Living Two Lives as an Expat

People are curious about living as an expat. They seem to think that it is glamorous no matter where you actually live. The reality is that it’s life–just in a different place. Once you get past the “tourist” stage, you have to do your everyday things like grocery shop, wash clothes, get insurance, find a doctor, and do taxes! There are stresses, and somedays you just wish all the paperwork was in English and you knew exactly where to go to get what you need.

While adjusting to new social norms, a new language, new city, new friends, and a new schedule with new priorities, it’s hard to keep up with the life you left behind. The longer I am away from where I had previously made my life, the more I realize how out of touch I am. It’s okay. And I expected it. But like everyone else, we have a lot going on in everyday life that it’s hard to reach out to stay connected with the life you used to have.

White Oak Lavender Farm | Harrisonburg, VA

White Oak Lavender Farm | Harrisonburg, VA

Life before becoming an expat

This is where I feel like we are living two lives. One as an American citizen and one as a resident of the Netherlands. As the American, we try to keep up with birthdays, American holidays, family events, and exciting life changes. We also have to do our U.S. taxes and pay college loans in U.S. dollars. There’s a lot going on over there with people we love and we wish we could keep up. At the same time, a lot stays the same, so when we chat with people they don’t feel like they have a lot to share.

Facebook has been amazing for us to stay on top of what’s happening but sometimes I feel that I notice too much. Do I really still need to follow the news in Harrisonburg? No. And I probably shouldn’t. I don’t want to know about career day at my alma mater, or know that I was invited to City Hall for an event. It just makes me want to be there. I want to be there for my loved ones when things happen, too. Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you are in town for one of the most horrible things that could happen. But, usually, you are nowhere to be seen.


Windmills and Bikes

Zaanse Schans, North Holland, the Netherlands

Life in our adopted country

On the other side of the expat life, we have created something completely new. Obviously we don’t have family here, and it’s actually the first time I have really been away from my family. So, I feel like it’s been a growing experience that I needed. I think you have to struggle a bit to find what you want and who you want to become. It’s a constant learning and growing experience– a way to start fresh and create a kind of life that isn’t based on where you grew up or went to school. It’s a life based on people you meet, struggles you have, and connecting with others in the same boat while expanding your friendships to include those who are awesome enough to open their lives up to you. Granted, it’s our first time as expats, but based on our experience, you have to live purposefully.

I guess the question is whether you can balance the two lives you lead. Can you be all-in living in your new home by working, making friends, traveling, volunteering, etc, while still being attached to things back “home”? Do you have it in you to be emotionally there for everyone you left behind while finding happiness in your every day? Are you okay with people moving on in their lives without you?


Vilnius street with Pacsafe backpack

The struggle of living away from home

It’s a struggle. Going on Facebook is like gazing through a looking glass– checking in on the life you don’t lead anymore. I don’t wonder what that life would have been like because I already know. I haven’t found balance and I’m not sure that I ever will. The longer we are here, the less attachment we will have there. Our friends will think of us less often. Hopefully they still like that they have a friend in another country and will come to visit. But we know that friendships are tested with distance and relationships are strained. All we can do is to do our best and not suck at keeping in touch. Which we do.

We are so grateful that this life change was possible and we intend on taking advantage of all that we can. Becoming an expat is an emotional journey, one where you really need support from somewhere to be successful. You’ll find similar traits in those who actually move abroad. I’m glad we found it in ourselves to take this leap of faith that has rewarded us so much.

We are curious if you have felt, or do feel, the same way as an expat…or even if you just moved far away from home. Please leave your thoughts below. This was really personal for me to write, but I felt that many of us paint a pretty picture of something that can be challenging, though also very rewarding. If you are thinking about this lifestyle, we want you to know what it’s really like. We’re keeping it honest here!

The Expat’s Guide: How to Make Friends as an Expat
The Expat’s Guide: Apps for expats in the Netherlands
Moving to Europe: 10 lessons learned in 5 years
The Expat’s Guide: Saving money while living in Amsterdam
The Expat’s Guide: Surviving winter in Amsterdam
Moving abroad changed how I feel about myself

18 Comments

  1. Great post which is spot on. Expat life is not one big party and it is a huge balancing act. The longer you are away, the more the scales tip to where you are living has been my personal experience. I often feel out of touch with things back in my passport country (hence writing this: http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.nl/2015/04/expat-life-and-lost-art-of-comparison.html) and it is hard to keep in touch with two sets of friends who really have nothing in common and know different aspects of you and your life. I guess it will always be a struggle.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Amanda! It’s good to know that it’s not just me with this issue. I’ve never seen the term “Passport Country”, but it definitely fits!

      Reply
  2. Yes, this is all very true for me too. And it’s become much harder since our future here became less secure. Before that, I was committed to putting down new roots, now I’m spending more time looking at those news bulletins from back home and beginning to tug up the roots a bit, just in case. It’s agonising.

    Reply
  3. Jessica, what you write about FB resonates with me so much. Although I have FB friends who live in England, many of my FB friends are US based and it does feel like gazing through a looking glass sometimes – I especially felt like that on Monday when I woke up to all the Mother’s Day posts. Mother’s Day in the UK is in March so not the same day as the US. On the other hand, it’s a great way to stay in touch with people, friends and family. *SIGH* Found you on #ExpatLifeLinky

    Reply
    • It is a weird feeling, Meghan. The UK does so many things different…even from mainland Europe! But even all the national holidays can really throw you off too. Happy Linky-ing 😉

      Reply
  4. Your post hit the nail on the head for me. While in some ways social media makes it so much easier now than when I was a child 30 years ago (I can communicate with family and friends every day now instead of every few months) it does sometimes give the impression of seeing an aspect of life slip away.

    Reply
  5. Such a great post and I can totally relate! Everyone I know back in England thinks Im living a glamorous life in dubai, but at the end of the day a life still needs to be lived, chores still need to be done and alot of adjustments have to be made! #ExpatLifeLinky

    Reply
    • Thank you for stopping by! It’s great to have this linky because it’s so nice to know I’m not alone in this stuff.

      Reply
  6. Great post. Living two lives certainly is the struggle. I remember fearing that I would miss out on a lot back home when I moved to South Korea. In a way, a lot did stay the same, but I had a hard time keeping in touch with people from my old life. I really had to commit myself to the practice of messaging someone different every day to check in.

    I think it’s great to open up with these things. All expats go through it, but sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one struggling. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Marie! That’s so nice that you made a specific effort to stay in touch, because that’s really what it takes.

      It’s so funny that you just don’t think of this part of life when you move away. So, it’s nice to share with those starting their new expat lives or thinking about it 🙂

      Reply
  7. I appreciate your honesty and really relating to this right now. We are on our first expat excursion from Portland, OR to Copenhagen, DK. I am struggling with feeling left out of what’s going on back there versus what we are trying to create here. Thank you for sharing! Cheers from Denmark!

    Reply
    • Ahh Portland! We have always wanted to visit there. In Amsterdam, many of the Americans we meet are from the Pacific Northwest…you might like it here 🙂 I also want to mention that we loved Copenhagen and look forward to going back.

      It’s a hard transition, especially when you see people starting to get married and have kids from afar. But if you love the life you are living, enjoy it. Ask for people to share videos with you, that really helps me connect. Best wishes!

      Reply

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