I tend to focus on the difficult parts of moving abroad because I believe, and always have, that we should be honest with each other about the crappy stuff. It was easy to find practical information online about moving abroad but I was never able to find anything that explained the feelings, thoughts, worries, challenges. And I believe knowing the negative helps ease anxiety caused by the unknown. That knowing how difficult something can be, when we are more aware of risks and challenges involved, can help us make better decisions for ourselves. So I have always tried to be honest about my life experiences. I also absolutely scared a pregnant friend with the truth of childbirth so… balance. Sometimes, too much truth be told. And since starting this blog I have received several emails asking for more detailed information about moving abroad. So in an effort to share some more positive aspects of expatriation, and not just scare the adventure bug out of you, I give you these thoughts.
It feels like a crazily-long extended vacation, and that’s not a bad thing
THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO EVER GET ANYPLACE INTERESTING ARE THE PEOPLE WHO GET LOST.HENRY DAVID THOREAU
For well over a year after having moved, friends would ask how I was doing and I would reply, “Good. I still feel a bit like I’m just on vacation though.” To which they would reply, “That’s not a bad thing!” At the time I felt like maybe it was. Maybe it was a sign I wasn’t adjusting to my new environment well. It wasn’t feeling like home. When will I stop feeling like a visitor? The answer is, probably never. But I see now that it is nice to view your home with a sense of wonder. When we’ve been living in the same place for so long we start to take our surroundings for granted. It is really nice to be able to give someone directions or recommendations but also still notice something new every day.
Access to a new local
DRINK HEAVILY WITH LOCALS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.ANTHONY BOURDAIN
I always enjoyed eating, drinking, and shopping local. I loved supporting the small businesses in my community. I enjoyed the vibrancy it gave to our neighborhood. I also enjoyed being my version of Norm from Cheers. Sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name. I was really missing this aspect of my lifestyle when one day recently I saw someone, whose business I frequent regularly, out in the wild. After we said hello with three cheek kisses and said to each other, “See you Friday” I realized, “Wait, I still do this!” It’s just that I sometimes forget that this is my new local neighborhood I’m supporting. Discovering your new-local community businesses keeps life interesting. There will be many, many busts (the fun is in the journey, not the destination they say!). But it is nice to finally find your local coffee shop, wine bar, yoga studio, nail salon to support, and where your inner Norm can shine again.
Staycation, but different
THE REAL VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY CONSISTS NOT IN SEEKING NEW LANDSCAPES, BUT HAVING NEW EYES.MARCEL PROUST
After the big market crash some years back staycations became a thing. But to be honest, I love the idea no matter where you live or what the economy looks like. As I said, we often take our surroundings for granted so I always loved a good staycation to discover new-to-me things in my home state. The thing about staycations when you live abroad is that they don’t seem like staycations to your friends and family back home. I recently told my mom, “I feel like such an asshole saying this out loud but, ugh I really don’t want to go to Paris again.” I know Audrey Hepburn said Paris was never a bad idea but I don’t think protestors were smashing up all the shops then. Anyway, in the time it takes to go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or Boston to Manhattan, I can get to Paris. Or any other number of beautiful European cities in various European countries. Being from the United States (where it takes two days without ever stopping to get from one coast to the other) moving to another country opens up a whole new world when it comes to staycations. This is definitely my most favorite part of having moved abroad. But I honestly encourage you to embrace staycations no matter where you live, whether you’re an expat or not.
