I know I’ve been terrible about blogging this month and for that I am sincerely apologetic and I thank all of my readers who stick with me through thick and thin! As you know, I’m living in Berlin now and when my internship ended in the summer I was trying to find full-time work but that didn’t go so well for me since I don’t speak much German. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of freelancing and it takes up so much of my time, it’s definitely an adjustment to balance blogging with that. On top of that, we move out of our current sublease on Monday and are still sorting out the details of the next one so things have been rather stressful. However, I thank you all for continuing to support this blog even if life sometimes gets in the way.
Today, I’m super excited to share with you a topic that’s very close to my heart: life as an expat. If you’ve never heard the term, it’s short for an expatriate, which is a person living permanently in a foreign country. Originally from the US, I’ve been living abroad since June 2014 when I moved to the Netherlands, then from there onto Australia, the UK and now Germany. Being an expat is an amazing experience, but there are also some struggles that come with it as well.
Life As An Expat
Having lived in a few different countries, there are a few things I find most challenging, many of which are touched on later in the post. The first is the language factor if you’ve moved somewhere where your native tongue isn’t spoken. This can feel very isolating and being in a grocery store and not being able to tell the difference between laundry detergent and softener may make you break down in tears (I’ll admit it).
However, language isn’t even the toughest part. Making friends can be difficult and you’re in a whole new place where you know no one and frankly everything is foreign to you. Every country does their own thing and even the smallest factors that you never think about have their own variations, like style of folders. When you’re acclimating yourself to a new environment, every small thing will seem like a huge thing and that can be stressful.
Despite all of that though, life as an expat is immensely rewarding. I have learned so much about other cultures, languages, the world and have made friends from all corners of the planet by living abroad and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
If you’re thinking of moving to another country or are currently living abroad and want to find some solidarity with others who have been through it before, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, I’ve invited seven of my travel blogger friends to share their ups and downs and experiences with expat life. It’s a wonderful, if not sometimes difficult, journey.
Amy: 🇺🇸 Living In 🇫🇮 From Newly Fleds
As the hand on our expat clock has passed the 2-year mark, we are starting to feel like old veterans at this game. We know the city, we have our favorite spots, our weekends are full of social activities and we have really gotten used to not understanding a single conversation around us. In fact, we are so used to the Finnish language that we feel overwhelmed when we go back to an English-speaking country and can hear everyone’s conversations.
And as the “old pros” that we are, it is exhausting to look back and remember the real struggles of when we first moved: Constantly using a map. Awkwardly stumbling into the wrong shops. The terror of the first store runs, with a list in one hand and a translator app on my phone in the other, that took hours to accomplish. I was terrified of being identified as an outsider- an imposter! But each time a store clerk spoke to me in Finnish (my blonde hair helped hide my identity until I opened my mouth) I would have to reveal myself.
Here’s the deal: not only are you going to get lost in this new place, you are going to look lost– all the time. Be ok with looking foolish. Be ok with being lost– sometimes that is half the experience! You can, however, ease your discomfort by giving yourself time to get the lay of the land. Turn on your GPS tracking and go wander, checking every 10 minutes or so to check your map and visualize where you were and what you saw along the route.
Use your technology! Smartphones are much easier to use than their unwieldy printed map counterparts of yore. Pretty much every maps app has the ability to save maps for offline use now. Google Maps allows saving a specific section of a map you choose while our personal favorite, HERE WeGo Maps, allows downloading entire countries so that you can search for places and get directions even when not connected to the internet.
Now, as I meet ex-pats that are in those first uncertain weeks, I feel so much empathy with them. I know it’s tough. I’ve been there. I’ve felt two years of struggle with Finnish social customs that leave you feeling isolated. I’ve lived with strange languages and dark winters. I’ve lived with the “what the hell am I doing” feeling-all the time. However, these days, all the shop owners in the neighborhood know me and we have a short chat about on-goings in Helsinki or food or recent travels. I know almost the whole city by foot. I have friends. I have purpose. I don’t feel like an imposter- I almost feel like I belong here.
So to those of you still struggling to discern which bag of flour to buy or what bus stop to get off on, I sincerely promise: it gets better. So much better. And, whether or not it is clear to you, this season of your life is fruitful. Whether you are with a partner or solo, you are looking farther inside yourself and outside into your world. You are doing it! You are taking the leap that so many people never would- and that is the biggest accomplishment. You dared to step outside your cozy little comfort zone…and live!
For that, I am sending you a virtual pat on the back! Go, you!
