There is an undeniable thrill that accompanies all forms of opt-in change. A new job, new car, or certainly settling into a new home all have the power to breathe new life and energy back into us. Now … supercharge that change on some crazy bionic level and that is the exhilaration someone feels when settling into a new country as an expat.
My guess is that being happy as an expat depends greatly on if you CHOSE to be one in the first place. We’ve all met the grumpy ones who bitch and moan about everything, who insist on only eating food from their homeland, and who don’t find joy in the cultural differences or challenges of living in a foreign country. Normally they are someone who was forced to move by their company but didn’t want to (or in a surprisingly large amount of cases its the spouse of that person). Anyway, hopefully that’s not you!
Here Are 4 Signs That You’re Either Wonderfully Addicted to Being an Expat or Should Consider Becoming One >>>
#1 – You’re Addicted to Change
The excitement does begin with the planning, telling friends and family about the new adventure and mentally preparing for the change, but the real thrill starts as soon as the plane lands. You aren’t there to holiday, this is your new home, and that makes it feel … different somehow. It’s a huge change, and that makes it thrilling.
As an adult, the longest I’ve ever lived in one place was Sitges, Spain because it was undeniably the funnest time of my life. The friends I made there are still my closest mates and we all lived literally a stone’s throw away from each other. My dear German friend Rando Wagner in the bunny ears there lived around the block and he was the first to go. But – as is the case with almost every expat around the globe – eventually all the BFFs moved away looking for a change and are now spread out in Barcelona, Madrid, London, Sydney, and even Bali.
#2 – You’re Addicted to New Sights, Sounds & Smells
Then there are the sights, the streets are different, the storefronts, the new and exotic faces. The cars look different, public transport looks different and the SOUNDS are absolutely unique. There are the sounds of foreign tongues – either speaking in a new language or with a new accent – as well as the ambient noise that an expat will forever associate to a city. For me, I remember India as incessant horn honking and now Hong Kong is all about the construction noise.
The SMELLS are different, too. Sadly sometimes for the bad, but there is always more good than bad! Grocery shopping now becomes an expedition, not just a necessary errand to run on a Thursday. There are fish we’ve never seen, mysterious fruit and veg to try and decadent pastries they don’t have back home.
#3 > You’re Addicted to Living in Holiday Mode
Life becomes an adventure. Instead of focusing on the grind of the week, that grind becomes secondary to soaking in everything that’s new.
Spain was my home for 12 years, it’s where my daughter was born and where I worked for technology start-ups until the recession hit. Like the locals, I took the train and Metro to work each day. My daughter and I walked or took a taxi or public transport everywhere. In fact, I didn’t own a car until almost the very last year we were there, something unheard of for Americans! I spent time in outdoor cafés with friends eating jamón, drinking vino and even dancing ‘til dawn as the Spanish (so wonderfully) do.
Yet never once in all that time of working normal jobs and for all intents and purposes living a ‘normal’ life, did it ever FEEL normal to me. I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe it better over the years.
#4 > You’re Addicted to the Exotic
Then my daughter found the right words recently to sum up ‘being an expat never feels like real life’ when we were talking about how we both missed living in India. She told me she missed living someplace EXOTIC. And that was it! No matter how normal a life or how many years one lives in a foreign country, it will always be a foreign country … and blissfully exotic on some level.
I met my fabulously fun Australian friend Lukas while dancing ‘til dawn in Sitges. Lukas shared, “More than anything I miss the proximity to people from so many other cultures from my days living in Europe. I am loving being back in my native land of Australia though because I’m more focused on my career and personal growth here since there aren’t as many distractions.”
The funny thing about the last comment Lukas made though is that he’s in Sydney (my dream city!) and I bet that NONE of the expats there see it the way he does. I feel that same way about San Diego, even though most people would probably feel that living in SoCal is exotic on some level. I guess that distractions are like art … VERY subjective, depending greatly on who’s looking at it.
If you happen to be a single parent like me, don’t let that hold you back. Choosing to live as an expat (in Spain, India, China and now Hong Kong) was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was just my daughter and I until she left India to attend uni in the UK and we had amazing adventures together, experiencing daily life and new cultures in a way we would have never done had we stayed in San Diego. Over the years we holidayed in Africa, Europe and Asia. Those experiences coupled with her life experiences have had a very positive effect on the young person she’s become. This summer she’s exploring France, Italy and Poland so she definitely has the travel bug. I just hope she’ll end up with the expat bug, too!
Quotes From Fabulous Former Expat Friends of Mine Around the Globe:
My lovely friend Amanda Cross – who is a witty Brit I met on the beach in Sitges – wrote a book called The Cava Queen about her experiences as an expat. She says, “I’ve been in the ex-pat role a few times as I’ve always loved a change of environment and diversity of people. Now I’m back in London and I’m the local hanging out with quite a few ex-pats from all over the world – so maybe it’s more about being attracted to ‘your tribe’. We’re all nomads at heart – my feet are itching again. It’s only a matter of time X.”
Libby Mizell who I met when we lived in Bangalore, was an expat years before in Hong Kong, too. She is back home now and told me, “My favorite part is the awakening of the senses to the smallest parts of life. The strange/new trees and foliage on your daily commute. New sights, sounds, smells, people, culture, habits… This is my heaven on earth. To learn, and live an awakened life.”
I met fellow American Dennis Kean and his husband Joe when we were neighbours in Spain. He told me, “For us the thing we miss the most from living over in Spain is that it was not so work focused. The Spanish know how to enjoy life without worrying so much about the material things. With that said, we were ready to come back to the U.S. when we did but the dream is to take off again to some foreign place and live the expat life.”
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