Any expats in da house? Choosing the expat way of life is becoming more and more popular while the world is getting smaller and smaller. We can travel around the entire planet in just couple days. That’s incredible when you think of it! So, I thought I’d record some firm facts, born from my 10 years’ worth of experience, on what it’s really like living as an expat.
First up, let’s set the record straight: whether living as an expat suits you or not depends largely on your personality and life values. There are people who choose the expat life and return home after 6 months with their tail between their legs. And then there are us who need a bloody good reason to justify going back.
Expat life can be lonely, or it can be most social and active. Expat life can be frustrating, or it can be the most educating experience you’ll ever encounter in your life. Expat life can be uncertain, or it can be an exiting adventure worth talking about and looking back to every day for the rest of your life.
Like everything in life, it all depends largely on your attitude. How you decide to live your life, what things you decide to focus on, and what things really matter the most to you at the end of the day.
I’m a bit on an extreme expat: most expats settle in one country, build families and careers, and that’s it. For the past 10 years I’ve moved country pretty much every 2 years. Right now I’m on my 3rd year in Estonia, and I’ve been very restless for a long time. I’d love nothing more than to leave.
But due to different circumstances I’m stuck here for now. And I have to make it work for me. I’m not currently in a country I particularly like, the climate is hell, and living costs don’t correspond with salaries, but I will make the most of it.
I’m not going to lie, some days life is pretty tough. But on such days I can decide to wallow on my miserable circumstances, or I can take a look around and admit that actually everything’s alright. I have a job I love, I have friends, and I’m able to travel. Do I really need much more?
I chose the expat life (or the expat life chose me) because there were no jobs available back at home. I had also never wanted to stay in Finland in the first place. So, the joblessness prompted me to take action and I’m still on that journey.
Here’s what I’ve learned, and what you should know if you’re considering a life as an expat:
7 Things You Didn’t Know About Living As An Expat
Grass Can Be Greener On The Other Side
I was born in a cold country, but I’m someone who can’t handle coldness. My skin dries off, my muscles ache, and my mood plummets when temperature drops under 20 Celsius. So, it was pretty clear to me from a young age that I wasn’t going to stay.
Another issue was my personality: I don’t know how, but anyone who knows me would rather describe me as an Italian than ever a Finn. I’m loud, I wave all my limbs when I talk, and I simply won’t shut up. I’m not particularly humble, I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of me, and I push forwards no matter who stands on my way.
So, I sometimes felt thoroughly unwelcome in my own home country. At the age of 15 I attended a language course in Brighton, England, and that made it clear to me that I’m better off somewhere else.
While for me it was about being able to be myself that initially prompted me to F off, for others it’s often a job that takes them abroad, an opportunity that they simply couldn’t get where they live. Or it can be love. Or a holiday that somehow extends indefinitely.
There are as many reasons as there are expats. But doesn’t the fact that they never returned tell you that grass really can be much greener elsewhere?
Living As An Expat Stimulates Your Brain
I love to learn, to get new perspectives to familiar issues, and to see and experience as much as I possibly can. In my opinion, the meaning of life is to live a life worth living.
For me that means creating memories and stories worth telling. I’ve always loved fairy tales and adventure stories, so I guess it’s natural that I wanted my life to be an adventure as well. I’m also someone who gets bored easily: bored of men, bored of scenery, bored of the ordinariness of our everyday lives.
But when you move abroad, you have a plethora of things your need to figure out and come into terms with in regards to culture and customs. Even Scandinavian countries, being as similar as can be, are all different culturally and in how things are done.
Adjusting to a new culture is such an eye-opening experience. You find new ways to do things, and often find yourself going “Wow, that’s so much better a way than how we do that at home!”
You also start to understand that we’re all different on this planet, but at the end of the day we’re all exactly the same, despite culture, religion, and situations in life. We all want and need the same things, and we all search for happiness. It’s a consoling realization.
You Create An Invaluable Circle Of Friends And Contacts
Everybody needs friends. And in many cases in the professional world today everyone needs contacts. Sometimes family can’t get you that dream job, you need to have a larger social circle.
I started my expat life studying in Aberdeen, Scotland, from there moved to work in London, and from there moved to work in Slovakia. Every single city, school and job I’ve attended has brought me together with people I can still, after 10 years, contact for help or questions on all kinds of matters. But staying in Finland I would’ve missed out in all the AMAZING people I met in the aforementioned 3 cities alone.
But more important than any professional contact, are all the friendships I’ve made. These are people who accepted me exactly as I am, which was something that I struggled with back home. They’re just as crazy as I am, they’re not judgmental or superficial, and they don’t pretend.
