(Photo by Portrait Madame) After 4 years of living abroad I pinned down 10 lessons learned from my expat experience! This is not a set list, nor a complete one, but consider it when embarking on the expat adventure!
#1. Expatriation is a time to reinvent yourself
Back home you were juggling with your career and your family and now you wonder what you are going to do with yourself? Because let’s face it, working is great but is not always an option for whatever the reason. Reinventing yourself becomes a key factor in succeeding when moving abroad. It is vital to have a purpose to get going, so dedicate some time to finding that one thing that takes you there!
#2. Loneliness & self-discovery
Expatriation comes with loneliness, no doubt about that! In the first few months following your move prepare yourself: it takes time to build a new network. Don’t forget you spent your entire life creating the one you had back home! Use this time wisely; think of what you like to do, would like to learn, wish to accomplish. Expatriation is a self-discovery quest, ask yourself questions and find out who you are.
#3. The family central pillar you will become
Don’t underestimate your role once abroad: Your family will depend on you. You will be the Chief Operating Officer of your family cell, in charge of building a network, taking care of all the administrative tasks inherent to an international move, dealing with the new school system, making sure everyone is settled in their new life. In a glimpse you will be the family backbone. Don’t lose yourself doing all of this, your role is vital!
#4. Feelings are exacerbated
Prepare to embark on a rollercoaster of emotions, to reach highs and lows as never before. Ups and downs are common in any environment but once abroad they are exacerbated. Out of your comfort zone you do not ventilate your emotions in the same way: family and friends are not around the corner for you to discuss what you are going through and sometimes it can even be complicated to translate those emotions into words that actually make sense.
The distance impacts friendships in a way you would have not thought possible. You lose touch with your friends, the ones you thought would be there forever. Mostly you make new friends, rush head first into those relationships with all your heart and they become your everything. You discover the fabulous and unsuspected support network of expats. Some are just temporary patches; others are the real thing and last for life.
#6. Culture shock
Do not underestimate culture shock. Even if you “only” move to the country next door. Even if you master the local language and, even if it is your mother tongue! Culture shock is about discovering your local supermarket, the way locals drive and therefore how you should cross the street, the mentality, the local customs, the eating habits and schedule, how they approach life (do they look at the world through a half full or half empty glass?), the climate… Similar is definitely not the same. My advice: spot, embrace and accept those differences, the sooner the better!
#7. Trip back home
Taking a trip back home can be both exhilarating and stressful at the same time. It can leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth. The excitement of being back, grabbing every opportunity to eat what you’ve been craving for weeks or months, indulge in all the little things you can’t do in your new home, visiting all your favorite spots and first and foremost, seeing friends and family. Figuring out how to squeeze everything and everyone in a minister’s agenda can give proper headaches and cause a severe sense of guilt!!
#8. Balance & expectations
Expatriation is all about finding the right balance between the here (where you live) and there (where you come from), your desires and the expectations of your close ones back home. Who said it was easy?
#9. Defining home
Home is a vast concept, a vicious one that plays with your sense of identity once you move from one place to another. When moving abroad you abandon some of the things that made you who you are and you embrace the many opportunities you discover. They shape your identity in such a way it is sometimes difficult to clearly state where home is.
#10. To expatriation you will become addicted!
Expatriation can become an addiction! Many are left wanting more: it is an exhilarating and exciting adventure. An addiction I tell you!
By Maya Goldbeter
Maya is Belgian and has been living in France for almost 4 years. In another lifetime she was an HR professional and for 14 years worked for international banks. It all changed when she moved to the country next door, from the bubbling Brussels life to the somewhat calmer, greener and well, let’s say it, countryside life in Chantilly, just North of Paris. Maya writes about her life as an expat on her blog www.abelgianabroad.com.