Expativersary: 5 Things I’ve Learned As An Expat

by farrah on October 25, 2013 · 14 comments

Thanks for joining me again in this reflection of our past year, our ‘Expativersary‘. I’ve enjoyed looking back on everything we’ve done and learned and hope that years from now this little blog will have survived the technology apocalypse and I can read back at all of these adventures. Today is day 5, and the official one year of stepping out of Schiphol bleary-eyed and bewildered is just around the corner- on the 30th.


Today I am thinking long and hard about five things that I’ve learned as an expat. Some surprised me, others not so much. Either way these are things that I have learned and not necessarily what ALL expats have learned. We are temporary expats, while some are serial expats. I don’t think that would be the life for us, so for now I try to appreciate each day as it comes and hope that when this is all over and we’re back on American soil I’m a better human being for it.

Home is where my kids and my husband are.

It is no secret to my family and friends back home that I am not one to get homesick. It’s not that I’m a jerk, or missing a gene, it’s simply that I have always enjoyed my own company and now- of course, the company of my offspring and the love of my life. Home to me is where THEY are. Where they go to sleep at night is where I want to sleep at night. My heart is warmed by them and the surroundings aren’t important. The structure of my home doesn’t define us or say anything other than ‘this is where my heart is’. Bottom line above all things- they are home.

The kind of person I was before shaped me for this.

Without a sense of desire to live outside of my comfort zone, this adventure never would have happened. When I was little, I had no desire to move anywhere outside of what I though of as safe. For some reason though, I always found myself in situations that I happened upon accidentally and forced me to be brave. The earliest example I can think of was when I started school. I was in the first grade and accidentally went with the wrong class on a field trip.

Growing up- I started thinking about how BIG the world was, and how it was important to see these places in person that I had heard so much about. I moved around a bit in my twenties- and held firm onto the dream that someday I would see Europe. In the end, I think that being someone who gets antsy in the same routine after a while has prepared me for this role. Good, bad or otherwise, the person I was before this experience gave me the inner strength and desire to see this through- and thus far enjoy the hell out of it. Thankfully- I have found the same in my partner.

Being different is ok. It’s supposed to be that way.

There’s a startling difference in the way things are done over here. For example, I have had conversations with other expat friends of mine and we have talked about how customer service is a completely different experience over here. You go into a store- rarely, if ever, are you approached by an employee and asked if you need assistance. Furthermore, my husband has told me how his boss says that Americans have this crazy standard for customer service. We’re over the top. I am someone with a long line of restaurant, retail and teacher background (because really, aren’t teachers masters of customer service?) and the idea of courtesy and helpfulness in ingrained in me. It’s a little like cold water thrown in your face when you’re ignored in Europe.

I could say how awful, rude, etc. this aspect is- but in reality that is just not the way here. I respect that. It has given me moments to pause and reflect upon our own society and the way others see us. It’s not a bad thing by any means- but it’s a difference in culture. While the world is still not completely the same, it’s something to experience most definitely. The important part (I think) is not to be offended- just realize that it’s different. End of story.

Be open-minded, adventurous and brave or go home.

You simply cannot move to another country and have a positive experience if you are just going to sit there and a) compare everything to the way things are done at home and b) refuse to see life through the eyes of another culture. Yes, it’s scary. You tend to see things that aren’t so flattering about yourself and possibly where you came from- that’s reality. If you’re not desiring to have an adventure in any way- don’t bother. Eating, shopping, even dressing will be different. If you can’t accept or tolerate new changes or ideas, being and expat is not for you. I’ve always thought this to be true in my mind- but living it has made it an absolute reality.

Kids are more flexible than we know.

In a million years I had no idea the boys would take to this experience as well as they have. I’ve written at length my observation of school, friendships and personal happiness of the kids. They have blown my mind and overall the most exciting thing about the past year for me. Trust them. They know what they’re doing and they can probably handle more than you think they can.

Bonus #6: Don’t worry about it ending. Be thankful that it happened at all.

Yes, I know, this is a twist on that famous quote most often associated with romantic relationships coming to an end. But this is so true. I am, by nature- a worrier. I have always worried about everything from early on and way back. It has been a true test of my resolve to NOT worry about whatever we’re doing coming to an end. Be it a road trip to France, this expat experience as a whole- or childhood. I am not going to mourn the loss of something just because it is morphing into something else. I’m working on it- constantly reminding myself, and it’s hard. But I try.

My husband just reminded me- it goes by FAST. As of now our assignment ends a year from now. That makes me sad, but I’m still hopeful that we get an extension. Whatever the case- coming back will be a whole new adventure I’m sure.


