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Saying goodbye to Bermuda can be so sad

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It's something most expat families in Bermuda eventually face — the big goodbye.

Joshua and Oneka Schwartz learnt just over a month ago that their time on the Island was up.

The couple will return to the United States on Friday with their three children, Sophia, Izzy and Lily.

Sophia was eight weeks old when Mr Schwartz joined Ace Bermuda Insurance Ltd in 2007; her siblings were yet to be born.

Explaining that they had to leave the only place they'd known as home was difficult, Mrs Benn Schwartz said.

“[Sophia's] reaction to the move was just devastating. She just burst out in tears and said, ‘What about my friends? I love my school'. She was just so hurt and pretty much lost it, so she has had a tough time with it.

“She's eight now and has been with a lot of the girls from her school since preschool. Her best friend, she's known since she was just a few weeks old.”

The family are moving to New Hope, Pennsylvania; Mr Schwartz will work out of Ace's Philadelphia office as the firm's general counsel.

Mrs Benn Schwartz shared advice in hopes of making the departure easier for families in the same situation.

“We made our kids part of the process, which helped a huge deal when we found out for sure my husband accepted the position and we knew this was coming,” she said.

“We were looking for houses in Pennsylvania and narrowed it down to two choices and got the kids to pick which one they liked. We wanted to make them part of the process so they felt they weren't just being ripped from Bermuda and stuck somewhere.

“They got to pick out which room was going to be theirs, and play in the backyard. They are young, but have feelings and opinions too.”

The Schwartz's allowed their children to go through their toys and clothes and decide what to keep or sell.

They also talked. A lot.

At 19 months, Lily took it in stride.

Sophia was able to warm up to the move once she had time to process what was happening and was able to express her feelings.

Her six-year-old brother Izzy, was different.

“I have to ask him things like, ‘What are you looking forward to about moving? What do you find scary? I try to keep a dialogue open with him,” Mrs Benn Schwartz said.

“It's going to be a tough transition even if they get there and meet their best friend on the first day of school; I feel the more open you are the better it will be. I tell them that I'm scared and nervous too and let them know I will have to meet new moms; they aren't the only ones going through it.”

The interior designer said she thought it was important for parents to provide opportunities for their children to keep in touch with old friends.

She and her husband gave Sophia an iPod touch so she could use FaceTime with her Bermuda friends. The eight-year-old also has access to Maily, a child-friendly e-mail system.

“Parents have to register their kids and are able to see the e-mails they send,” the 38-year-old said. “Another great feature is they can only e-mail out to kids they are friends with.”

She and her husband had no idea what to expect when they moved to the Island.

“My husband worked for Ace in New York and they asked him to move down here to Bermuda for a position,” she said. “We had literally just moved out of New York City and bought our first place in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“We moved into the place, we were in there for three weeks and I was seven months pregnant with Sophia. We were only married for a year. I remember it like it was yesterday.

“I walked in the house after shopping at Target for bathroom accessories and he had a serious look on his face. There was talk of that kind of thing happening and we thought it was to be the UK.”

She agreed to the move even though she was “absolutely clueless” about the Island.

“I knew nothing about Bermuda. My first impression, the thing that struck me most, were the kiskadees and how loud they were. There were so many new sounds in Bermuda. I would sit outside a lot, which was very different for me. In New York, I grew up in a high-rise apartment building in the city so all I heard were police sirens and cars.

“Here I was surrounded by nature and everything was so beautiful, but it was all so foreign to me.”

It didn't take Mrs Benn Schwartz long to find friends and a mommy community. Although she initially found residents' politeness jarring, it's one of the things she'll miss most.

“It's funny because after a year or so of living here I would go home to visit and say hello to people on the street and they would look at me like I was crazy or something. The longer I've been in Bermuda I realise how rude and unfriendly people out there are.

“That's one reason I'm terrified about moving and leaving the Island. In Bermuda people are warm and everyone's family has been here forever and everyone knows everyone,” she said. “I'm not extroverted, but being here I had more friends than I had in New Jersey, where I spent almost 30 years of my life.

“I'd say I've spent the most important eight years of my life here; I've raised children and become a mom here. It's made me a better person and a better designer as well.”

New direction: Oneka and Joshua Schwartz are moving to Pennsylvania this week. They're pictured with two of their three children, Izzy, left, and Sophia. Mrs Benn Schwartz shared her advice on how families can help make such a transition easier for children (Photograph supplied)
Difficult transition: Oneka Benn Schwartz's family is leaving the Island after eight years. The move has been hardest on her children, Sophia, Izzy and Lily (Photograph supplied)
Time to go: the move has been hardest on Oneka Benn Schwartz's children, from left, 19-month-old Lily, Sophia, 8, and Izzy, 6 (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 15, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 15, 2015 at 8:27 am)

Saying goodbye to Bermuda can be so sad

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