Why Sabbatical? [He said]

Hi.  This is the story of two career-driven parents who decided to quit their jobs and move their family of four to Switzerland for a year-long sabbatical.  Sounds crazy, right?  I agree.  Which is why we have decided to blog about the process–from the origins of the idea, to the months of planning, to the many challenges and adventures that await us when we arrive in Basel on June 1st.  So who came up with this insane idea anyway?  My wife, Jana, of course.  Jana and I were very much opposites when we got married.  She was liberal and I was conservative.  She went into academia and I went into corporate finance.  She was “Team Edward” and I was “Team Jacob” (just kidding, we’ve never seen a Twilight movie).  Our different views on travel can best be explained by our respective parents’ actual reactions to the news that we were thinking of moving our family to Switzerland for a year.

Jana and me:  “We are thinking about taking a year-long sabbatical to Europe next year.”

Jana’s Mom:  [Shrieks of joy] “What a great idea!  You should really do that–tell us more!”

Jana’s Dad:  [Shaking my hand]  “The year I took a family sabbatical in England was the best year of my life!”

Barry’s Dad:  “Do what?  Why would you want to do that?  Nobody leaves their career right at the peak!  Don’t start getting weird on us.”

Barry’s Mom:  “No, you’re not.”

Naturally, I was skeptical of the idea of a sabbatical when Jana first brought it up a couple of years ago, and I did my best not to encourage it.  My family didn’t take vacations, they worked constantly.  Jana’s family traveled the world and when she was four spent most of a year in England on sabbatical.  Jana and I did take some European vacations before the kids were born and came to love Italy, the UK and Switzerland on those trips.  But, taking two weeks off from work to visit a country is very different from quitting your jobs and moving your family there for a year.  People just don’t do that where I’m from.  In fact, a lot of my friends and family had to Google the word “sabbatical” after we made our announcement.  In the non-academic world, the idea of a sabbatical is a foreign one.

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On vacation in Gruyere, Switzerland in 2010

So, how did she change my mind?  Persistence.  The idea kept coming up every couple months during 2015 and 2016, and her arguments were valid.

  • “The kids are growing up and we are missing it.”
  • “The easiest time to take a sabbatical is when the kids are young.”
  • “We need to take a break from the career “hamster wheel”.
  • “I was recently diagnosed with a cheese and chocolate deficiency.”

OK, so that last one wasn’t real, but you get the picture.  Suddenly, the merits of a sabbatical were sinking in, and it felt like time was of the essence.  Plus, I have some questions of my own to answer in the next year:

  • “Is Europe really being over-run by terrorist Syrian refugees, as reported by some right-leaning news outlets/family members/co-workers?”
  • “What happens when you go from garnering a large portion of your self-worth from your career accomplishments and title the past 20 years to one day just being another bloke in line at the tram stop?”
  • “How can a family of four travel extensively throughout Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria and Italy on a budget?”
  • “Can I learn to speak German without adding an offensive, Hollywood World War 2 movie Nazi accent?”

All valid questions, and I look forward to reporting back on all of these in the next 12 months.  Jana will also be weighing in on this blog, offering her perspective on this whole experience in a kind of “he said, she said” back and forth format.  Stay tuned and come visit us!

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