27 January 2014

The Expat Experience: The Every Day Experience

For many months, I was joining up on Mondays with Molly at The Move to America for her Monday link up to reflect on the previous week and set goals for the upcoming week. For 2014, Molly has started a great new Monday link up called The Expat Experience. I'm finally organized enough to start linking up with her again!

The Move to America


Today's theme is the Every Day Experience as an expat. In many ways, my life as an expat isn't much different from my life in the States. I think that many times, just saying that you live in another country automatically brings exotic images to the minds of people back home - of different looking foods, different looking fashions, and crazy travel stories. But really, "normal" life is still the norm. There's piles of laundry to get through, meals to cook, kids to transport, a home to clean, and a job to go to. At times, life can still feel monotonous and unexciting. And that in itself can be comforting - "home" is really about what you make it rather than where it physically stands.

But the every day in the Netherlands means that "normal" is still different from "normal" in Chicago. Now my trips outside the house involve reading, thinking, and speaking in Dutch. I'd never really put all that much effort into learning another language past high school (aside from occasional bursts of optimism at picking up French again) - and now it's a matter of convenience to know a second language and I feel better for actively learning something that takes so much effort. The Little Man will talk your ear off in a mixture of English and Dutch, something that wouldn't have happened if we stayed in America. This may make it easier for him to learn yet another language as he gets older, but for now it makes it easier for him to be a "normal" kid at school and in the neighborhood. And yes, we do get to travel more often than we did in the States. But all these things come from an increased sense that we should not waste the opportunity we have right now. We have the opportunity to learn another language and we have the opportunity of making easy trips that would be far more expensive to make from the US. Even when we start to feel the monotony of normal life, it's easier to break out of it by just thinking, "There's plenty we haven't seen even locally. Let's just go out!"

So, what's the take away message here when adjusting to your new expat life?

1. Become more of a "do-er" - Living in a new country presents so many more opportunities. Don't let them pass by, because who knows how long they will last or when the next will come along. Exploring the neighborhood or a neighboring town/state/country will all show you something new.
2. If you live among a different language, give it a shot - learning a new language isn't easy, but even picking up a little bit is worth it and makes life feel so much easier when you don't have to struggle at the store or when navigating the trains. And for kids, it can help them feel like they belong.
3. Despite the opportunities and changes, don't be afraid of experiencing the old "normal" - this may seem contradictory to my other points, but laundry, cooking, bills, and work all still exist, and that's okay. These are normal parts of life no matter where you are, and these don't have to hold you back from taking advantage of your new opportunities.

What's your take on the "every day expat experience"?

11 comments:

  1. So true! When you tell people you are going to live abroad, the exotoc life springs to mind, but it is all just a normal life, with a slightly different twist!
    Loved your advice - especially the one about becoming a 'do-er'. I think I need to do more of that myself!

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  2. Give yourself time to adjust-I think this goes for any move, whether it's across the state or across the world. I wish I had been kinder to myself and not beaten myself up for not fitting in seamlessly within like 3 months-so unrealistic!

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  3. With a slightly different twist - exactly!
    And it's so easy to be more of a "do-er" - really you can just start by exploring the neighborhood, and I think you've done a good job of that already, Molly. =)

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  4. You do know the "very very" basics, though, and that's more than some people. And you've got your kids in a Dutch school which I think is a huge step in that direction, especially when there are English speaking international schools so close.
    And I hope that extension comes through - for a lot of reasons! =)

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  5. Oh, that's a huge one. It's so easy to be hard on yourself for not fitting in right away - but when you're totally uprooted from where you started and don't know the language you definitely need a lot of time!

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  6. Anything is better than nothing! Do not beat yourself up. Did you not hear the part about all of the everyday stuff... Mrs. got 3 boys? xx

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  7. I am sure it will be much easier for him to learn more languages, I think it is a way of conditioning the brain as I see how easily my husband switches between them and can pick up phrases with no problem that take me ages.

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  8. It's definitely a good skill to have, especially in an increasingly globalized world

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  9. Sara (@mumturnedmom)01 February, 2014 01:05

    In so many ways, this sums up my view of our time in the US - although language isn't (such!) an issue. I feel very strongly that we need to embrace the adventure of it - the day to day can so easily take over, and we have such a fabulous opportunity to make the most of our time here. But, there is great comfort in the normal still being normal :) #ExpatLinkUp

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  10. Yes - no matter where you are, there's something new and exciting to do, but it is nice to know you can retain some comfort of the routine in the midst of it. =)

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