Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Telling the Family You're Moving Abroad

When I moved to Rwanda, so many people asked: “what did your family say?” I think a lot of people struggle with this, since let’s face it: your family gets a bit concerned when you make the brash decision to up and leave. The only advice I can give is to make the decision for yourself and let your family/friends come around to that decision. I told ORI yes and booked my flight before telling many people so that I would be able to honestly make the decision for me, not for anyone else. Of course, getting advice is great, but from unbiased sources, not people who don’t understand the politics of the country you’re going to and the reason behind your decision.

Telling my family was…interesting to say the least.

So you have a reference of who I am talking about

My older brother was all for it, but he had been at school for 26 consecutive years, now working as a lawyer at one of those big scary law firms - I’m surprised he didn’t hide in my luggage. My sister couldn’t have been more irrational, emitting a high pitched WHAT?! And insisting that it wasn’t happening. My dad and I didn’t really talk until word of my move had spread through my family, then sighed and asked me why I was doing this. But really, he is the pot calling me, the kettle, black because 2 days after I left for Kigali, he went to Antarctica – uhh scary, deserted, cold, if that’s not the scene of a Michael Crichton novel, I don’t know what is. Really, you don’t know there’s not a Jurassic Park there!

My mom and little brother, however, were a bit more ridiculous, so I’m highlighting those convos below:

My mom – the eventual sympathetic one. At first horrified at the idea of her little daughter moving to Africa, my mom soon came around to my move. She came around, and then she really came around. One conversation with my mom took place while she looked at the website of my organization, reading the individual stories of the students:

Mom: Wow Nora, these students have come through a lot; it’s really great you’re going.

Nora: Yeah, they really have; they’re incredible.

Mom: You know, I would love to do something like you’re doing

Nora: Well I mean you still technically could. Why did I just say that?

Mom: What if I went with you?

Nora: What?

Mom: I could take you there and do some work.

Nora: Mom, you want to take me and drop me off at my new job? Now I had no friends in Kigali at this time, so having my mom drop me off like taking me to summer camp would not really help that situation. Not to mention it’s a very long, uncomfortable and expensive flight.

Mom: What? I could take you over there and make sure you get settled.

Now she didn’t actually take me, and even though I requested visitors, no one came to see me in Kigali, so was I even there? Well, none of you will know for sure, now will you.

My little brother – the lying one. So I love my little brother, but he tends to speak as if he knows the world (he’s 17 though, so didn’t we all think that?) When I told him, he already knew from my parent’s grumblings about it, so this is how that went:

Nora: Hey bud, did you hear about my new move?

Conor: Yeah, mom has been so upset and dad is mad.

Nora: Well it’s really safe and they don’t understand that.

Conor: Do you know there’s a war going on there?

Nora: No, there’s not. That was in 1994, it’s long over.

Conor: No, Nora – there’s a war; you’ll be living in a war zone.

Nora: Conor, no there is not. Check the state department site, check the news, the war is next door in the DRC, not Rwanda.

Conor: War. zone.

Nora: (Pause) Can you put mom on the phone.

I also pretty much ruined Thanksgiving because that’s when my extended family found out (I have a very large Irish Catholic family ps), and you know what else, that’s not the first time I’ve ruined Thanksgiving – one year I brought the stomach flu home from school and everyone got it. Don’t make me do that again.


  1. Love this. Granted I'm going back to Sydney and not Africa but my family is equally weary. Mostly because we're both thinking, but not talking about, how this move has a huge possibility to be permanent.

  2. My reaction to this blog post: "Did she just call me irrational????? WHAAAAAT??"

    I'm working on it.

  3. Thanks, this is one of the most helpful blogs I've come across! I'm in the midst of figuring out the best way to tell my family I'm studying abroad. Hopefully they'll be somewhat supportive.

  4. HAAAHAAAAAHAAA! OMG! I love this...so much. So glad I Googled this and I am not alone.