It’s been over 5 years since I moved from Belgium to Northern Ireland. Although I like to think of myself as being “easily adaptable”, I must be honest and say that life as an expat hasn’t been and isn’t always easy. There are different phases every expat will go through and while the good definitely outweighs the bad, there are still a few things to consider.
Expat life: the good!
1/ It broadens your mind
Life as an expat means living in a culture that is different from the one you were brought up in. What you always considered as “true” or “normal”, doesn’t seem to be “true” or “normal” somewhere else… You see things from a different perspective, you learn, you grow! And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself copying habits from your adoptive country that you found utterly strange at first! (Although I’m quite embarrassed to confess that I now find it totally normal to order chips with lasagne…)
2/ You meet new people
It can be pretty scary leaving your family and friends behind, but people are social creatures, so no, you won’t cry yourself to sleep every night lamenting your loneliness and the fact that you have no friends! Chances are you will get a job in your new place. A job means colleagues and who knows, these colleagues might turn out to become good friends! Not always, I know… so why not join a Meetup group or a Couchsurfing event? I met some nice local and international people that way!
Friendships will not develop overnight, but you will eventually meet people you get along with! Even if you still miss your friends back home….
3/ It boosts your self-confidence
Finding a new job, new friends, a place to live… there’s a lot to deal with in the beginning. But oh the joy, when you realized you managed to master it all!
4/ A chance to start anew
How often do you get the chance to start completely anew in a place where you know no one and where nobody knows anything about you? No history, no preconceptions,… a whole new story waiting to be written!
5/ You appreciate your home country more
You know the kind of people who always complain about their home country? About the rain, about the politics, about the public transport, …. Well guess what? If you don’t like where you are, move! You are not a tree! Spend some time abroad, go and live in another country and find out if the grass truly is greener on the other side!
I learnt to appreciate how progressive my home country Belgium actually is: gay marriage, access to abortion, no applications to enter university … : things you take for granted, until you realize it’s not the case everywhere!
Expat life: the bad and the ugly
1/ You miss important moments/events back home
Your niece is having a baby? A friend celebrates her 40th birthday or there’s a wedding you’d really like to go to? Of course you can make the occasional trip! But fact is, you won’t have enough holidays (or money for that matter) to fly home for every occasion. And that sucks…
When Belgium was really doing well at the FIFA World Cup, it was hard to see Facebook pictures of family and friends celebrating! All I wanted to do is fly over and celebrate my home country with them!
2/ Some friendships back home vanish
In the beginning, friends and family will ask you all the time how you are getting on, they will be curious about your new adventures abroad. But gradually your move becomes “old news” and it’s not easy to accept that their lives go on without you… You make new friends, they make new friends and in some cases, your life and that of your friends back home drift apart.
Of course that will not be the case with everyone! With some friends, when you’re back over for a visit, it seems like you have never been away at all… You catch up on the latest news and gossip and realize that true friendship can survive distances and borders!
3/ Dealing with red tape
If you already hate filling in documents at home, storing them or simply dealing with red tape, you should try it abroad! Different institutions, regulations and rules all make for a lot of sweat and tears! Living abroad made me realize that we are still far off from a “United Europe”!
Despite the difficult moments, there’s no doubt that life as an expat is a very enriching experience! At the moment I’m happy in Northern Ireland, but somehow the idea of expatting to Spain seems to lure around the corner…
Are you an expat too? Do you recognize any of these? Or maybe you have some tips to add ? Looking forward to hearing about your expat life!