As parents, we want to give our kids the gift of being not only bilingual, but also bicultural. Our hope is that they will feel like they belong and have friends, family and meaningful place connections in both the US and Bolivia. We know that the best way to do that is to spend significant time living in both places.
As a result, we have prioritized trips back to Bolivia. It’s a non-negotiable part of our budget and our vacation time plans. We go every year, without fail. By spending time there during our professional slow seasons, we can work remotely and extend our stays. For the last few years, we’ve been able to spend three to five weeks with Andrés’ parents, grandparents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and our friends. It has been wonderfully enriching for all three of our kids, and importantly, gives them a close connection with their abuelos. (Son los únicos nietos de ambos lados de la familia.)
Of course, we’re not just doing it for the kids. Andrés made a huge sacrifice by coming to the United States – his parents, his brothers, his amazingly tight group of friends – they’re back in Cochabamba. He – like many other Bolivians in the US – only planned to come for a year or two, make some money, and go back. (Si la mayoria sí vuelve o se queda es tema para otro día.) For Andrés, it’s been nearly ten years now. His parents aren’t getting any younger and he wants to spend as much time with them as he can.
A New Experiment in Two-Country Living
This summer we tried a new experiment, where Andrés and our four year old went to Bolivia for three and a half weeks by themselves. It was the longest I’d ever gone without seeing my oldest, and I was nervous. But this is one of the most important, most vital goals we have set up for our family, and so, I told myself, it’s worth it.
And it was worth it. Our four year old strengthened his connections with his abuela, abuelo, Andres’ abuelita, los tíos (hermanos de Andrés), y fortaleció el idoma – he came back with new words, phrases and overall fluency. He took karate classes, got to know Bolivian teachers and other kids in the class, and loved it.
The transitions there and back weren’t easy. As a kid, it’s hard to get thrown into different cultural surroundings, expectations, rules, and then back. That’s not just culture shock, it’s cultural whiplash! But with time, we all got readjusted.
Financially, we were able to swing it by replacing four weeks of summer camps with the trip. Andrés was able to do some work remotely and push back his other work until he came back, and he had enough income that he could still pay himself that month. We had already been planning for Andrés to take an extra trip this year, so we didn’t count that as part of the math.
The four-year-old doesn’t know it yet, but the first experiment went so well that there is now a part two, where Andrés will take the twins for a longer trip over the end-of-year holidays. The four year old and I will join them for a shorter time, and we’ll all come back together.
All told, this will give Andrés closer to two months in his home country, which of course, is still not even close to the 50% mark. Which brings us to…
In an ideal world, we’d like to be able to spend even more of the year in Bolivia, or even take a full year and enroll them in school there. Straight up moving there at some point is also still an option on the table, although we would need to be ready with answers to many questions:
What would we do there? As one Bolivian who had lived in the US for many years said to me… “¿Qué voy a hacer yo en Bolivia?” How long would we go? Forever? Could we work remotely, if even part-time? If we could, how much would we want to? What if we want to come back? What if we’re not really ready financially, what if we leave too soon? How will we find community, connection, and meaning in our lives?
You know, the typical FIRE questions.
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Do you have personal connections to more than one country? Did you ever feel like you had to choose between them?
Note: I purposefully didn’t mention the current US political climate, because it would have overwhelmed the post, but we are keenly aware of it, and there are other great FIRE folks speaking up about it and writing about it. Go read them.