My circle of friends would be so small if I had stayed in Finland. But now my circle of good friends spreads all over Europe, and even to America. No matter how long I go without seeing or talking to those people, I know for 100 per cent certainty that they are there when I go over or need them.
My safety net is so large that no matter what happens, I will be alright. And having a safety net is exactly what makes the foundation of having a successful life as an expat. There’s no need to be afraid when you know there’s something to fall back on.
You Become More Aware Of Your Home Country And Culture
Both, in good and in bad. When you learn about a new culture, and how things are done differently elsewhere, you notice a lot of things that are done much better. But you also bump into things that make so much more sense back at home.
Whether it’s public transportation running on time (I’ve never been in a country where this was a problem), food stores being organized in a certain way, or cars driving on the wrong side of the road, you pay attention to little everyday things that you would never notice otherwise.
I’ll be honest, I literally hated Finland when I moved out of there. I felt like the country as a whole had always treated me like shit because I’m so different, and they could all just suck it! After living abroad for so long, that view has somewhat softened up.
Especially Slovakia, which is a very Catholic country, brought home to me how many things is Finland are so very, very well. Things like society ruthlessly pushing on girls to become wives and mothers, and that resulting in serious self-respect issues and disrespect towards our gender, by men as much as women.
But once you understand the culture and why things are the way they are, you’re able to live with that fact. That doesn’t mean that you’d have to accept it all, not at all. But it actually isn’t your place to tell anyone that their decisions in life are wrong. And vice versa.
And at the same time so many things in Slovakia are so much better than in Finland: for example the feeling of community, people caring and looking after each other. The overall generosity and hospitality of Eastern European people versus Western European people is something I miss immensely.
In the West we’re so bloody selfish. All of us! And it pisses me off. But that’s a different story.
Being Free Of Useless Society Expectations
Perhaps this doesn’t apply for everyone, but I’ve noticed that much less pressure is put on the expats in regards to life choices, than what goes on with people who settle where they were born.
None of my expat friends get asked by their family and friends about when they will start a family. Our adventure-party-chill lifestyle is not questioned like it would be if we lived back home. I know that if I had stayed in Finland I would be reminded every now and then that I’m 30 and single.
It’s funny how still in 2019 it seems like an unfathomable scenario that a 30-year-old might actually be happy single. And that that 30-year-old has no intention of having children to slow them down. We only live once, for heaven’s sake. Let me have this one AWESOME life.
And they do let me. Because I make my own choices in life, just like I made the choice to move away on my own. Because I’ve made a bloody big success out of it all! I’m happier than I would be, I’m more experienced than I could be, and I’m more independent and confident than would’ve been possible if I had stayed.
Learning About Yourself And What You’re Capable Of
Continuing from that, living as an expat means that you have to tackle situations and problems on the way that you might never need to encounter back at home. Each surprise situation teaches you something particularly about yourself.
At the end of the day it’s incredible what we’re all capable of! And so few of us get to ever realize that. Living as an expat you have no choice but to realize it. Especially as a relatively small and (physically) weak woman it has been so empowering to realize how much I can do and achieve.
As an expat you are forced to learn to adapt, and you do learn to adapt better than anyone else. When troubles strike, you only have yourself to rely on, and guess what? That’s enough!
You also notice what your ultimate pressure points are and what things in life actually matter and which don’t. I can reveal to y’all the main points that I’ve learned about what matters and what doesn’t:
- Nobody makes decisions for you, you need to make them yourself.
- Nobody will take that first step for you, you need to take it.
- Nobody knows you like you do, and thus nobody’s entitled for an opinion about you, other than you.
- Nobody lives your life as well as you do. So bloody well live it!
The ultimate fact in life, as well as in expat life, is that your attitude will make or break. If you choose to focus on the negatives and on everything that’s wrong in your life, you deserve the bitterness and resentment that comes with it.
Whereas if you choose to find even the smallest positives in a bad situation and learn to appreciate the little things in life, congratulations, you have just cracked the code for happiness.
Living as an expat shaped a stubborn, resentful girl into a more open, more flexible, more patient and more intelligent woman. What more could I ask for?
I’m still learning new things about the world around me as well as myself every day living as an expat. And I love it! Perhaps I’m biased but I would recommend expat life, even if just for one year, for everyone. It’s a growth experience like nothing else. And it’s so beautiful in so many ways.
Would you agree, my fellow expat? Or are you someone who didn’t find expat life quite that enjoyable? I’d love to hear about your experiences, or if there’s someone teetering on the edge of whether or not to go for it! ♥
Follow me on Instagram and use #styleoutlandish to showcase your style! I’m always on the lookout for outfit inspiration.