Interview with Jessica Alampay
Sabbaticals come in all shapes and sizes! This is why we love interviewing other professionals who have decided to take a career break to focus on what is most important to them.
Our goal is to empower YOU to follow your own sabbatical dream!
Whether you decide to take a 2-month or 2-year sabbatical, go alone or with your kids, travel to the other side of the world, or stay close to your community… Get ready to embark on your own unique journey!
>> If stepping away from your busy life and relocating to a new country with your entire family seems intimidating, make sure to read Jessica’s story!
Jessica shares her inspiring family sabbatical story:
Q: Can you start by describing your situation before taking your sabbatical?
Before going on sabbatical I had spent the previous decade alternating between working in higher education, primarily with international students, and caring for my young children full time. Prior to going on sabbatical, life was extremely busy. Our son played the viola and club soccer while our daughter was a budding ballet dancer. My husband and I had demanding jobs in higher education. As the director of an office that served seven separate colleges, I felt a lot of tension between my responsibilities to my family and the responsibilities of my job. My responsibilities to myself were placed on the back burner and I very rarely made time to truly rest.
In the final year prior to our departure, my colleagues and I introduced some much-needed updates to our office’s programming and protocols. These updates were absolutely necessary, but when paired with that year’s internal review of our office, it made for one of the most challenging years of my professional life.
Q: What inspired you to take a sabbatical?
My husband, Fernando, is a tenured economics professor, and for tenure track faculty at his institution, going on a periodic sabbatical is built into the position. When he accepted the job of assistant professor back in 2004, we knew that we would eventually (temporarily) move abroad for a sabbatical year (out of necessity, he ended up banking his sabbatical years, allowing us to take two consecutive years, with special permission from the administration). Fernando and I both have international backgrounds and we both had experience living and studying outside of our home countries.
It was important to the both of us to give our children the chance to live and learn in a different language, especially in a country that was part of their heritage.
Q: How did you decide on the date to actually start your sabbatical?
Starting the sabbatical at the end of the academic year made the most sense for our family since my husband and I both worked in higher education, and because we had two school-aged children who needed to finish first and fifth grade, respectively. I planned my final day of work to occur around a month prior to our departure for Italy to give me time to prepare our house for rental and to appropriately pack what was going into storage, and what would be coming with us to Italy. We left for Italy in late June, soon after the conclusion of our children’s academic year.
Q: What was your sabbatical journey like?
Our sabbatical lasted just under 2 years. We decided on the city of Turin, the capital of the region of Piedmont, in northwest Italy. Going abroad with children was the defining aspect of our time in Italy. We were certain that we wanted our children to attend school in Italian, even though they did not speak Italian prior to that. It was a formidable challenge for them both, and Fernando and I did all that we could to support them. Over time both children spoke Italian, did their schoolwork, and made friends, in Italian. My son, who played competitive soccer in California, continued to play soccer in Turin. The soccer schedule was a main feature of our life in Italy. Evenings, weekends, and even holidays were planned around our son’s soccer schedule. Soccer also gave us the opportunity to visit beautiful places and create really wonderful friendships.
We took advantage of living in Italy to visit family and friends in – or near – Venice, Florence, Rome, and Parma, and did a number of day trips around Piedmont and the neighboring Aosta Valley. We also escaped to sunny Genoa, during our first chilly winter. We had planned on traveling to the south of Italy (south of Rome), in the last 5 months of our sabbatical, but the stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic confined us to our apartment for our final three months. In reaction to the pandemic, we decided to return home in early June, rather than try to travel any further, under extensive restrictions.
Q: If you had to describe your sabbatical in 3 words what would they be?
Q: What were your biggest fears regarding your sabbatical?
Moving our children abroad would be too great of a challenge
Our two-year sabbatical in Italy was a challenge for every member of my family. Our children were obliged to function solely in Italian for 7-8 hours a day, 5 days a week. School and soccer required interaction and cooperation with many Italian speakers, something that Fernando and I experienced much less of. We soon understood why a friend in California felt that a sabbatical in Rome had left his own children with some “emotional scar tissue.” Despite the low points that any one of us experienced, we stayed the course. When situations challenged us beyond our capacity, we returned to our “why”. By balancing empathy with encouragement we strengthened our relationships with one another. Over time the sabbatical united our family.
Sending our children to school in Italian would be a mistake because it would set them back academically; perhaps causing them to withdraw from academics
Sending our children to school in Italian was absolutely the right decision, but it didn’t always seem that way. Jumping into Italian-language instruction was challenging for both of our kids. Thankfully we found supportive schools that offered them the attention and kind encouragement that they needed. Both schools were very traditional, especially compared to the progressive elementary school our children had both attended in California. Over time, both children really took to the Italian school system. As they acquired the Italian language, their complaints about school began to subside. Both children really took to the traditional curriculum and structure offered in Italy.
At school, they began exploring subjects that they would not have come across back home. Their interest in history, languages, and geography grew. While surrounded by Italian during the day, they eagerly consumed a variety of books in English in the evenings and on weekends. Rather than withdrawing from academics, as we feared might happen, both kids dug deeper into learning. Having been back in California for three years, I can confidently say that the sabbatical in Italy positively impacted our children’s academics in ways that we could not have predicted.
- Going on sabbatical would be too expensive
Going on sabbatical was indeed an expensive endeavor, but looking back I see that it didn’t have to be. There are ways that we could have saved more money had we been a bit more prepared for the experience, or had we been more flexible. In hindsight, professional advice about finances and life in Europe would have been a great help.
