Packing your entire life into a suitcase and saying goodbye to everything that is familiar and comfortable to become an expat in a foreign country is certainly not easy. But what is it really like?
In this new monthly series, expats reveal all! If you’re contemplating the big move abroad, here’s an insight into what life as an expat is really like. Every month, I’ll be putting the call out to expats past and present from all over the world to respond to a simple question about the realities of expat life. This month, expats are sharing with us the biggest lesson expat life has taught them. You can read the answers to last month’s question here. All of the expats featured this month also have blogs, which means that you can follow along on their adventures abroad with them!
This month: The biggest lesson expat life has taught me
Jasmine Mah of Questa Dolce Vita
From: Alberta, Canada
Moved to: Italy
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: Expat life has taught me the power of perseverance. I may have thought I had this quality before, or understood it well, but that all changes if you live in Italy. Being an expat here requires that you take on the habits of locals and the Italians can certainly persevere; it is a requirement to survive here, not a recommended quality. You need it to get through the bureaucracy, the back and forth nature of public services, the lack of lining up, and the struggles of a new language. But once you have perseverance, you have Italy wrapped around your finger!
Weronika Czekaj of Not At Her Desk
From: Poland / UK
Moved to: Spain
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: Moving to Barcelona from London and not speaking any Spanish or Catalan was challenging to say the least. I never expected that I would need to chase el butanero down the street to buy a gas bottle or that it would take me six weeks to get the internet connection in my flat. The beginnings are never easy and often it is about embracing the imperfection. My main lesson comes from the next stage though. Once the relocation adrenaline rush drops and everything folds into place, it is very important to keep exploring! Although occasionally I miss what is familiar or comfortable, I try to make the most of my expat experience. I love discovering places around me, from neighbourhoods, cities to regions, and Spain is certainly a great country to do it. I cannot complain about the weather.
Jessica Emili of Library Girl Abroad
Moved to: Berlin, Germany
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: The biggest lesson expat life has taught me is to be less fearful. I had been in a rut at home and it felt like the universe was telling me to take a leap of faith. I never thought I could move to a new country alone. I didn’t know a soul in Berlin and I spoke zero German. This year’s been hard and I’ve been homesick, but I’ve seen so many beautiful places, made lovely friends, and never wake up wondering ‘what if?’ Whenever I face a challenge now, I remind myself that it took guts to come here, and I can handle anything on my own.
Kathi Baxter of Der Panierte Passierschein
From: Salzburg, Austria
Moved to: Melbourne, Australia
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: Maybe it wasn’t so much a lesson, but rather something that finally sunk in when I stepped out into the world: I will be fine. Whatever happens, I can handle it. If I’m unhappy, it’s in my power to change that. I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to move to the other side of the world. There is nothing brave about it. I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I can do that. I have the most supportive family and friends, I have an education. But most importantly, I know with absolute certainty that I will be just fine in this world.
Cherrie Kishazy of Europalust
From: Kent, United Kingdom
Moved to: Berlin, Germany (after a year in Salzburg, Austria)
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: As cheesy as it sounds, the more you put in really is the more you get out, even if it means leaving your comfort zone and heading into unfamiliar territory. I learned early on that saying yes, be it to hiking up an Austrian mountain or going to a party full of strangers, really pays off, not only in terms of meeting new people, but also boosting confidence and having as rich and as varied an expat experience as possible. Even if I head back to the UK one day, this is a lesson I will never forget!
25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall
Follow along with Cherrie on Twitter
Patrícia Pečnerová of The Journey Journal
Moved to: Sweden
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: Living in any country in the world has pros and cons, but the important thing is to collect all the good experiences, habits, character traits, songs, recipes and anything that makes life better. I’ve learnt to get rid of my expectations and wait for what a country has to offer. After all, we don’t travel to find what we have at home but to find new worlds. I always try to learn and remember the best of every country to take it with me wherever I go afterwards.
Follow along with Patrícia on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
Anne-Laure of Violet Abroad
From: Toulouse, France
Moved to: Saarbrücken, Germany
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: If moving abroad taught me only one thing it would have to be confidence. I’m very prone to worry. But the truth is, the world won’t end just because things didn’t go as planned. Being an expat is stepping out of your comfort zone and I have no other choice but to embrace the unexpected and trust my ability to handle issues as they arise. Whether it is fearing not being understood, feeling inadequate or whatever it is I may be afraid of, the only way is to go out there and have faith, because somehow it’s going to work out just fine.
From: Melbourne, Australia
Moved to: Berlin, Germany
The biggest lesson expat life has taught me: Expat life has taught me how important it is to be open to change. For many people, change is scary; it used to scare me too. We all get comfortable in our lives and become afraid of taking risks, but if we don’t explore new things, we stop learning and stagnate. Moving overseas has taught me that we shouldn’t be afraid of change. In fact, it is healthy. Change makes us more adaptable, resilient and flexible and I know that I am much stronger and more independent as a result of moving abroad. Now, instead of change scaring me, the prospect of staying still does instead!
Want to know more about my expat experience? Check out these posts on expat life:
Berlin Like a Local With Expat Rachel Bale, World of Wanderlust
If you’re an expat or have been in the past and are interested in sharing your experiences in next month’s ‘Expats share’ post, get in touch!
What’s your opinion on this month’s question? Do any of these expat responses resonate with you? Join in the discussion and share your perspective in the comments below!