Isn’t it fun when you can have summer in winter? I remember the joys, as a student, of getting extended Christmas holidays so that it’d be worth visiting my parents who lived in Lima, Peru at the time, and I’d spend three weeks lying on beaches, diving into pools, sipping Pisco Sours, speaking Spanish, and munching Cebiche with my toes in the sand. Returning to Basel on the plane, possessed by sun and salsa, I’d arrive in flip-flops and no coat. Not a good idea – quite a shock to the system in fact – going from one extreme to another (back in the days when it still snowed over Christmas).
We associate summer with sun and fun, of course…water – the sea, usually – or for expats a nice long chance to visit home, family, and friends. But what about the difficulty when you live in a different hemisphere from loved ones? Where our summer is their winter, and vice versa?
The choice for my sisters and me was clear. As kids with expat parents, we grew up going back to Switzerland during the summer. After all, we already lived in an amazing beach-holiday set-up, so summer in Switzerland brought a welcome change of eating Swiss chocolate and going to summer camps in the mountains, where we had to don Wanderschuhe (hiking boots) and lug heavy rucksacks over stony mountain paths that led to ice-cold lakes. This was followed by a week of picking fruit from the trees at my grandparents’ in Waldenburg, Basel-Land.
Later, when we all started studying, the choice was also clear – during holidays, we’d visit my parents in their dream-like setup. I mean, were we really going to turn down the opportunity to learn diving in warm Caribbean waters, snacking on barbequed fish on white empty beaches?
Now, living in Switzerland with my family, I find it hard to offer them a similar experience. We have no point of reference, family to visit, or friends even. Everyone we knew has either moved or we’ve lost touch.
My partner is a skipper and owns a beautiful red sailing boat. When the kids were younger, we spent our summers on the Lake of Constance, sailing from harbour to harbour and swinging off the deck using the sail ropes. Now that the kids are older, the idea was to buy a faster, regatta boat, so recently he sold our lovely “Pirate Ship,” and now the world is our oyster in terms of holidays – at least until he finds his new boat. But with so much choice, and with so many years since I had to decide, I actually feel I’m out of practise. Where to go? Especially with the age-span issue: how to cover a nearly 15-year-old boy’s interests and include those of his 13- and nine-year-old sisters’?
But this summer my worries are dispersed – the girls have their Wölfli and Pfadi camps (Brownies and Girl Guides), where they can go wild with their friends, and my son wants to spend his first two weeks in Basel, at home, and simply meet with friends at the Joggeli (one of the biggest pool recreation areas Basel has to offer and well worth a visit; they even have a heated pool until after the Autumn holidays).
Only recently did the kids all ask, “When are we going to fly somewhere by plane again?” It did seem to be more about the being on a plane than actually having a specific place to visit. They may be open and keen to see the world, too, but I think that the most important ingredients are time, sun, and friends, wherever that may be.
For now, I‘ve come to the conclusion that the summer is here for tanking up on relaxing energy, which essentially turns the sun into a free spa, and the kids are happy not to have to wear layers of clothing and simply to stroll around and chill by pools with friends. It means less packing stress for me, of course. Although, when I think about it, it is inspiring to have a complete change of scene. There’s that skip in my heart to the rhythm of the past – Scandinavia, hmmm…didn’t my cousin say we should visit her in Lapland?
By Karin Mohler
Karin has lived between cultures for her entire life and has come to the conclusion that this will always be a big part of her. Having no roots doesn’t bind her anywhere in particular, but she is careful not to impose that sense upon her children, who have been born and bred in Switzerland. She has taken a lot of inspiration for understanding her “in-betweenness” from the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, by D. C. Pollock and R. V. Reken (2009).
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is the mother of two little girls and a freelance illustrator. She can be reached at email@example.com