I hope you have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend. I’m still pontificating away until the 30th, so hope I haven’t bored you too much as of yet!


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ace October 25, 2013 at 8:34 am

This is a perfect list! I especially love #4 and #5. When you make the choice to do something like this you can make the choice to leave if its not working out. Either keep taking the chance or don’t, but don’t whine about it. And the things your boys have already taken on at their ages! You can’t help but be blown away by it.


2 farrah October 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

Same to you. Did you ever think our kids would handle it so well? I wonder what your thoughts were about it before coming over here.


3 Ann October 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

Well… #1 made me cry (or at least tear up).

Thanks a lot. 🙂

I agree with you. When I’m thrown in the hardest of days, I try to remember a lot of what you said.


4 farrah October 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hard days can be very, very hard. But then again- easy days sometimes bore me.. I suspect the same for you 🙂


5 Olga @The EuropeanMama October 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

Oh wow, love that post!I feel the same way you do- I could have written a similar post! Pinned the song to my Songs for Expats Pinterest board!


6 farrah October 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

It’s a great song. Too bad some insurance company ruined it in the US by using it for their commercial. Here’s hoping people who haven’t seen it hear it just for what it is 🙂


7 Gayla October 25, 2013 at 11:03 am

I like this post, Farrah. You’ve got a great way of hitting the thoughts that are tumbling around in my brain. Uncanny. I’m a worrier, too, and it really is hard to stop.
I’ve accepted some cultural differences from the beginning (like not being approached by sales clerks in a store, waiting patiently in lines, and that tipping servers isn’t expected or required, since everyone pretty much earns a living wage – gotta love that!), but one difference I had to force myself to accept is the fact that after 5 years, I still dress like an American 😉


8 farrah October 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

How do us worriers do things like this? Isn’t that a crazy thought?
As for dressing- I have embraced the scarf, constant boots and smaller jackets. The rest, not so much. Oh and the raincoat! I did buy a nice one!


9 Karla October 25, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I guess it’s my European bloodlines coming out in me when I go into stores. I can’t stand the door greeters and the people offering to help every 10 seconds in stores. I just want to go in, get what I need and be left alone. I know I sound grumpy in the post but you know that I’m not an unpleasant person. I just get exhausted saying hello to a bunch of strangers when I go shopping, particularly at the mall.


10 Leigh Ann October 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm

What an amazing list. And I love that song, one of my faves. I always have that initial fear when doing something new, where I kind of look around, don’t see anything familiar, and dart out back to safety as soon as possible. But I love the idea of throwing yourself into something and really having no choice about going back (at least right away).

And doesn’t this make you wonder what in the world you blogged about before?


11 Mrs. Chasing the Donkey October 30, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I saved all your post notifications this week until I had time to sit and read them in peace. WOW. Just WOW. If they are all as good as this one you deserve a medal.
First of all, I agree on enjoying your own company. I actually think that’s it’s a requirement to being an expat – at least at first.
Second – I want to know more about this field trip you took with the wrong class.
Third – there is not enough space for me comment on it all – WE MUST find a way to meet up before your assignment ends. After Xmas / NY we must make some plans of some kind. LOVED THIS POST. xx


12 marret February 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Love to read youre blog! i myself live in spain near Valencia and i’m from oisterwijk..!! I found youre blog at the time i was moving to spain..and you were moving to Holland..;) as i’m having my adventures here in spain ,i really enjoy reading yours. sometimes with a bit of feeling jealous…but aswell proud you’re liking my town,ofcourse! And reading the 5 things you’ve learned as an expad..i can relate to it..especially the acceptance of the diferents..what learning experiences we get!!! and awkward moments..haha..i had my share of doing things not the spanish way..;) thank you for sharing youre story! For me it feels a bit like home!x


13 farrah February 7, 2014 at 6:26 am

Hi Marret! Thank you so much for the kind words. Yes, I absolutely LOVE Oisterwijk. I do, and we just accepted to extend until 2017 🙂 Do you still have family here?

And Spain! How lovely- I’ve heard great things about Valencia. I’ve only been to the Costa Brava region- so we hope to see more while we can.

Thank you so much for popping in and saying hi 🙂


14 marret February 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm

yes,Valencia and alicante (i live in between, place calledJavea) is beautifull!you should really see it one time! And you have enough time! 😉 2017!! All my family and friends live in oisterwijk, or nearby!!so we visit 3/4 times a year( just 2 hours flight) well, thank you for responding! Enjoy the dutchies!!;)


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