Sianna: 🇧🇬 Living In 🇵🇱 From EoStories
Going from one European country to another is not terribly shocking or different! Or so I thought when I went to live in Poland as an exchange student. It is funny how everything is the same yet completely different – the architecture, the holidays, the language, the working hours, the transportation. My biggest mistake was not preparing enough… Or at all. My advice to any future expat is–learn a bit of the language no matter how hard it is to pronounce. And Polish is one of the hardest European languages in my opinion! As it turned out only some of the young people were speaking English which meant that even basic communication in the supermarket was tough at the beginning. Speaking of supermarkets – be prepared to not even know what you are buying. Is that yogurt or is it a mayo, am I getting sugar or salt? Get a translation app on your phone, trust me it will save your life at the beginning… Or at least your dinner!
Maria: 🇷🇺 Living In 🇩🇪 From GlobalMary
I am originally from a small town in Russia and today I live in Hamburg, Germany. Before that, I lived and studied in Sweden, where I fell in love. Together we have moved to Germany, because we managed to find jobs here. I have a full-time job in communications, my travel blog GlobalMary and a bunch of friends. I speak fluent German along with my Russian and English, and I’m learning Italian at the moment. So, I guess that makes me a very integrated member of society here. The difference is that I don’t feel too attached to the place where I am living at the moment. I am traveling a lot and sometimes I think to myself that there are other places where I could move to.
I also think that traveling and living abroad had changed me a lot. The more I travel, meet new people and learn their cultures, the more I understand that, in fact, there are no differences between people. We create them all ourselves. This is why respect, equity and readiness to help are important values for me. If you don’t have a chance to live abroad, travel a lot and meet people — it will do great things to you!
Emily: 🇺🇸 Living In 🇳🇱 From Em Dashed
When I flew into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2014, I’d already been working and traveling abroad for almost four years. My Dutch boyfriend and I met as backpackers in New Zealand; after spending a year together in Australia, Europe seemed like the natural next step.
Unlike many expats who live in Amsterdam or other big cities, I live in a small town in the countryside. There’s no train station, all the shops are closed on Sundays, and there is a very real chance that while driving, you will get stuck going 15 km/hr behind a tractor. And unlike before, when I was sharing hostel dorms and living out of a suitcase, now I have an apartment, my own kitchen, and even houseplants.
It’s definitely given me a whole new perspective on what it means to live abroad.
Kelly: 🇺🇸 Living In 🇬🇧 From A Pair Of Passports
My friends claim I lived every American girl’s study abroad dream – I spent a semester studying in London, met an English boy, and the rest was history. Now I’m happily married and living across the pond from the place I’ve called home all my life. London is quite similar to the U.S., so I do not really get homesick or miss certain things, and I can’t even say that I struggled to get settled at all. In fact, I totally love living here, and the travel opportunities it has given me!
However, one of the hardest parts about leaving the U.S. has been the fact that my friends from home feel like I’ve abandoned them. It’s hard to make friends as an adult, so outside of my husband and his friends, I don’t have many in London. That mixed with the feeling that I’ve been disconnected to my friends from home makes for an unsettling feeling sometimes. I try to solve this by constantly messaging my friends from home and being the one to reach out, but sometimes it feels like it isn’t enough! They never really say anything; just joke (but it sounds like it isn’t actually a joke), but it’s still something that’s always on my mind. It takes away from the things I love about living abroad a bit.
Lyssie: 🇺🇸 Living In 🇪🇸 From She Went To Spain
To quote Frozen’s Elsa in the song “Let It Go,” I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve. The life I left behind was my life in the U.S. Spain was my home for 8 months and every day was a challenge, a blessing, and a wonder.
Something I realized is that I won’t be happy unless I challenge myself. I’m at my happiest when I throw myself into a new and exciting situation. My life seems to have the most meaning when I’m working towards a goal, like learning a new language or adapting to a new culture. At home, I feel stagnant; nothing is new or challenging. A new job quickly becomes an old job and eventually I’m stagnant again. Abroad, I’m always striving to learn, be better, and discover new things.
After coming home from my time abroad, I know how much I miss my life in Spain. I’ll never forget the people I met in my travels and they will always be in my heart. Thank you to everyone who has taught me something or enriched my life in one way or another. Te quiero.
Katechka: 🇨🇿 Living In 🇭🇺 From Hungarian Shenanigans
I never lived abroad during my university studies, and felt that I have to try before I get old and grumpy. I chose Hungary because the society works similarly like in the Czech Republic. The last drop that made me move was this. Living abroad has taught me to be a braver and a humbler person. It’s sometimes very difficult to figure out the local red tape (especially when you don’t speak the language) and to make new friends. Living abroad changed my life views and priorities. The biggest downside is that you lose contact with your family and friends. If you are curious about my observations about Hungarians, feel free to check out this post and this post.
As many of these ladies will tell you, being an expat isn’t easy, in fact sometimes it’s downright terrifying, but you’ll come through it a stronger, more independent person and you’ll have learned more about yourself and the world than you ever would just traveling.
If you’ve lived abroad I’d love to hear about your experience as an expat, and if you’re thinking about it I’d love to hear about that too! And if you amazing readers ever have any questions about how to do it, I would be more than happy to share some advice and tips!