Hi, I’m Sara. I came to Montreal from Miami, though originally from Colombia, in May 2007 with my husband, a nine month old baby and a pink umbrella stroller. This is my story of how I overcame loneliness and why I started the International Partner Project.
In Montreal we had no family or support. We decided my husband would go to work and I would stay home taking care of the house and the baby until she no longer needed me full time.
Less than a year after, I got pregnant with my second daughter. We exchanged the single umbrella stroller for a double one, and added a new baby to the formula. Everything else remained the same.
Life was good
I would clean the house, cook the meals, walk my daughters around the neighbourhood, give them baths, put them in bed, and pray to God they would fall asleep sooner rather than later.
I would do all of that without anybody asking me to do it. I had no boss. I would do my work every day in a non-stop routine that left me almost dead every night. However, I would recover some energy overnight and start again from scratch the next day.
It was not always easy, but I managed to reinvent myself and motherhood every day. I learnt to fill my days with activities for the girls and playdates, so that the days went by fast and happy. When winter came, we would go to my hometown of Cartagena for a month or so. Here we got enough sun to make it until the end of the winter back in Montreal.
I went to bed with a feeling of accomplishment, and wake up motivated the next day. After all, I had the reward of my girls smiling at the hem of my skirt at all times.
When the girls started school full time everything changed. There were no more long trips to Cartagena during the winter. And at home, the girls were no longer there.
Returning home from school drop-off and staying in an empty house doing chores, day after day, was boring, and lonely. There were millions of things (from motherhood to matrimony to career) that I wanted (and needed) to share while making the beds and picking up the dirty clothes.
I was lonely
I needed to talk to someone. I needed to talk about the amount of homework the girls were getting from school. I wanted someone to try my meat sauce and to smell the lavender in my laundry. I wanted someone to share my career plans and my business dreams. I needed my mom, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague, someone, to share these things with.
Instead, I took photos of my life and shared them online with friends.
At this point in our family plan, I was supposed to be dusting off my resume and putting together the new me. Instead, I was consumed by new concerns from being on time at school, to my daughter’s’ social interactions at school and homework, in the boredom and loneliness of the house.
I started to procrastinate
I started talking to myself a bit too much. The feedback I would get from social media was not one of relief. On the contrary it would make me feel more anxious. It was difficult to focus and get things done. I started to procrastinate. To feel I was not being productive.
Instead of getting easier, things got worse. School mornings became a routine of rushing, crying and complaints that left me exhausted at the very beginning of the day. Afternoons were another battle. Trying to complete homework and making it to bed on time.
I started to feel overwhelmed
One morning, while running around trying to comb my daughters’ hair, I told my husband I couldn’t take it any longer. I asked him to stay home and help me get the girls ready. Something I had always managed to do on my own before.
The story that followed included a visit to the doctor and a longer than planned trip to Cartagena, as part of my prescription.
That is how and when I realised that it was not possible to get things done just by the miracle of self discipline, as the nuns at school had taught me. I realised I was not a robot that could be programmed with a list of tasks to be done every morning, no matter what.
I realised I needed external motivation and to feel connected
I needed a routine that was not just imposed by me, but one linked to the routines of others. Not only my husband’s and the girls’.
I needed to create something for me, the way my husband had his office and my girls had their school, so I started to think about setting up a simple-clothing and home-goods brand. This later became Agua-Sala.
I needed a sense of belonging and purpose that being part of a community provides and are fundamental to the human experience. To achieve this I created three rules.
My 3 rules to overcome expat loneliness:
1. Get out of the house every day
I never spend all the hours the girls are at school at home. I make sure I get out of the house at least once, ideally at the beginning of the day. I volunteer at a craft store in front of my house or at school, I make plans to see a friend for coffee or take yoga class. The result is that I start the day motivated and prevent procrastination.
2. Do something for yourself
I set aside time every week to do something for me, that feeds my sense of purpose. I know I have to complete the chores at home efficiently because there is something I really want to do that is waiting for me. This helps me focus. I’m excited about getting ready, wearing a new shirt or putting on my make up – and getting myself out there.
3. Create your sense of belonging
As Esther Perel said “the seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again so create a community of two”. With this in mind I make sure I see the same people and go to the same places, on a regular basis.
My life revolves around the people from my daughters’ school and my husband’s work so I organise activities with them and invite them over frequently. I am consistent with the activities I enroll for. If I join a book club, I stay in it for long enough to create strong bonds. I stick to the same stores to become friends with the sellers.
Seeing the same faces and places every day creates that sense of familiarity, belonging and security. I don’t get lost when I’m doing my chores at home because I know there is a place out of the door that I belong to.
With eleven years experience of raising a family abroad, Sara is convinced that what gives meaning to our lives is our communities. As part of the search for that community, she recently created The International Partner Project – a Facebook Group that aims to bring together all international partners living in Montreal and beyond, to build a solid and dynamic social, professional and entrepreneurial network.