- Never finding my way back to a career after resigning from my job in higher education
While living in Italy I decided to become a writer, a decision which has allowed me space for personal expression and creativity. While I will continue to write, I have since decided to pursue employment involving an international dimension. Going on sabbatical allowed me to dedicate time to my family during a formative period, but it also reminded me of ideas and dreams that I had at a younger age. Now that my children are older and need my support a little bit less, I look forward to exploring new opportunities.
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Q: Tell us about the biggest challenges you encountered during the planning phase of your sabbatical.
The biggest challenges we encountered during the planning phase of our sabbatical were related: Where to live and where to send our children to school. We had to consider factors such as location, cost, transportation, and availability.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your sabbatical and what impact has it made on your life today?
- Create and use a budget; and if possible, include a cushion in your budget
A budget is freedom with parameters, but in the case of surprise expenses, it is helpful to have some flexibility.
- Block time out to do what is important to you
In my experience, our time on sabbatical flew by. Fortunately, I started planning early because I knew how precious our time abroad would be. I also had past experiences abroad where I always regretted not doing more. At the beginning of our stay in Italy, I started a comprehensive dream list of personal goals (such as take time for reflection, slow down, and write), as well as family goals (language learning, travel destinations, family and friends to visit).
“I created a sabbatical dream list because I wanted each one of my family members to feel like we were accomplishing what was important to each one of us.”
- Recording Memories
Hand in hand with the list, I kept records of the details of our life that I may have not ever thought of recording before: our favorite gelaterias, bakeries, and cafés; how and where we met new friends; what was special about a particular church we may have visited; or funny anecdotes from our travels. I have vivid memories of our first Spring Break in Italy, driving around Tuscany visiting relatives from my mother-in-law’s side of the family. As we traveled from one destination to the next, we enjoyed a Bon Jovi-heavy 1980s playlist, which was the only thing the four of us could agree on at the time.
Another way that I recorded memories was by taking photos and videos of our family. Since the kids were at the beginning of our Italian language learning journey, it was important to me to see what progress they might make during our time abroad, and to capture their moods, especially as it pertained to living in Italy, at various stages.
“I took advantage of all of us being strapped in during car trips, to record our kids in informal interviews.”
I recommend keeping all of these records safe. They grow more and more precious with the passage of time. Having this list enriched and lengthened my family’s experience “in Italy” by allowing us to return to those moments and details, even though we’ve been back in California for three years.
- Make some money while you are abroad, if you can
The immigration status I held in Italy was a type of “permesso di soggiorno” or “temporary residency permit”, which did permit me to work and earn money, but I never took advantage of it. While I don’t regret not taking on full-time work, I wonder if I could have taken on some English-language tutoring or editing jobs to cover smaller expenses and create more freedom in my personal budget.
- A parent is never really on sabbatical
As long as children are in your care, especially if you put them into a completely new, challenging context, a parent’s role in their child’s life becomes even more important. In extensive conversations with friends back home (who have also taken their children on sabbaticals abroad), this theme seems to be universal. While I might have taken my foot off the gas pedal of the career I had been building, the demands of parenting abroad offered Fernando and me new challenges.
>> Need help setting up your sabbatical budget plan? Download our free workbook and template below.
Q: What impact has taking a sabbatical made in your life today? Was there a clear before/after?
My time away from the life I had been living in California allowed me to gain some clarity in the most important relationships in my life: my relationship with myself, my children, and with my husband. Today, while I remain mindful and considerate of my husband’s and children’s needs, I am less likely to instinctively say yes to what my family members want without fully taking into account how that decision will impact me and how it will affect all of us in the long run.
“As much as I was taking care of others, I realized that I had to take that much care of myself.”
Being abroad and in a completely new context gave me the space to imagine different paths for myself. While on sabbatical, and partly as a result of the time I spent reading, writing, meeting new people, and exploring Italy, I decided to pursue a career as a writer. Returning from the sabbatical, I realized that, going forward, creativity, personal expression, and storytelling would be important features of my future career. I am still learning the craft of being a writer and sometimes I worry that my professional life has stalled, particularly in regards to income. But when I reflect on the choices I’ve made, I remember that all of my choices – before, during, and since, the sabbatical – have been conscious and carefully considered.
Any advice for future sabbatical takers?
Are you considering taking a sabbatical yourself? Get inspired by Jessica’s story!
- Beware of renting a furnished apartment; find a way to verify the quality of the furniture
It may make practical and financial sense to rent an apartment unfurnished, and instead, buy inexpensive but reliable furniture from IKEA, that you can sell before you return home.
- Create a rough plan for your entire sabbatical
The time will fly by. Make a list of all of the places you definitely want to travel to, and have a secondary list of places that you might like to travel to. Calendar everything out and estimate how much each trip will cost.
Have goals or objectives
Travel, food, language learning/acquisition.
Click here for 5 questions to help you define your sabbatical goals
- Have a way to keep record of your experience
I took notes on food, restaurants, landmarks, museums, people we would meet, dinners, or parties we would attend.
- Take lots of pictures. Take lots of videos
Your family will change so much during your time abroad. You won’t want to forget how far you’ve all come.
- Decide how much you want to share with people on social media
Don’t feel obligated to constantly keep in touch. Consider sharing experiences and photos periodically, rather than on an ongoing basis.
- Get professional guidance on your finances, including your tax liability, while you are abroad
If we were aware of such a service, our family definitely would have taken advantage of it.
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