A shiny expat life and its stages.
When I was a kid and my parents were traveling abroad without me and my brother, and when they came back home and told us all the stories from their trip and brought us Toblerone (!) that was not available in Hungary then (I’m talking about the years before 1989), and they were actually having friends who are living abroad as expats, far away, or at least for me it looked like they were super far away, even though we were talking only about Vienna, 200 km from my home town. And they were telling us the stories about their lives and conditions, or just some part of our wider family who left the country years before for whatever historical or economical reason… And we have reviewed their travel pictures, 3–4 weeks after as we needed to wait until the pictures were available as they were captured on a Kodak photographic film and half of them were useless, blurred, dark or with having a finger covering half of the picture, but I was still so amazed, and kept thinking as a kid ‘oh wow, I want to live abroad as well one day. It seems to be so amazing’.
We have traveled a lot, so nice memories!! Of course, after a while I grew up, the travel sickness was gone, and I also started to travel alone, with friends, with the school, doing Erasmus studies abroad, from where I didn’t even want to go back home, and sooner or later I reached to the point when some of my friends around me decided to continue their lives abroad, studying further or started to work there. And I was like, ‘wow I should do the same, I wanted to do the same as a kid, this is the time’.
And then, of course, we have started to travel together as a family too. I had travel sickness on every trip, and even though we just went to ex-Yugoslavia I felt like we were conquering the world, and regardless I was puking during the whole trip I felt this is the most amazing thing that could happen to me. Thanks for this for my parents, as obviously I copied their behavior as a kid, and if their attitude had been different or had been complaining about all the potential downsides of driving a fully packed Dacia on shitty roads in the early 90s across the Adriatic coast, I would have never learned to enjoy traveling.
Ok, the rest is history and here I’m. So what I have learned?
I. Everything is new. And suddenly so you are! You can start a clean page, you discover new things around you and inside of you. Scary but such a great feeling. All the streets, your newly got neighborhood, your workplace, your coffee place, the sounds, the public transport, the reaction of people, everything is new and unknown. And you feel you want to see everything, you have this instant desire to learn about your new place as much as you just could. Every time I moved to a new place, I followed the same pattern, on my free weekends, fully alone I went to the metro and stopped at each and every metro station went upstairs, took a stroll, and discovered the surroundings, even if there was nothing but usual residential buildings in the middle of nowhere. I did this exercise many times and I will do wherever I’m going later. It’s just a super simple way of getting to know your new city, discover the differences between the districts, and somehow to put yourself into context. Later on, when you are already living in your new city and usually you are moving in the same districts most of the time, but from time to time you need to go somewhere out of your area, and you suddenly remember back, ahh I was here, when I did my metro trip around the city when I came. In London, it took me more than a month by the time I reached each metro station and could dedicate time for visiting its surroundings. In Warsaw, it was a bit faster, given that there was only 1 metro line when I came.
II. You feel constantly alone and as an outsider. But at the very same time, you also learn to love this fact. Regardless of how far or close you are from your home country, how similar or not your new place is. How many new friends you have already met, and with how many old friends you could easily connect via phone or online.
III. You learn a lot. Besides the obvious, new language, new culture, new cities, new food recipes, and so on. But you learn the most about yourself, how you are able to accommodate yourself with the new conditions. Regardless if they are better or worse.
IV. You start to feel at home. You start to understand the differences, you are not that surprised about weird things anymore, somehow getting used to them. You start to accept the differences and you learn to respect them. You suddenly feel more comfortable .vs back at home, that is changing in the meantime, and it’s changing without you. You are not part of your home country, even if you read, watch, constantly updating yourself with whatever happens back at home. But you are just simply not there, and regardless you are interested or not in the happenings in your new country, these are the things that reach you first. So somehow you start to care. You participate in local get-togethers, subscribing for local activities, you can find friends or at least people with similar interests and by this time ideally, you can communicate in the local language in a basic way. You succeed in the shopping, ordering in restaurants, or just random small talks, but you manage. You feel local.
V. Suddenly, nothing is new anymore. It’s starting to be boring. The same pattern, the same things you are doing week by week. You feel like leaving… but it’s difficult, you already have a new life, that should be changed again? So at least you start to travel, just to get out of there, for new impulses, new inspirations. You realize that even if you respect the differences, they can be annoying. You start to feel irritated by the things you are not able to change. You just simply don’t get, if you are able to adapt, change and improve yourself, why others can’t. Of course, if it’s not their interest, it’s fine like that, but if it goes beyond logic, you feel frustrated and outsider more than ever.
VI. You realize that you live in a bubble. In a bubble that you have created for yourself. You can call it a comfort zone too. You have friends to spend the time with, you have your places to go, you have your own things to do. But this is the moment when you also realize that whatever you do, how much effort you put into it, you will be always an outsider in your new country. And of course this bubble can be super shiny-happy-fancy, where you have your own habits, daily routines, all could seem to be super cool from the outside, but it’s just an artificial bubble, isolated from the real everyday world, and you won’t ever become a real local. Even if you want this or not.
VII. You got super tired of answering the same questions after a while. Of course, you understand that people are just trying to be nice. You are also trying to be nice. But it’s hard.
VIII. You starve for a normal conversation, that is not related to the fact that you are an expat and you are temporary in the country. You don’t want to talk about differences, how you feel here, similarities, politics, you just want to talk about simple things. Hardly possible. If you go to expat groups, forget it. If you go to meet your Hungarian group of friends living abroad like you, forget it. If you go home and visiting your family, forget it. If you go to meet local friends where you are the only one from a different country, forget it.
IX. You just want to live a ‘normal’ life, whatever it means for you. Depending on how far you came, how long time has passed, what have you achieved during this period of time, you need to make a decision on, that everyone is asking from you ‘what is next?’ and ‘where is next?’.
– You just decide to leave, as it was enough, there is a better opportunity, you miss your loved ones, etc. and you start over / continue somewhere else… Going back to your home country, where you don’t belong anymore? Going somewhere else and start a new chapter there? As you already did once or twice or more…
– Or you fall in love and stay… for a while more 🙂
Thanks for reading 🙏