and 5 countries lived, there is one main conclusion and it is that people are all the same and that there are no borders.

To what degree has language influenced the way you integrate with locals?

Johannes: For me, working at IKEA, our business language is English so I could, in theory, easily live for a couple of years in a foreign country without speaking the language. But for my wife it is a different story. For her it is more important to speak local language in order to get faster integrated in the local life and to discover the country where we are living.

Learning the local language is a crucial part of living the local life: it does not mean that you have to be fluent but being able to communicate really gives you the opportunity to be part of the local community. Also the need to learn the local language depends on the country, depending on how English is integrated in the country.

For example, in countries like Spain, Italy or France, English is not commonly spoken between locals. Unlike countries like Portugal, Holland, Greece and Denmark where the use of English is much higher and as a foreigner there is a lesser need to learn the local language. But then again, why not get the full experience and opportunity to become closer to the culture you are living in and learn the local language?

What did your children think about moving to a new city/country? How did they find it? Were they excited or worried?

Johannes: Both children were born abroad, in different countries, one in Saudi Arabia and the youngest one in Spain, so for them moving is normal.

They are really flexible. Although during our last move here to Italy, our eldest daughter was 14, and we noticed that it was a little bit harder because at this age the role of having friends is changing and become more important. But thanks to social media friends are still friends and daily contact exists.

To what degree have your children influenced your decision for moving?

Johannes: Not much since we are moving because of work. The work with IKEA gives us the opportunity to move around and mainly the length of the contract decides how long we stay.

The moment you decide to move as a family you start to explore possibilities where to move. I have been lucky to always have options,  and then choose whats best for our family, as well as best for work.

In general until now, our children do not have too much influence over where we move. Now our older daughter is going to study in a couple of years, so this will become a more important factor.

To read more other stories:

Moving to Italy: A new step for an expat family

Moving to Philippines: a single parent expat story

Moving to Africa: A life changing experience

Moving to Africa: the experience with children

Moving to Africa: adapting to a different way of life

Moving to Africa: tastes of a new home


If you’re thinking of moving home and would like to find out how  Santa Fe Relocation can help, get in touch with a member of our friendly team on 020 8961 4141.

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