Expatlife: 10 Advices to a younger self
The other 5: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again” - Bill Bryson
One of my favourite game when I was a kid, was picking up my mother’s globe, to spin it and, with closed eyes, point my finger on a random place, dreaming about moving and living there. I was surrounded by any kind of maps, my mother was a Geography teacher: I guess it played a role shaping me as an expat in motion, staying in motion.
I do have 5 more messages to be delivered to my younger expat self, even if she doesn’t seem to be in the mood to accept advices about how to run her life!
6. Balance work life and personal life.
If you moved abroad for your professional growth, you’re probably extremely committed to succeed in your work. To a younger self I’d say: be ambitious without being stuck in the work-only loop. Enjoy the unique experience you’re living. Travel around the country, drink and eat what you never thought you would — anyone for a Chili Vodka? — , become friend with the locals. Go out and experience as much as you can. If you’re an introvert take the opportunity to push your comfort zone. Living abroad give you the chance to transform yourself from an introvert pre-expat to an extrovert citizen of the world ;-).
7. Meet people not speaking your own language.
It’s quite funny: what might separate you from people of your same nationality when you’re in your home country, will bring you closer when you’re abroad. Complaints like “ Damn! Where the hell can I get a real espresso?!” are an easy ice-breaker. To a younger self I’d say: well, don’t friend ONLY people from your native country. You’ re abroad, don’t replicate what you can find at home. Don’t be surprised either by your friends turnover: some expats stay in a country just for few months. Some of them, though, will remain your best friends for life, even if you both move. As an expat you do have an unspoken permission to take more risks, you can try what you were discouraged to do in your home country and have access to a set of opportunities you could never have imagined. Believe me, you’ ll unlock a whole new side of yourself. After some years abroad you’ll become a much more confident and creative person, both personally and professionally.
8. Learn to stay alone and enjoy it.
Moving abroad will be tough, confusing, disorienting, especially if you move alone. Don’t despair, jumping into (cold) water can be shocking at first, but soon your body will adapt. And you’ll enjoy it. To a younger self I’d say: after wandering over mixed up feelings, you’ll discover a renewed (your)self. The new environment set you apart from influences and pressures from your family, friends, social, cultural or country context. You start discovering yourself more as an individual and less as a member of a community: it’s extremely liberating, you feel more in control of your identity.
9. Keep alive the friendship with your home friends.
I was really negligent on keeping in contact with my old friends. It was not a matter of selfishness. I assumed that my friends would have been bothered by listening the bad, the ugly and the good experiences of another expat. And I was wrong. To a younger self I’d say: even if you do have completely different lifestyles it’s worth to share your joy and your fears with your old friends. They will foster connecting the dots with your previous self, they will provide you an observer perspective and they will be amused and enriched by listening to your experiences. Choose to use the distance to strengthen a friendship, not to lose it.
10. Embrace change
Being an expat gives you the adrenaline of feeling free, independent, self-aware, flexible, adventurous. To a younger self I’d say: if you’ll ever move back home, you’ll be a different person than you were before becoming an expat. You’d probably experience what is called a reverse culture shock: at first you’ll be euphoric to meet your old friends, to speak your native language, to rediscover familiar places. Soon after you’d probably feel out of place, you’d wonder: “ Have I just gotten off a spaceship?”. At this stage many expats perceive moving back home as a step back in their life. They’re wrong. Your expatlife made you more adaptive, empathic, open-minded, resilient, confident and tolerant. A perfect citizen of the world. Apply your expat’s super powers to your new-old life. Now you’re not only a much better version of yourself, there’s another bonus: you do have friends all around the world, ready to welcome you whenever you’ll expatriate again.
“Such is the nature of an expatriate life. Stripped of romance, perhaps that’s what being an expat is all about: a sense of not wholly belonging” - S. Turnbull