Is the expat grass always greener?
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Perhaps you share Eleanor Roosevelt’s views and that’s the very reason you chose to become an expat, or maybe a move abroad is something you’re currently mulling over: leaving all things familiar behind and riding off into the sunset in search of a new dream, away from your “fatherland,” as the Latin word denotes (but which could just as easily be “motherland” and resonate with the same sentiment). Perhaps you’re more motivated by what Maslow’s self-actualization theory describes as realizing your “inner potential,” and to obtain this need, you must open yourself up to new opportunities that arise – one of which might be the expat life.
People may decide to take the leap and reside outside their country of citizenship for many reasons. No doubt in some instances, multiple drivers are churning away in conjunction, and their simplification would dilute the complex emotions experienced during, and probably after, such a significant move. You might be offered a wonderful new job, or you might fall head over heels in love. You might be bored of the status quo you have grown up with, or have been living with in recent years, and decide to venture farther afield to see what else you can learn, achieve and obtain. You might have been bitten by the expat bug long ago and already be a country-hopping and integration expert.
Whatever the rationale, soaking up a new culture on a daily basis has many positive aspects. However, we all know that visiting a place for a short vacation is totally different from living there day to day. When relocating your life, it’s essential to avoid any delusions or sugar-coated visions of the life you expect to lead in your new home. It’s really never like the postcard! Any projections must be safely left behind in the hands of loved ones, along with any other unnecessary baggage.
To be content and settled, you must be willing to break with your conventional ways, you must be sufficiently open in your thinking to embrace your new world, and you must set aside niggling incidents to really grow and evolve. Like anytime in life, you can see the glass as half-full or half-empty depending on how you want to live. Funnily enough, your inherent thinking, behavior and problems won’t change even if you’ve moved halfway around the globe – unless you want them to. Ultimately, you’re still you. And surprisingly, you might not be missing as many developments back at the ranch as you may think.
In your new surroundings, you can hungrily explore a different culture, parking any preconceived notions and perhaps benefiting directly from your new neighbours’ advice. Despite the inevitable barriers and frustrations, you can take the chance to learn a new language and try to overcome the challenges presented by being unable to lead daily life in your mother tongue. You can explore every nook and cranny of your adopted village, town or city till you are au fait with the bakeries, restaurants, shops, cafés and bars. You can use your free time to familiarize yourself with the fresh landscapes that surround you. You can act as a knowledgeable guide for family and friends when they come to visit.
Whatever the trigger for packing up your worldly belongings and landing yourself in an unfamiliar environment, you’ll undoubtedly face unexpected curveballs and bumps in the road – ’cause nothing’s perfect, right? None of us have a crystal ball to predict how everything will pan out. There will be high and lows (this is true wherever you live), there will be moments when the time difference, or the distance, drives you up the wall and you so desperately miss your family and old friends you consider jumping on the quickest form of transport to reunite with them whatever the cost. You’ll miss birthdays, special events and maybe even sad occasions, when you yearn to be home. But who knows: after a number of months or years, perhaps the expat life you’ve created in your new country will have turned it into “home” to you – the place that brings you the greatest joy and puts you most at ease. There is the life you’ve built from scratch, the great unknown you’ve conquered, the achievements you’re most proud of, the environment that enables you to strive to be the ultimate you.
Wherever you choose to lay your head at night and spend most of your time, and whether you become a lifetime expat or just enjoy the experience for a few years, there will forever be clear and irreplaceable traces of the comfort and customary ways of where you grew up etched in your memory – traces of the place you originally called “home” or perhaps simply memories of being in the arms of loved ones. Only you can truly decide what fulfills and motivates you most. Perhaps the expat life genuinely suits you – and the grass really is greener on the other side of the pond.