Challenging your beliefs and norms
TRAVEL IS FATAL TO PREJUDICE, BIGOTRY, AND NARROW MINDEDNESS, AND MANY OF OUR PEOPLE NEED IT SORELY ON THESE ACCOUNTS.MARK TWAIN
TO TRAVEL IS TO DISCOVER THAT EVERYONE IS WRONG ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES.ALDOUS HUXLEY
Not everyone sees this as a pro, but I do, and to be honest I wish more people would do it. So much so I gave it two quotes. Again, I don’t think you necessarily have to become an expat to embrace this one. But becoming an expat throws you in it! Just because people look like you, maybe even share some history and culture, does not mean you are the same. Throw all expectations out the window when it comes to thinking that you’re close enough culturally because I promise, you are not. Now this is not to say that it’s a bad thing (because this is a positive post). There are some things that I quite enjoy about my new country that we don’t have culturally and there are some things I absolutely abhor (I’m looking at you Zwarte Piet). The thing about moving abroad is that you can’t escape it like you can when you are seeking it from the comfort of your home. Everyday I have to buck up for the bits I find challenging because my surroundings aren’t going to change for my comfort or want of familiarity (no matter how much I want real medicine, they’re never going to give me anything but paracetamol. Paracetamol for e’rything). Having to explain your culture over and over again while simultaneously trying to figure out how another culture operates definitely forces you to evaluate why you believe what you believe. And as a side note, when you start understanding your new country’s culture and politics you realize that the problems you think your country faces are generally universal. Spoiler: We all suffer from the same human thoughts and fears.
Leaving your comfort zone = growth
MAN CANNOT DISCOVER NEW OCEANS UNLESS HE HAS THE COURAGE TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE SHORE.ANDRE GIDE
This is really an extension of challenging your beliefs and norms. There is no way to challenge them without leaving your comfort zone. And there is no way to leave your comfort zone and not grow from it. So again, this is true no matter where you live. But moving abroad sometimes feels like being forced on a plank by a pirate. But the pirate speaks a language you don’t understand. So you jump or you walk yourself into the pirate’s sword. Your choice. But maybe he was just asking you which fish you wanted for dinner and that he’ll spear it with his sword for you but you’re not sure because you didn’t understand what he was saying and he looked angry but actually they just don’t really smile in his culture. And everyone tells you it’s your fault for even getting on the pirate ship but you just thought you were taking a cruise. Anyway, I digress. By moving abroad you can’t easily sneak back to your safe space. You are forced to get through, over, under, around every challenge without the comfort of your usual safety nets and support systems. The growth I have seen for myself from my time abroad, being “forced” out of my comfort zone, has been more patience and less expectations (although International Boyfriend might disagree with this!). I think I also now choose what gets my energy more carefully. Because when you are busy just trying to understand and survive your new surroundings, you don’t have the energy for other things that will weigh you down.
Appreciation for what you left behind
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.Mary Ritter Beard
I recently did a home organization and cleaning challenge. They suggested at the beginning of the month that you put a box, out of sight, where you place things that you think you may no longer need but hold on to, out of habit or for sentimental reasons. At the end of the month you keep it or remove it from your home. Did you live without it and never think about it? Or did your life feel a little empty without it? This analogy is an oversimplification but moving abroad is kinda the same thing. Were you just holding onto friends, family, jobs out of habit or sentimentality? Probably. Sometimes what makes us comfortable isn’t necessarily good for us. And now they’re farther from reach or sight so moving abroad helps you decipher what (or who) still has value and what needs to be shed from our life. They say you don’t know the value of what you had until you’ve lost it. Shedding the negative bits allows us then to appreciate in a new way the positive things waiting for us when we visit or return. Look, it’s not easy or painless. But my priorities are different when I visit home, I now know who and what I feel a little empty without. And now I truly value my time and people when I am there.
DON’T LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY, GO SEE.CHINESE PROVERB
Moving abroad is exciting. As reality sets in, the excitement wears down and you’re left with learning how to live in a new culture and finding your community. It is not easy. But personal growth is never a painless journey, no matter where you live. And although I use this platform to talk about challenges and anxieties (mine stemming from being an expat) I would never discourage anyone from living abroad. Quite the opposite. Do it! It is an absolutely amazing experience to leave your comfort zone, challenge your beliefs, shed your old stuff and travel to new and “exotic” places while you are doing it. Go.