Hubs and I were fortunate enough to have friends, through my sister, living here already. They gave us so much helpful information when we decided to take the plunge and move our whole lives to another country. If I haven't said this enough - moving to another continent is a huge endeavor. Sometimes it feels like we've moved to another planet, altogether. But, if I had some advice for those who are considering this life-changing adventure on becoming an expat, here's my two cents.
1) Get rid of as much stuff as possible
Europe is notorious for 'small spaces' and we lived in a typical rowhome/townhouse in Maryland. Hubs and I knew we had to get rid of stuff, a lot of stuff. It really takes a huge move like this to realize just how much crap you have. I can't tell you how many bags/boxes of "stuff" we got rid of. Hubs is an aspiring minimalist and I'm a closet pack-rat. You see where I'm going with this? I had Hubs convert our smallest bedroom in the US to a walk-in closet when I moved in. Yes, I had walls of shoes, clothes, handbags, etc. The Salvation Army got an enormous donation just from that room alone. It was a huge wake up call. We would've had the option of storing stuff provided by the U.N., but we passed. Because really, if we haven't touched it or seen in several years (3-7)....the chances are we didn't need it in the first place! If you were wondering, things like yearbooks and my wedding dress are still around, but taking up residence at my sister's house temporarily. So, we 'stored' things, but only a few shelves worth.
We never realized how little we can get by with and how much money we wasted on things we didn't really need...until now. What an awesome life lesson learned.
2) Make an effort and learn the language
Hubs and I are nowhere near fluent in German. But we try and are learning slowly. In theory, it softens up the locals when you attempt the language. And you don't know how satisfying it is when we happen to be eavesdropping on a conversation, and totally understand what the people are talking about. Hubs and I are realistic that we may never become fluent enough to carry on a conversation about politics or something along those lines, but we are hopeful to be able to communicate more effectively with the locals during our time here.
3) It'll test your relationships
Living in a different country not only tests your relationship with the person you're with, but of those you left behind. It’s a difficult adjustment for all involved. Those strong bonds you had back home that you were so worried would deteriorate? They've become stronger, but different. They're the ones that you know that no matter how much time has passed, you can count on them the moment you get back to your "old life". Those that weren't that great to begin with? Well, you know what happens. They fizzled as soon as the flight took off.
I'm so thankful for emails/Skype/Facebook/etc. It has helped me, personally, to keep in touch with those I hold dear.
4) Explore and get to know your new city
So you moved across the world to a new city right? Don't just sit on your ass and expect things to happen. Go out and be proactive! I am the last person you'd think would go do just that. I was a homebody back stateside, except for when we traveled or went to an occasional movie. Now that we're living IN a city, we do so much more. We go to the Opera, concerts, take in the theatre and museums, and little side trips out of of town, etc. It helps us stay sane and distracts us from homesickness.
5) Try to make new friends
I don't mean to keep bashing on the locals, but they are just a bunch of grumps! For instance, Hubs and I were on a tram and were getting up because our stop was next. The tram was packed and I had nothing to hold onto but Hubs' arm. The tram made a sudden halt and I went flying and bumped into a lady. It was like the end of the world for her. She made such a commotion about it, even after I apologized. As if I did it on purpose...the nerve of that woman. There are many other instances of encounters with the locals that make me lose a little more faith in these people each time.Occasionally, there are glimmers of hope as well, but they are far outnumbered by negative experiences. I haven't give up on trying to integrate with these people, yet.
So what is an expat to do? Make friends with other expats. It's essential. You already have a bond and you just build on that. Hubs and I are grateful for all the expats we've met and become friends with.
6) This experience will change you
Once you step off that plane on the other side, your life as you know it is forever changed. It's hard to explain, but Hubs and I are not the same people as we were anymore. Like I've mentioned before, I was never one to take risks or do anything extreme in my life prior to becoming an expat. Everyday, we see and learn new things. We grow and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our relationship. Vacationing to see and experience other cultures gives you a taste of what’s out there, and then before you know it, you’re back in your comfort bubble. Our comfort bubble is still a few years away, we have to attempt to soak in the culture and everything that comes with it. I know it’s hard to convey this, but as an adult it is incredibly hard at times to understand cultural differences. Resistance to cultural adaptation, however, will leave you feeling lonely and defeated. This isn’t a long-term vacation, it’s a commitment to reset your life to zero. Just as a child would learn how the world works around him/her, that’s where you start from. It’s ever growing, changing, enriching, and transformative. You discover your inner resiliency and things about yourself you didn’t know were possible.