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.
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.
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?
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!