1. Talk about living in Belgium in very concrete ways. JieJie loves cheese, and MeiMei loves chocolate. We talk about how many delicious things they will be able to taste in Belgium. We talk about the different languages that we will hear. Antwerp is a Flemish-speaking area; JieJie calls it "Belgium language." "How do you say hello in Belgium language?"--"Hallo." Sometimes when we are driving to school we talk about how we will take them to school in Belgium: by bicycle, by bus, or walking, as we will not have a car. Who knows how much of this they're taking in, but we make the effort. Maybe it helps us too.
We have also talked about the things that they may at times find uncomfortable. What it means to live in an apartment instead of a house; the fact that restaurants in Antwerp are not as likely to welcome children so their table manners need to be tip-top; that we will not be able to bring everything with us that we might miss (certain toys, etc).
2. Use visual aids. We have had an Amsterdam calendar in our kitchen for the past year and occasionally we point out the buildings, cars, and different things that we will see when we visit our friends in Mijdrecht, The Netherlands. We have a few Belgium / Low Countries guides with photos that we've left around the house (one that's reachable while on the potty, even!) for perusing. The university has also provided us with a guide to the program that includes many pictures of our apartment. They were very interested to see their bedroom. Since they are used to sharing a room here, it should be comforting to do the same in Antwerp.
3. Find a new routine. The more we thought about the implications of staying in a 750 square foot apartment on cold, dim, rainy days (Antwerp is about the same latitude as Nova Scotia, after all), the more it made sense to try to find a preschool that might take the girls during the week, since we will mostly be in Antwerp with only a couple of side trips out of town. At first we worried that our request for enrollment might be denied, or worse, that it would be accepted but that our schedule would be disruptive to the school and we might seem like "those kind of Americans." Luckily, through the amazing internet, I was able to find a fantastic preschool which is also a Montessori school. JieJie and MeiMei are both in a Montessori school here. It's perfect, because no matter where you go, all Montessori classrooms are set up in basically the same way with the same materials and methods. JieJie's teacher said she has seen children come from another country and language into her Montessori classroom and just breathe a sigh of relief when they see the familiar things around them, like "oh! I can DO this!" The hours are the same, just morning thru lunch, and the people at the school have been very welcoming. The students there wear uniforms, which I'm a fan of (wish they'd do it here) and we made a big deal of getting new black school shoes with some Christmas money. We are going to go visit a few days after arriving in Antwerp just to say hi and show the girls around, then we'll try having them stay maybe an hour the next day, and then we'll try to jump in for a whole morning the next week (I'm prepared to stay in the office reading a book for several days, if needed, until they adjust).
Other than that, who knows what we will do? And for that matter,
who knows if ANY of this will even work?But it's all worth a try.