10 October 2013

The Importance of Taking Chances as an Expat

While puttering around the house this morning, I was suddenly struck by something that may seem obvious to most people: As an expat it is very important, essential even, that you take chances.

As I said, this may seem obvious. By definition, an expat is someone that has left their home country and started a life someplace new - you have to be willing to take a chance to do such a thing. But after a few moments of reflection this morning I started to realize just how much more often you need to leave your comfort zone living abroad when compared to living at "home." If you want to create any sense of "normal" in your new home then you have to try new things and act in different ways. We've become pretty comfortable living in the Netherlands partly because of the chances we've taken. These are some of the ways we've been taking chances:

Reaching out to make friends. Making new friends as an adult is just automatically harder. As a kid, you have lots of people of similar age around you in school, and this group occasionally changes as you move into new classes or take on new after school activities. Unless you join all sorts of clubs as an adult, this can be harder. When moving abroad, it becomes a bit trickier just because you move into an (extremely) different environment, so you have to be willing to "put yourself out there." I've established some wonderful friendships here in the Netherlands by nervously composing an introductory email and closing my eyes while I hit "send" or by hurriedly blurting out an invitation of a play date to other moms at school. These blind attempts really pushed me out of my comfort zone but I am so glad I did. (I'm equally glad that some of my other friends took the chance on me by being the first to "make a move.")

Communicating. Communicating in general has been an interesting adjustment. We're fortunate that so many people in the Netherlands speak fluent English - but it's not something that I want to rely on forever. That's where learning the Dutch language comes into play. I never expected as an adult to take formal language lessons, but here I am. While learning anything can at times be difficult and frustrating, for me learning a new language has been one of the most challenging things I've done. It's been one of the most frustrating because I often feel unable to accurately express myself or understand what's being said - but I'm happy to say that I can tell that I'm (slowly) improving, and if nothing else, I've found a new appreciation for the language acquisition and frustrations Little Man has experienced as a toddler learning to speak.

The omnipresent threat of getting lost. I wasn't gifted with a natural sense of direction, and I hope accurately reading a map never becomes a life and death situation. Moving to any new city beings a learning curve of figuring out the streets and landmarks; but in a place where street names don't register as anything recognizable (there's no Main Street around here), street signs come in new shapes/symbols/languages, and asking for/receiving directions is challenging at best, finding your way around becomes quite the undertaking. That hasn't stopped us from going out, though. We're fortunate to have smart phones with maps/GPS built in, but even before we got them, we'd just head out and hope for the best with scribbled directions from Google maps. With time, we've figured out how to get around but I find myself heavily reliant on the little moving arrow on my phone's map.

Using the local schools. There is an option of an English-speaking international school, but we wanted to give Little Man the opportunity to become bilingual, make local friends, and to feel less "foreign" as he grows up. We've experienced a bit of the Dutch educational system through the peuterspeelzaal, but as Little Man transitions to the kleuterschool in the next few weeks, this will be a whole new set of learning experiences for all of us.

In general, I think a lot of what we've done has just been plunging ahead while hoping for the best - but it's worked out pretty well. No matter where you are you can't just sit at home and let life pass you by, but when you have the opportunity to live in a different country it seems like a real waste not to take part in what's happening around you. You might as well just take the chance.

What kind of chances have you taken?


  1. Having kids with on our expat adventure definitely helped me make friends. I am not outgoing, in fact I am probably the opposite, but having the kids forced me into situations where I met other moms in the same boat... In general, moving was only the first of many plunges we took, things as simple as going to a new supermarket for the first time, or a doctors appointment each provided a brand new set of challenges. I think you've got a great handle on it!

  2. Thanks! Having Little Man definitely opens up the possibilities of friendships - it's been great to know that there are other people that are dealing with the same child-related things, and just making it through the daily chores in another language.

  3. LOL, people watching has so many benefits - and is so much more interesting when you come at it from a different cultural understanding.

  4. I think it's awesome that you put LM in a Dutch school and that you're learning the language. I also think that while this is obvious it's understated and rarely mentioned so I'm so glad you wrote this. Expats have to get out of their comfort zone almost daily just to learn the ways of their new life. I have to see a specialist for my illness and I just took a chance with this neurologist here. Well in Germany all neurologists are also psychiatrists. I have to say it was like something out of a scifi movie. I'm told we just picked a crazy guy and I'll have to try again. But....that's expat life. Lol We took pictures and laughed about it and we will try again.


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