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.
THIS SONG IS IT. ALL OF IT.
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!