Our Goal: The Gift of Two Countries

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.

Experiment #2

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…

And Beyond?

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.

* * * *

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.

7 thoughts on “Our Goal: The Gift of Two Countries

  1. I love this post! Keep working through your plans and stay authentic to your family. Our vision has shifted over time. We used to dream of bi-cultural living, but lately, we’ve become deeply invested in our local community here in the U.S. A big part of that is that we found a great Korean-run taekwondo studio that incorporates the cultural elements we miss out on from not taking trips back every year. As the kids get older, the trips to Korea are both easier (the kids travel better) and more difficult (they are more connected with their friends and community here, so it is more disruptive for them to travel away for long stretches). Also, for personal reasons, Min is feeling more separated from his family these days (both emotionally and physically) and less interested in connecting with them.

    1. Thank you Diana! It’s neat how a seemingly small factor like a taekwondo studio can have an outsize impact on connectedness and community. How cool! That’s an interesting insight on how traveling with older kids is also more difficult… good for us to keep in mind going forward!

  2. I can totally identify with this. We go to Morocco to visit my husband’s family every other year or so, but we haven’t done that well with teaching our kids the language, even though we both speak Arabic. I’m a professor so we’ve been able to go over there for long term visits during the summers (and it has been my research area so I could do work there as well), but husband doesn’t have long periods of time that he can leave work. Also it gets so expensive with four people! It would be great someday to have enough money to be over there for extended periods of time but like you, we have a lot of questions about what that would look like… But for now, it’s so important and awesome what you’re doing to connect them with their family in Bolivia!

    1. Thank you MisFire! How cool that Morocco is your area of research – that helps facilitate visits professionally I’m sure. It’s tough, though, that your husband can’t leave work for very long. Having flexibility to be away for longer stretches of time is a big part of why Andrés chose to do independent consulting, even though he’s probably leaving money on the table by not having more traditional W2 work. Every other year is still a lot, I imagine those visits will work their way your kids’ psyche and identity.

      Language is hard. It’s hard enough teaching our kids Spanish, and we have other Spanish-speaking families in our neighborhood, among friends, and at school. Are there Arabic-speaking community places near you?

  3. We’re hoping to do this with our children as well and plan to go back to the Philippines every 2 years.

    Being the only members of our family here in New Zealand, it’s a challenge to raise children while instilling in then a good grasp of our native language and culture.

    How do you deal with the annual expense? I assume the airfare is quite high due to the distance.

  4. Piki,
    Yes! It’s so hard to recreate a whole culture when it’s just you. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and friends are key. Even though, they can get more from “just you” than you think. Just the other day I caught Andrés telling our 4 year old the history of Spanish colonialism and Bolivian resistance over breakfast. He was enthralled. Ha!

    The annual airfare expenses are steep. This year is the first time we’re paying for all five of us and we timed it to get the best prices, but in the end we just had to suck it up and hit purchase. In the next few months, I hope to do a better job of looking at travel points and our credit cards and see how we could save some money there. There’s no way we could pay for it on Bolivian salaries, so I just think of it as part of the cost of living here. We are pretty frugal in the rest of our lives – this is part of the ruthless prioritization of our spending. I’ll have to pull together a post with some of the specific numbers. Thanks for asking!

  5. Sometimes I think we’re fortunate to have both sides of our family living so close by. Then other times, like when I read this post, I’m envious of others who have another home to visit and a different culture to be immersed in.

    Your children are very fortunate that you and Andrés are so dedicated to exposing them to both cultures in such an in-depth way. They’ll have such a wonderfully rich and diverse view of the world because of this.

    Thanks for sharing another unique and well-written post. I’m really enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more!

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