Expat issues - Are you settled yet?
Charlie and I are approaching the two months mark now as expats. I cannot believe it - in some ways it feels like yesterday that we moved, in other respects our "old lives" seem a million miles away.
Are you settled?
When we catch up with family and friends, however, there has been no change in the number one most commonly asked question:
"Are you settled yet?"
It sounds ludicrous, but I am never quite sure how to answer this. I have a stock answer ready to go:
"... some things are fantastic ... some things are really tough ... we miss our friends and family" etc.
But this is very banal and lacks real thought.
My problem is that I cannot quite grasp the heart of the question. What does being "settled" really mean?
If I was to try and get help from my good friend The Dictionary, I would only end up more confused. Settling up, settling down, settling for - the connotations are endless. As I definitely do not want to consider if we are settling for at this early stage I am going to guess at the spirit it is meant in: "Are you settled?"
i.e. "Are you established and stable?"
Big three key areas of life
Like a guide on an African safari, I have identified a "Big Three" key areas of life. If I can successfully describe all of these as established and stable, I will consider us fully settled.
The career buffalo
Many expats will be familiar with this story. The primary reason for our move was for Charlie’s job (he is actually British too). I followed for a combination of love and the opportunity to live in a new country, which seemed both romantic and exhilarating.
In terms of career, then, whilst Charlie has the growing pains of building a new office in a new country, he has remained stable within the same employment group. He is also able to stamp his mark on his workplace and establish himself as a success.
I have the other career pain of job-seeking, something I have not really done since university. I could (and probably will) fill an entirely separate blog on how difficult this can be. Suffice to say that in a slow labour market you should find every contact you possibly can and be willing to both beat down doors and be flexible on the sorts of job you will consider doing.
Once I am employed I will reveal the magic secret to getting a job. Until then, if someone could let me know it first, super.
Apparently who you know can be essential - I have mooted to Charlie that if we sit in bars every evening talking to people something will have to turn up. He has not said no yet…
The social elephant
We had always imagined this would be the hardest part of the move as neither of us knew anybody here pre move. We also recalled how, during gap years some 10 years earlier, we had easily made friends all around the world.
Of course, upping sticks to a new city in your late 20s is nothing like being on the Oz Experience bus in your teens, although the principles are exactly the same.
You just have to get out there and keep getting out there. Spread the net as wide as possible, join clubs and associations, make yourself available for social occasions, make sure to invite people to things too and don’t just wait for them to call. Before you know it, connections will happen.
Ok, so I have not met anyone yet whom I can confide in and be ridiculous with to the same extent as my best friend, but that is because the best friendships need time. But Charlie and I now have people we could call up and ask if they would fancy a drink and that is a start. We also make sure to stay in touch with family and friends (video Skype is a wonder of the world) to get that injection of familiar love.
The home lion
I have saved this until last as it is the King of Beasts: does our new "home" feel like "home?"
I have read a number of articles debating the nature of "home," and decided to put the question afresh to a "research panel" (my friends) to gauge opinion: What does home mean to you?
The answers were many and varied. Those who had spent chunks of time away from their birthplace were more pragmatic: "it can be wherever you feel happy to sleep that night" whereas others were more emotive in their sense of home: "cosiness, safety and a sense of familiarity" and "where the heart is."
A friend of mine who has been living overseas for the last couple of years quite merrily described both places as feeling like home. So perhaps Amsterdam is pragmatically "home" but not yet emotionally. And perhaps it is not that important. We enjoy having a house here and look forwards to greeting visitors. We enjoy going back to the UK to the familiar. Maybe we have the best of both worlds.
So, how, then to answer the "are you settled yet" question? Well, if this was a safari, the buffalo have been a mixed bag, the elephants have only been youngsters and the lions were not very emotional. But we have got plenty of time to see more. Yes, it is total nonsense, but it is a more interesting reply.
There are actually a “Big Five” on safari. I could probably add a Romantic Rhino and Family Leopard to this list to make the full set.