"Seems like you've been everywhere!" It sounds a bit admiring, and it almost makes me uncomfortable. I stare at my coffee. "I've been around a bit, yes...", I mumble embarrassed. I really don't want to show off with my stories about moving and living abroad. But it's not quite normal and ordinary to live in three different countries in a short time of just three years – and to pack your bags again and again.
I don't want to be the one person who starts every second sentence with: "Back then when I was living in Africa...". Nobody wants to hang around those kinds of people. It is a fact though, that many of my memories and friendships have been made abroad. I still have boxes of things scattered on my grandma's attic and my parents' basement without even knowing what's in there. I live in furnished apartments and I am far from buying my own paintings, furniture, or kitchen appliances. Even though some of my household stuff has moved in with us after the wedding.
Sometimes I feel as if I've done something wrong with my expatriation when I see bloggers who move abroad quickly and just sublet their apartment just to move into an even more stylish one at their new home address. How do you do this? Where is all this stuff coming from? When I look at the real expats though who have made a life for themselves in another country, I feel like an amateur as well. I am somehow in the middle. I'm not a digital nomad because I have a home base I can always come back to. I am not a proper expatriate because it was always clear to me that I won't stay in the country I moved to forever. But I am not at home in Germany anymore either. So what am I? It's confusing at frustrating at times, let me tell you this.
So if you are still eager to move abroad after my ramblings, read ahead!
As I will tell you now, unadorned and honestly, what challenges and advantages expat life really brings.
1 〉 Break free from old patterns
Do you know what I'm saying when I say that sometimes, your childhood hometown can feel like a prison? Living in the same place for a very long time also means that people put you in a box. This is how you are and what you are – and the longer you stay there, the more people see you a certain way. And it doesn't matter if you have changed from the little girl who cried in second grade, because she was afraid of Santa Claus or the teenager that secretly smoked behind the bushes in the sixth grade. When you feel stuck it's time to go because sometimes distancing is the only thing that can bring change. Emotional and physical distance that is.
2 〉 Living where others go on holidays
Oh yes, that super romantic idea of living in paradise... let me tell youIt's true! It is great to wake up every morning to a bright blue sky. The sea and the mountains at my doorstep gave me an incredible amount of energy in Cape Town. And even though everyday life in paradise is no different than in Germany, I think you will always appreciate those beautiful surroundings a bit more than the average local. Just because you didn't grow up with them.
3 〉 A home away from home
Dieses This home-away-from-home feeling is perhaps the greatest thing about living abroad for me. It is truly wonderful to have more than one place that feels like a welcoming home to you. To call several people family, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or what language their mother tongue is, is a very precious gift that I could only receive by leaving home.
4 〉 Getting to know a country for real
Traveling-to-a-place energy and living-in-a-place energy are two fundamentally different energies, that's what Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in "Eat Pray Love" and she is very right about that. There is a huge difference between just browsing Czech souvenir shops and having to go to the doctor for the first time and not understanding anything. It's different to visit a Christmas market in Prague or to see people buying alive carp on the market the day before Christmas and keeping them in the bathtub for another 24 hours until they land on their plates. Nothing is more exciting and makes you a more tolerant person than to really live in another culture and get to know it.
5 〉 The freedom to move on anytime
Moving to a new city or a new country is not an addiction like cigarettes or tattoos but there is something addictive about it. I know people who never stay in one place for more than two or three years and then it's time for them to move on. Meeting new people, exploring a new city, discovering a new country – you may call it an addiction or just call it being free from what used to be holding you back. You are free to move at any time. You did it once, you can do it a second time.
1 〉 Making new friends
Ja, ja, ich habe gesagt, dass man ein wunderschönes Zuhause weg von Zuhause findet, wenn man auswandert. Das stimmt auch. Aber wenn man wie ich ein eher introvertierter Typ ist, der viel Zeit mit sich selbst braucht und den große Menschengruppen immer irgendwie uneasy machen, dann kann es manchmal ganz schön anstrengend werden, neue Freundschaften zu schließen. Und die braucht man, wenn der Uber-Driver und der Pick’n’Pay-Kassierer nicht die einzige Personen sein sollen, mit denen man am Wochenende redet.
2 〉 Being broke... a lot
Moving is expensive! And moving abroad even more so, there is no denying that. And it's not just the flight tickets, your deposit for the new home and all the new furniture you need to buy. There are travel insurance, health insurance, retirement funds, and other insurances you didn't think about right away. Next is the immensely high phone bill because of all the countless WhatsApp video calls good old Germany and of course the fact that in paradise the wages are often not so paradisiacal... good old Germany und natürlich der Fakt, dass im Paradies die Löhne oft nicht so paradiesisch sind…
3 〉 Losing old friendships
Yeah, it's sad - and it happens. I haven't been able to keep in close contact with all my friends. Some friends I just didn't miss that much - some friends didn't miss me that much. It sounds mean, but growing apart with people that were once dear to you is part of life. And even if it sounds super cliché: The relationships that are really deep and real, they stay - even if you leave!
4 〉 Not being at home anywhere
It's true what they say: You will never feel at home in your old home again. Partly because you won't fit in anymore and partly because your heart simply is somewhere else. This is what happens when you know people in more than one place.
5 〉 The language barrier is real
Honestly, many people break out in a sweat at the thought of having to go to the pharmacy when they are on holiday. Even worse: to the doctor. Now just think that this is what you have to do every day. Those routine check-ups at the dentist and gynecologist now take place in a different language, you have to do your taxes, open a bank account, deal with the visa authorities and live with an even more confusing bureaucracy than the German one in most countries. Yep, this is one of those times when living abroad is no fun at all!
6 〉 Homesickness is a bitch
And one that sneaks up on you from behind whenever you least expect it. Maybe it's just a Facebook reminder, a nice message from an old friend, or a moment you'd love to share with someone from home. And the tears start flowing. You better get used to it. Get used to it.
7 〉Having no pets
This one is very individual and personal but: I would love to have a pet. I grew up with cats, horses, and dogs. Animals have always been part of my life. However, it is hard to always be on the move AND have a pet. I don't want to stress myself or my pet. And so I will have to wait until a little kitty jumps through my kitchen... maybe even forever. And I am not okay with that! Not okay with that.
As you can see, there are probably more challenges than real advantages. When you look at it from an objective view. One thing I am absolutely certain of though:
I don't regret a single day of the last two years!
I don't regret the tears, the homesickness, or the annoyances with authorities. I've met some wonderful people abroad. I have learned to pack all my belongings in three days (very useful!), I have lost the fear of meeting new people (even more useful!) and I have found love (cliché but it happened!). Living abroad has made me more tolerant and at the same time more unyielding - towards injustice, racism, and stupid, inappropriate political world views.
It has taught me an incredible amount about myself and I enjoy learning more about this person I have become and the world we live in every day.