Living abroad as an expat is a thrilling adventure paired with its ups and downs and something in between that. See, you miss your home, but you’re so happy with your new home. You’re not quite a local, but you’ve also passed the stage of being a tourist. You’re adapting to a new culture and country and you’re learning how to balance your old ways with your new life. And because this lifestyle is somehow in between everything and not always as glamorous or vibrant as it appears, I’ve listed 12 honest and non-spoken facts about being an expat.
Whether you are an expat or you are thinking about living abroad, we simply can’t deny these brutally honest and sometimes funny truths.
1. You don’t feel like a tourist… but you don’t feel like a local either
When you first set foot on your new, hot destination, you’re overwhelmed with the joy and sense of adventure you’re experiencing. You feel at the top of a mountain, the beginning of a fresh start. You still feel like a tourist somehow, until you’ve discovered most things on your bucket list and you’ve been accustomed to the daily life in your new life.
After the newness wears off, the feeling of being a tourist gets replaced by the feeling of being a local. But you’re not. That’s made pretty clear by the locals who either don’t like the way you’re trying to speak the language with the heaviest accent someone could ever have, or by the fact that you still dress and talk like the unique mix of cultures that you are, and not like the locals. But hey, you feel like a local. You feel good and accepted. At that counts, doesn’t it?
2. You have the weirdest food cravings from home
One thing that surprised me the most about living abroad is that I used to describe the cuisine of my country as boring and not so tasty or special. (In case you didn’t know yet, I’m from Belgium). However, I found myself having cravings of Belgian sandwiches, chocolate (less surprisingly) and even random, greasy fried snacks I never thought I would ever miss, or even like.
At work, me and my Dutch colleagues could talk for hours, days, even weeks about food at our home countries. Yes, it really was our main topic. And it hurt so much that’s it’s so far away. And we’ve all been there: late night cravings of food that’s thousands of miles away. One of the most hurtful things, isn’t it?
3. You’re totally on a holiday mood… until your alarm goes off
Living abroad, you’re living a good life. Sun is shining, you know you made a right choice doing this, you have a fun job – your pay check might be half of what you used to earn back home, but the quality of your life has easily been doubled, and you feel good.
That’s until you really get into the work life and routine and you realise you actually don’t have as much free time as you’d wish to have. So after that weekend or road tripping through the south coast and visiting beautiful exotic beaches, it can be depressing to have your alarm set for Monday morning at 6 am.
But I believe that you can make the best out of every day and fill your life with fun hobbies, after work activities and networking events. And little by little, that Monday morning feeling gets better and better. Not as good as a permanent vacation, but hey, you’re as close to that as it can get.
4. You start mixing up languages and create your own mix in your head
When learning a new language, it feels like your brain is making place for this and has to delete some old data – for me, using up to 6 different languages a day, it feels like I made up this new, unique, one-of-a-kind language, a mix of everything in my head.
However, you might experience this even by frequently using two or three languages simultaneously: you might stop in the middle of a sentence because you forgot how to say one meaningless futility or a special word you just can’t put your finger on.
But hey, keep rocking that multilingual life and keep learning that new language. Tell your brain to space up because this is happening alright!
5. FaceTime and WhatsApp become your best friends
As you obviously won’t be able to see your close friends and family so often, you replace real-life contact with virtual contact: phone calls, text messages, video calls: you’ll find yourself talking to your mobile device for a lot of time.
Remember it’s really important to keep these relationships you have at home, but to also find a healthy balance between building up new relationships in the country you’re living in.
Don’t forget to go out and be social or spend time with your friends! Remember why you moved abroad and what was your motivation to discover a new country.
6. You miss the weirdest and smallest things from your country
Besides from random snacks cravings, you will find yourself missing on random habits, traits or events from your country. Special fairs or celebrations, gatherings you used to go to with friends or family or even transportation systems: nothing is too crazy. You got used to certain things and right now, they’re no longer in your life.
And that’s okay: it only makes you appreciate what you had back then and it makes you creative to look for others ways to “replace” that right now. For example, transportation systems: I never took a metro in Belgium and now it’s my main source of transportation. I miss having a car so so much, but I realise it’s not a good match: living in a vibrant capital doesn’t leave much practicality for having your own car.
It’s important to realise not everything is suitable for every destination or culture, and it’s perfectly normal to have these mixed feelings.
7. Visits and travels are what you live for
Honestly, fellow expats, let’s all say it together: I love travel. I love being a guide to my friends and family and all my visitors.
Who has a fully detailed, scheduled itinerary of a citytrip to your city? We all do, let’s face it. We’ve all had several visitors and we’ve all given them the same tours over and over again. But we love it, because we are so proud of where we live, which city we chose, and how much we know this city now.
And, on another level, there’s the love for travel and adventure. And even though we have as much as free time as any working adult, we make time to travel and we find ways to have small adventures in your daily life. Small trips is what we look forward to the most, since that was our main goal of living abroad: discovering new grounds.
8. You’re always dreaming about future destinations
You can be as satisfied as you wish with your current destination, but we’ve all had thoughts about where to go next or how long we should still stay at one place.
“Oh well, a year has passed. But I’m not done yet. It’s okay to stay somewhat longer.”
“Oh look at the time, already two years have gone by. But I still haven’t went to that place…”
You know the feeling. We’re all dreamers who want to discover the world in all its facets. And as there as so many destinations and so many great cities to live in, it’s unstoppable to have these thoughts and dreams. It’s even necessary. Because if you would have never chased your dreams, you would never be where you are right now.
9. You start to realise home really is a feeling and not a place
This might sound super cliché, but as you’re missing your home with your family, you also realise that you actually created your own, new home.
A friend of mine once told me: “The moment I have to change apartment, I will move to another city. No way I will be able to feel like home in another place than this one.” When I asked him why, he replied: “Because the moment I sit on my toilet in my bathroom, that moment is the only one that I truly feel like I’m home. I will never feel that sentiment anywhere else in this city.”
Everyone has their own way of turning a place into a home and creating that sense of home that you can’t find anywhere else. But you should never fear that you won’t have it anywhere else, since that sentiment came from you. You can take it anywhere. You can move it do different parts of the world, different countries, cities and apartments. It’s your feeling of home, and it’s there because of you.
10. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re making the best out of it
Let’s be honest: do you really have a fixed plan? A 3-year schedule or your life? Or a shorter or even longer plan?
Me neither. Being an expat, you are very organised on one level, and totally loose and going with the flow on another level. It’s admirable, really. It’s finding a balance between I don’t know what I’m doing and somehow being connected to a goal or a purpose.
I think that’s what keeps us expats going: striving towards a life filled with new adventures, meaningful connections and beautiful memories. Discovering new lands and cultures and seeing a lot of this amazing world. And maybe we don’t have a detailed plan or a plan at all. But maybe thats exactly what we don’t need.