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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: Settling Families into Sabbaticals
October 12, 2010 - 11:53pm

The other day a friend of mine asked if we had an extra TV kicking around that we could do without. Not for her household, it turned out, for a family she met who has recently moved to our neighborhood for a year on sabbatical from Norway. The house they are living in is huge but completely unfurnished and although their three young boys enjoy sliding around in empty rooms, they really needed some basic furniture other than the few essentials they bought at Ikea.

My daughter is in an after school art class with another second grade girl, Gina, who is in the states with her parents on sabbatical from China. While her mother’s English is quite good, Gina speaks no English. She somehow was able to get into the ever-full aftercare program at our school but her teary-eyed mother told me yesterday that Gina is very unhappy and having a hard time adjusting to school, let alone aftercare; every morning Gina strongly protests going to school and at least for now her mother leaves the university most days to pick Gina up soon after school.

Living close to the university, we see quite a few sabbatical visitors come through our neighborhood. These difficulties are part of the fun and challenge of a sabbatical, I suppose – figuring out where things are and how others live, adjusting to new routines and people and learning the language. Our neighborhood is small, connected, supportive, and contains quite a few academics so, I imagine, would be a great temporary home. Even so, these transition struggles are hard. The amount of support “sabbaticalers” get through the academic department and university they are visiting probably varies hugely, but I suspect often doesn’t stretch very far into supporting the family’s needs. I’m surprised that there aren’t more online services to provide support, ideas, resources, experiences and stories for families on sabbatical to ease the transition (at least, I don’t know of much). I’m sure many academics pass up the chance to work elsewhere because it can be quite daunting – a shame because the academic sabbatical system provides such a unique wonderful opportunity for families.

We have used the website ( to rent out our house during our annual three-month “summer sabbaticals”. The founder of the site is a mom in an often-traveling academic family, and probably because of this the site suited our needs well – over the years we have used this site to rent to several academic families who do research jaunts very similar to what we do. We left toys out one year for a family from Australia who had a young daughter. We’re now friends with a family from Florida who came back to stay in our house summer after summer for five years, until they finally relocated and moved about 10 miles from us. These personal interactions certainly helped us feel more comfortable leaving our house, and the families in our house have been quite happy to email with all sorts of questions during their stay.

Have any of you used, or other sites to help make your sabbaticals more productive and ease your families into enjoying a new place? Or do you have other ideas on settling into sabbaticals and finding community in another country? I’d love to pass along any thoughts to the families visiting here now.


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