What it really means to be an expat

After living as an expat in three different countries, I can easily say that there are a number of misconceptions about this kind of life. Part of the reason for putting together this blog has been to attempt to address some of these misconceptions. I’m always flattered when people congratulate me on the life that I’m living, but I fear that some of those praises stem from preconceived ideas of what being an expat actually is. So, here is my attempt to address some of these misconceptions.

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  1. It’s a life of traveling

While living in Korea, the UK, and now in Taiwan, I did travel somewhat, but not as regularly as some people think. I have always been a student living abroad, which means that I have a limited budget. I cannot jet-set every weekend to a different destination. You also inevitably get wrapped up in everyday responsibilities, which occupy your evenings and weekends and take away some of that free time to lie on a foreign beach. My experience living abroad has been spent getting to know one place and has therefore not automatically equated with traveling. You don’t need to be an expat to travel, anyone can do that. The particularity of the expat life is in opportunity to really get to know a foreign city and country.

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  1. You need to be brave to be an expat

I’ve often heard people say that I’m brave to lead such a life and that they would never have the courage to move abroad. While I believe that a level of courage is necessary to move abroad, it is not in the way that you think. Living abroad is much easier than you think. No matter where you go, there will be an adjustment period, however there are more and less challenging destinations. For a first experience, you don’t need to move to Korea or Taiwan, somewhere in Europe may be easier to adjust to, but also offer similar advantages. The part where courage is necessary is in the actual decision to move abroad. It was really hard for me to leave my job (and cats) in Canada to move to the UK. Similarly, it was not easy to turn down a job offer and leave Thomas to come the Taiwan. Once you are abroad, you easily fall into the daily rhythm and adjust to local life. You miss home and its comfort (cheese, I’m thinking of you), but you find new comforts. You don’t need to be crazy adventurous to be able to be an expat. It is much more accessible than you think.

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3. The expat life is easy

There are people at the other end of spectrum that believe that living abroad is really easy. These people are in for a surprise and are often the ones who rapidly second guess their decision and start looking at plane tickets home. I don’t want to scare you away from joining the expat wagon, but I also don’t want you to think that it’s all rainbows and unicorns.

4.You make a lot of local friends

Everyone who moves abroad and especially those who want to learn another language plan to make lots of local friends. Isn’t that part of the reason to move abroad, to actually befriend people from that country? Well, its harder than it seems. If you’ve been living in the same place for many many years, then think about your network of friends. Pretty full, right? You have a good set of friends that you’ve developed over the years. These are people that you know very well and who know you. Now, think how hard it would be for a foreign student who moves to your city for less than a year to learn a new language to then integrate your network of friends. You might be thinking, I’m an open person who loves to meet new people. But it’s not that easy. You have a schedule and friends between which you divide your time. It is not easy to integrate a foreigner who struggles with your language and who will only be living in your city for a number of months. Sure, you will go out a few times so that you can introduce your city or have a coffee together, but truly integrating them into your circle of friends is another thing. Well my friends, I’m that foreign student. In all three of my experiences living abroad, I’ve made a limited number of local friends. Most of the friends that I’ve made are, you guessed it, other foreigners. This has its advantages though. I’ve learnt so much about many different cultures rather than only that of the country that I lived in.

I hope that this helps demystify what it means to live abroad. If you have not already taken the time to look at the other articles on this website, please do take a look. I’m living abroad and still learn so much from these women!

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