Family and Friends

by Sareen McLay from


‘What I wish I knew’ before I left my home country has become for me, as I think about it, really a series of what ‘I didn’t know then.’

It’s always going to be the little things isn’t it?

The men packing up our house promised me the airfreight would arrive in Oman before we did. Six weeks of waiting for it on our first posting, living out of suitcases with a nine month old baby, taught me a lot about how you can live with very little ‘stuff’!

I didn’t know then the new friends we’d make, the ones who would knock on your door and bring a baby walker because they knew you had nothing to entertain a baby with in an empty house with a cold, tiled floor.

I didn’t know then the arc of emotions that is your companion on every move. From the initial honeymoon period to the sinking low to the acceptance, I think we’ve done them all.

By the time we moved to our second posting, on Borneo, I had travel lists ready, one for the suitcases we’d take with us, one for the airfreight and the rest, well, hopefully we’d see it all again soon when the container would finally catch up with us. I had no illusions!

This time our air freight did arrive and with it our own towels, bed linen even some crockery (so I could have a cup of tea in a familiar mug) although the rest, admittedly, was filled with toys, dressing up clothes and books for the children.

The same friends again met us at midnight when we arrived at the small airport in Miri. Lashing rain greeted us after a frightening flight, the skies flashing with giant shards of lightening. Our friends helped us with the luggage, including three huge car seats for our now growing family.

I didn’t know then that one day I’d stand in an airport and think, getting on a plane is just as routine, as ordinary, as getting on a bus for me now. How did that happen? How did I get to this point?

On our third posting, to The Netherlands, I dragged out the travel lists again. Once more it was friends who we’d met along the way who helped us, emailing us with hints and tips, driving us round the city to show us houses, supplying endless advice.

I called these friends our ‘Yellow Pages’ friends because they were such a font of information, so helpful. I didn’t know at the beginning when I left the UK how friends would step in to help.

I didn’t know then but am very thankful we made the annual trip back to our home country. The warm welcome our families and friends gave to us on those visits was wonderful and we were happy if we could return the favour when, those who could manage, came out to see us.

I didn’t know then quite how much this would help us all when we finally made the trip back to live in our ‘home country’.

I didn’t know then when we left the UK, we’d leave family, friends and a culture we knew behind but we would be so fortunate to add new friends and indeed new cultures to our lives. I didn’t know then, about the culture of friendship towards one another in a country far from home.

So this is a thank you and if you’re ever over our way, we hope you know there’s a warm welcome.


About the Author

Sareen McLay


Sareen McLay lives in Aberdeen with her husband, three children and a dog, called Molly. She has lived in Oman, Malaysia and Holland but now every time she sees a container on a lorry it gives her the shivers!

She has been Resident Poet for a Dutch newspaper, had her poetry performed on stage and short stories published in books on expatriate life. As a former primary teacher she is now writing books for children. Sareen writes the blog






Find other stories of the series “What you wish you would have known earlier…” here.







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