Dear Pre-expat Self,
When you left your sunny hometown in April 2010, like many others who have not packed their entire lives to live overseas, you had a romanticised idea of what lies ahead. Just like flipping over the page of an amazing novel, you welcomed the new chapter in your life. Even if it meant starting all over.
It didn’t take long before you realised the leading an expatriate lifestyle wasn’t always rosy. Starting all over again definitely was as difficult as climbing Everest. Society did not function the way you were used to for the past 26 years. As though one system was clearly better than the other, you naturally concluded what you were accustomed to was the best, the most efficient way and everything else was plain stupid. As you lowered expectations of your host country, you grew to dislike it, putting it down at every opportunity simply because YOU FAILED TO ADAPT. YOU REFUSED TO HAVE AN OPEN MIND.
After two years, you had to move again to another new country. Once again, you had to start all over. Though similar in many ways to your first host country, there are striking differences. This time, you’ve wised up. You set real expectations, recognised the challenges ahead and learnt to adapt. You ignore what others think you do during the day (sipping hot chocolate in cafes, eating cakes during tea time, meeting up with fellow expat wives to gossip about their husbands etc). You stopped comparing past and present, you versus others. It is redundant to compare yourself to others when you’re obviously at different stages in life?
Here’s a list of what you’ve learnt over the 4 years.
1. Be Adaptive
Relocating can be a shocking experience. The first couple of months is like a honeymoon period, however the novelty soon dies down. Life is a lot easier if you STOP insisting on doing things the way you’re used to back home and just do as the Romans do.
2. Get Real
Rebuilding your life isn’t a simple ABC task. There will be dreadful tasks such as opening bank accounts, searching for housing, schools, insurance, doctors and so on to sort out. Whatever services you need back home, you’ll probably need to set them all up again when you relocate. Life isn’t just about coffees, cakes and meeting other ladies.
3. Less Materialistic
Gone are the days when shoes were your best friends. You still adore them but you don’t buy them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis anymore. When you relocate, you pack your entire life in a suitcase and plenty of boxes. It’s only when packing or unpacking that you start to realise you don’t actually need that many things. As they say, the more you own, the more it owns you.
4. Fishing Your Own Fish
You don’t literally fish, but you learn to feed yourself with homecooked food. Your husband had to put up with burnt or undercooked dishes to begin with, but now, he’s the only person who gets to enjoy the fruit of your labour in the kitchen. You learned to be more independent and sort problems out without crying immediately to your parents or buddies thousands of miles away.
5. Be Patient, Relax
You used to join the crowd and nudge whoever who got in your way. You used to tsk whoever who stepped on your toe or slowed down their pace right before you. You were part of the rat race and you looked forward to Mondays as every praise from your boss was visualised as a cookie thrown at you and you would wag your invisible tail happily. Relocation has taught you to appreciate work-life balance more. It has shown you the possibility of spending quality family time together. You learnt to relax and be patient towards others and yourself.
There are other lessons you’ve learnt over the years and these are just the five basic ones. You don’t know where you’ll be in living in in the future but with each move you’re becoming a better person and your experience as an expat can only get more positive.
Note: I was inspired to write this post after reading this.