In August 2016, I moved with my husband and three children from eastern Washington to Vienna, Austria for my husband’s job. We’ve lived in four states during our marriage, but this was our first international job posting, and we had moved from the East coast to the West coast less than a year before. Our kids are also approaching their teenage years, which adds a level of complication to moves. Because of that, I anticipated a lot of upheavals as our family embraced this new chapter in our lives. In all of our relocations, I’ve tried to bring good habits with me, but I was surprised by how much regular running, in particular, helped me to transition during our first time abroad. Here are five ways that running helped me during our international move.
5 Ways Running Helped Me Transition During an International Move
1. Focus on the Familiar
I’ve been running at least 3 days a week for the past 13 years, and it’s become so automatic that I expected to continue the habit after our move. Running always makes me feel calmer, but after a long plane ride and jet lag and struggling to pick out breakfast at a grocery store with few familiar products, I couldn’t have anticipated just how comforting it would be to pull on my running clothes from home, lace up the same shoes I’d always worn, and head out the door.
2. Find Time for Myself
Austria is a comfortable, safe place to live, but it does not have as many of the conveniences of the States and everyone in our family felt the emotional swings of life in a country with unfamiliar expectations and a foreign language. It would have been easy to tell myself I was too tired or overwhelmed to run while I adjusted to learning German while cooking our food from scratch, shopping almost daily because I no longer had a car to bring home Costco sized grocery hauls, and doing laundry when what would have been a single load in the US became two or even three in my European machine.
However, I found that keeping my running routine cleared my mind. I spent time thinking of solutions while I crisscrossed our new city, and I came home ready to tackle my new responsibilities while also having the energy to talk family members through their homesickness and challenges.
3. Appreciate my New Surroundings
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as discovering a new place on foot, and running was a way to see more of the city even faster than before. My routes took me through new parts of the city where I marveled at the details of the architecture and the differences in this new place.
I was able to orient myself more quickly and to find parks, stores and museums to return to and enjoy with my family.
Running also allowed me a little more mental space to embrace delicious Austrian cuisine, where heavy traditional foods, decadent pastries, and full-fat dairy are the norm. I was happy to trade a few miles for Käsekrainer, Heiß Schokolade or a plate of Kaiserschmarren with extra Zwetschkenrösten and plenty of Staubzucker.
4. Make Connections
I was nervous about finding friends in a foreign country since my children were in school and too old to take on regular park dates, but I found women who also ran after a few comments in my new circles as well as wearing my exercise gear to school once or twice. I ran with some of these women regularly, but shared interest was enough to develop friendships even with those whose schedules didn’t allow us to actually run together.
Pretty soon, these friends also directed me to races and “my” running stores where I could use my growing German vocabulary to get advice about shoes, gels, and other gear. These connections helped me feel like I belonged and gave me the confidence to continue learning the language so that I could embrace my life in Austria.
5. Celebrate Successes
Ten months after we moved to Austria, one of my running buddies mentioned that she’d always wanted to run a marathon. I’d run marathons in the States, but I wasn’t expecting to have the time or energy for such a big goal so far away from home.
However, my family was supportive, so I pulled out my familiar training plan from home, got up a little earlier, wound through routes that took us to the outer reaches of the city, and helped my running partner get to the finish line of her first marathon.
Without running, I doubt I ever would have seen so many beautiful sunrises or exotic sights in Vienna, and I know I wouldn’t have ever found myself among French vineyards and chateaus with thousands of runners and revelers celebrating that year’s wine pressing.
As I crossed the finish line, I thought back to the woman who’d been apprehensive to move across the world, and I knew that completing the 26.2 miles that morning couldn’t even compare to the uncelebrated runs that added up to feeling comfortable in a life that was so different than I could have ever imagined.
Any familiar habit could help you
Running was the habit that that helped me the most during this move, but any familiar habit could help you as you find ways to incorporate your hobby into your new city. Journaling, scrapbooking, sketching or photography are great ways to capture your surroundings. And of course, a fresh start in a new place is the perfect time to incorporate new routines as well. If running isn’t for you, consider regular walks or bike rides. You’ll be amazed at everything you see.
At the moment, Rebekah lives in Vienna, Austria with her husband and three children, but who knows where life will take her next. Between convincing friends to run marathons and sew their own jeans, Rebekah works as a freelance writer and story coach, providing support and feedback to aspiring and seasoned writers while they complete novels and memoirs. Find out more at rebekahorton.com.
This post is part of a series on International Living. Read the other posts in the series:
Being Here Has Opened Up the World to Us. Jessica Templeton on living in Germany and Travelling Europe
10 Things I Learned Living in a Developing Country. Reflections on living on the Caribbean Island of Antigua
The Adventure of a Lifetime: Moving to Mexico. April Stanfield shares the reasons she moved her family to Mexico for a school year and the life-changing lessons she learned from the experience.
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