10 universal truths of being an expat

Not all who wander are lost: 10 universal truths of being an expat

You might have picked up that both Janis and I are expats – I’m from the UK, J is from Latvia and we live in Melbourne. Christmas has got me thinking about the expat deal, the challenges and advantages and why the hell we do it.

One of the only material things I miss about the UK is Christmas, it just isn’t – and never will be – the same in Australia. And no, no amount of being positive about the fabulous weather will convince me otherwise. Last year, heavily pregnant, I nearly cried at Christmas I felt so bloody un-festive. I was therefore absolutely resolute in my need to be in the UK for Frankie’s first Christmas.

All of this got me thinking. I know a lot of expats. And so I reached out them with a few questions about expat life – because I was willing to bet there were some universal truths about this life we choose to live, and some nuggets of gold between them. And I was right – 17 of them have sent me some brilliant insights (thanks guys, totes blown away by your generosity). So here for you, my last post of 2015 is a whole bunch of lessons from a gaggle of brilliant expats.

1. Becoming an expat can happen to anyone.

It could  happen to you – seriously. I never had any ambition to settle abroad, let alone Australia but fate had other plans, as did my soulmate.

Out of my friends, we have:

  • eight who went travelling and never returned home
  • four who moved for a job
  • five who were burnt out/needed a change of scene/to get out of dodge

And out of everyone, only four definitely intend to go home. So that’s 13 mofo’s who have accidentally ended up on the other side of the world and are pretty much staying put.

2. The weather. It matters.

This actually made me chuckle. Almost everyone mentioned the weather as a reason to live abroad. A very simple but very real reason to up sticks. Life is just better when the sun is shining.

My friend Dawnee puts it brilliantly:

“I can’t imagine being away from the Aussie lifestyle now, the sunshine really brightens up my spirit. I hate the cold and am a hermit over winter. I used to find it hilarious that Melbournians hid away for 3 months when it got a bit chilly, but now I am the same.”

3. The experience is rich.

If I was going to write a list of all the things I love about living in Melbourne it would be this:

  • Better culture and entertainment
  • Fabulous people and making friends
  • A generally better lifestyle
  • Awesome food and coffee
  • Freedom/independence
  • Life experience

Funny that my mates feel exactly the same (and they aren’t all in Melbourne or even Australia) – this list is actually compiled from their answers. As lists go, that’s a pretty awesome bunch of reasons to try living abroad…

A special side note to Kenneth for his extra response here…

“I like being an immigrant. I like the distance I automatically get to the populist policy making that seems to be the trend for democracies these days.” RIGHT ON.

4. You feel like you are on a permanent holiday.

It surprised me how much this came up in my friend’s responses. It’s true though, because even if you are in the daily grind, your weekends are usually sun and fun filled, it’s just a total escape from the 9-5, and that is what can be missing, certainly in the UK anyway, just because the climate means you can’t always get away from it.

As Richard says… “Couldn’t think of anything worse than returning to my previous life – indoors all the time, dark at 3.30pm no summer – going from pub to pub!””

5. The worst bit is missing friends and family.

Without doubt the hardest thing day to day is missing the people we love. Especially now we have Frankie, which as my parents so graciously say, ‘this is a day we just thought would never come!!’. Many thanks. But knowing she’s missing out on time with her grandparents, and them with her is hard. Plus, where’s the free frigging babysitter when you need one?! Not having family support is one of the number one reasons from my mates.

Except Richard. His mum is here so he needed to think of something else.

“The way people say Marone for Maroon – that’s it though.”

6. Other expats will become your extended family.

It seems such a cliche that Brits flock together, but actually not all my expat buddies are Brits. There’s something about being in the expat club that means there is real comfort in hanging with others going through the same. Actually just seeing everyone’s answers and how similar they are really shows me why that is.

Michelle says:

“The friends you make when living abroad become much closer because they are like the equivalent of family and you appreciate them so much more.”

