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The truth about being an expat!

People often think when you pick yourself up and move to another country, life will be amazing with a lot of free time. If you relocated to the Netherlands, chances are some might think you spend hours in the tulip fields watching the windmills turn. As exciting as that may sound, it’s not realistic.

After spending several years abroad, when I returned back home I would get comments like, "Wow, I wish I could do that," followed by how exciting it must be to have so much free time to relax.

OK, there may be some perks, but it does not mean you don’t have to work, take the kids to school or do daily tasks. If you think just by moving abroad your life becomes a dream, think again.

Here are some straightforward truths about being an expat:

 Your life is still your life, just in a different country
It’s hilarious when a group of us expats gets together because it often involves talking about something we miss from back home. It can be anything, including a food item. It’s not as though any of us are planning to go back anytime soon, but still we can’t help but get nostalgic about things we miss.

 You will always have a Miss List
You will always have something you miss, whether it’s the humour, a special food or family. You will find that you miss things that you took for granted in your home country. Let’s face it people, this can cause anxiety.

 Living in your adopted country makes some routine tasks more complicated
Your sense of self will be challenged when you have to re-learn simple tasks in a new country where you don’t know the language. You will have moments where you want to hit something, scream or book the first ticket out when you’re trying to explain yourself but are unable to make yourself understood.

 Are you sure you want to be an expat? 
Learn Dutch, and the world opens up for you. When you arrive in your adopted country you can’t communicate at all. Then you start learning the language, and you begin to form a small vocabulary.

You’re starting to collect words, but don’t understand the full meaning of some words and phrases. You will want to shout from the rooftop and sparkle with victory when you attempt to follow a conversation and understand everything, without a confused look.

You will feel apprehensive about speaking in your new language, especially when you have to stop and think how to explain something, because the equivalent word in your native language completely eludes you. You’re feeling agitated and trying to construct a sentence while at the same time bits of information are bombarding your brain.

 In your home country, you had a sense of humour
Most of the jokes in your new country have years of cultural meaning behind them, you can't just learn them in a book that suggests you will be fluent in three months. You find yourself wanting to learn slang words or expressions, to appear witty when engaging with people. 

There are the times when you are funny without even knowing it. You know, when you accidentally use a word and it ends up being something completely inappropriate. 

 You will connect with others in a similar situation
You will want to meet people, make new friends and will gravitate towards anyone who is in a similar situation.

You may realise you are emotionally limited, because the only common ground you share is you're both expats. You will ask yourself, "If I was in my home country, would I be friends with this person?"

 You will feel like an attraction for the natives
You will answer the question "What brought you here?" so many times that you change the answer each time depending if the person asking is just curious, or they want to get to know you. As times passes, people don’t ask. You’re here, you know it, they know it, it’s accepted.   

Some other questions you may be asked are "Do you like it here?", "Is it different?", "Do you think you’ll ever go home?" At first you permit yourself to express concerns and answer, "It’s different." Okay, that’s politically correct. Later on, you will respond, "Hell yeah, I still can’t get used to..."

 You’ll be bi-cultural, and bi-lingual
This is hard work, but on the flipside it’s quite awesome. Being able to have a swinging door on two cultures and being able to converse in more than one language.

 You’ll be more sensitive to others
You become more aware and sensitive to others when you have been faced with difficult situations or cultural clashes. Your awareness indicator heightens. 

 You are different; you are changed by your surroundings
You will never be the same person that you were before you moved. You’ll spend time trying to figure out if it’s just you getting older or if it’s your surroundings that have impacted you the most. You’ll unfortunately be unable to separate the two but you know the new country is the stage where these changes occurred.

 You are an expat
We could dwell on this aspect as being the least appealing, or just fully embrace it. We tend to stay in our groups, regardless of the liberal, multicultural, tolerant credentials we have. We may not relish ALL aspects of our adopted country, but we have to realise the truth is not what we complain about, but rather within us.

One of the most extraordinary benefits of being an expat is having the opportunity to cross paths with a multitude of people whom you would never otherwise have met.  

Finally, expat life is not fair - get used to it. It’s challenging, oddly humorous, exhausting and empowering. It has been said that truth is funnier than fiction; ask any comic, as life's experiences and humanity's flaws create an endless supply of material. Maybe that’s in my future, my own standup comedy act.

You don’t have to go through the challenges on your own to adjust to your new home. After moving to another country it is easy to lose track of your natural strengths and talents. Talk to a coach and navigate your journey together to use your talents and reach your full potential in life and in business.

Maria

Author

Maria Habets

Maria is a Communications Consultant//Life Coach. She has a Master's degree in Psychology and International Business from New York University and Columbia University in New York. After relocating from the...

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