7. Travelling home sucks balls.

At the risk of upsetting everyone I love, the downside to ensuring you stay in touch is really expensive travel, coupled with the prospect of a lack of any kind of proper holiday ever again. And having just done a flight with an 11 month old there’s the general stress of it all as well, and you really have no choice which can be hard.

There is also an unsaid (and definitely unintentional) expectation that you will go home and visit more than most people will consider coming to see you. It’s a part of our life so we do things like save up to go home whereas when people at home are just living, they take whatever holiday they feel like and so can ‘never afford’ to come to Australia (or wherever…).

8. Celebrations and traditions are just not the same.

This is a big one for me but I was surprised to see that quite a few of my friends feel the same. Your own celebrations can feel a bit hollow, especially in the early days when you have brand new friends and you are all still getting to know each other. And you miss out on everything happening at home because you simply can’t afford to fly back for every wedding, birth and significant birthday going. Missing my best friend’s 40th was a genuinely hard and wobbly moment.

Bec made me laugh out loud when she said:

“It never ever snows which is fine except for on Christmas day when it sucks bumhole”

Truly for me, Christmas sucks, it’s equal to missing my family. Did I mention Christmas sucks?

9. Making friends as a grown up. Weird and hard.

It’s funny, you don’t consider this at all until you are starting over somewhere new. Grown ups have established lives and friends. There is no unifying front like school or uni to throw you together. You just have to put yourself out there and that is really scary.

There was so much good advice here I couldn’t resist more than one nugget…. Bec kicks it off with the need to be patient:

“Be kind to yourself – it will take you a while to build those important friendships and relationships.”.

Antonia and Sara are all about the bravery:

“Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with people.”

“Take people up on their offers to meet for a coffee or drink – even if you think they are just being polite – you never know who you will meet, even if they are not exactly your cup of tea.”

And Dawnee, who’s been here for more than 10 years and seen loads of her buddies come and go:

“Make more native friends… you might adopt a silly foreign accent a bit quicker but they’re less likely to bugger off to the other side of the world.”

10. Lessons, learnings and cautionary tales.

I asked everyone what once piece of advice they’d give if they were starting again.

The benefit of hindsight…

Kenneth:
Research more, assume less.

Dan:
Plan it better – get the right work experience to move into a decent job in the first instance. I just landed here and had to take some terrible jobs to stay afloat.

Michelle:
I would have better prepared myself for job hunting once out here. I’m a health care clinician and there are all sorts of registrations that you need to complete.I would have looked into that more and made sure I brought all the necessary documents with me.

Richard:
I would have tried to get a job when I was on my working holiday visa as it would have been much easier to get sponsored.

Go easy on yourself

Claire:
Give yourself time, Rome wasn’t built in a day, your new life will not be built in a day so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s a long process but try and enjoy it….

Jess:
Be resilient as you will always, ALWAYS miss home!

Seize the moment

Lynne:
Go where life takes you and experience the world while you can. Don’t look back and accept you will miss out on things.

Vicky:
Take every opportunity to travel as many places you can and go in with an open mind

Amy:
Say “yes” and seize opportunities!

No regrets

Antonia:
It’s ok to be scared out of your mind and cry on the phone to your mum, this is an adventure. Enjoy the ride

Bec:
Don’t freak out and lose your shit/sleep over whether you’re making the right choice. There is nothing that can’t be changed later.

Sara:
Make sure you stay for the right reasons and explore in your spare time.

Forward, always

Janis:
Stick it out and see it to the end. It’s all about the journey not short term.

Brenda:
Open yourself up to opportunities and don’t compare things to back home because things won’t be the same in both places. I was so busy looking back that I missed some good experiences.  

So there you have it. A different kind of article for me and I’m not sure I nailed it BUT I hope that if you are a new expat, or considering a move that you can read this and feel reassured and even better prepared for what’s to come.

Are you an expat? What’s your experience like? And if you know any expats then please share the love or head on over to social and share it there. 

Thanks for reading and see you in 2016. xxx

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