Advice To My Pre-Expat Self

You know, I realize that I don’t write that much about being an expat. You don’t see envious travel pictures from me weekly. I don’t write that often about all of the great things here in Germany or complain too much (except for this time). If I had to give a reason as to why, I could sum it up in just a few words: being an expat is hard. expat advice

As most of you know, I only moved to Germany in May, so we are coming up on my 6 month anniversary this week. We moved overseas in a pretty unconventional manner; no jobs, very little belongings and a one year old. We have family here and we did have a place to live, but we started over. ALL OVER. On top of the stress of that, I was learning an entirely new cultural system. I had lived here before so the culture was familiar, but the system (insurance, housing, day-to-day stuff) was all new. I had no ties to the American military base (aside from some friends I still have here). So this was the real deal.

That being said, it’s hard to write about some of my experiences right now. Many of my days are spent just on every day life and trying to get settled. We are still climbing up that big hill rebuilding our life.

So, when I saw this month’s Expat Q&A from Belinda and Bailie, I thought it so appropriate! I have joined in before, but haven’t in a while as the prompts didn’t necessarily fit into my life. Boy, do these questions fit! M and I actually had a conversation about these things last night!

Be Patient. Be Kind. I am an impatient person by nature and looking back, I would have told myself to be patient and kind. I was (and still am) very hard on myself and just expect so much to happen so quickly. I knew it would be different this time, but I didn’t realize it would be THIS different. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my decision and I still know it was the best decision for our family. I just had no clue how overwhelming it would all be, especially having a toddler. So many other things to worry about and take into consideration when you have a little one in tow. Plus, when you have children as part of this expat equation, there is very little time to decompress from the brain overload you experience when suddenly being immersed into another culture. So, I would be kind….kinder to myself. I can look back and see that girl struggling so much  to get everything right the first time and then beating herself up when she didn’t. It’s not necessary. It’s not needed. You don’t have to learn everything at once and it is just not possible anyway. The language barrier will be a struggle and it is hard to learn, but you will get there. You won’t know what to buy at the grocery store, what to buy at the drugstore, where to find the things you need, but eventually, you will. So, be kind to yourself. It’s going to be hard, don’t make it harder. 

This is such a great question and one that I think makes most of us expats feel better knowing that everyone else is just living life also! When you dream about moving to another country, it’s only natural to romanticize it. I dreamt of walking along the river, going to the bakery daily for fresh bread and pastry and having more time with M. It’s close to that, but as I mentioned, we are so busy trying to rebuild that it takes precedence over other things. It has to and that’s just life.

We have to rebuild our home so we have clothes, furniture, appliances. We have to buy vehicles to get around. We have to make doctor appointments and buy clothes for our ever-growing little boy. Rebuilding our life and taking care of our son come first. If there is any time or energy (or opportunity) left, then it is for us. And honestly, that is how I reconcile it. I have moments of disappointment where I wish there was more fun and excitement, but then I remind myself we did this. This was a choice and no one made us start our lives over. It will take time and this is only temporary. As the saying goes, “Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle”. We just aren’t there yet and that’s okay. Someday, we will be in our middle and someone else will be just starting, looking at us and feeling how we do now.

Found Love.  Now What?

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12 Responses to Advice To My Pre-Expat Self

  1. j0aninja says:

    Taking the language course has brought on some moments of pure panic. “OH GOD I WILL NEVER LEARN THIS LANGUAGE PROPERLY” and then I stop and think “Joana, you’re at the A1 level, you WILL be fine, and You will be able to speak”

    I think when we first arrive we probably set the bar to high for ourselves. We need to remember more often that people are feeling the same way you feel at this very moment. Glad I read this, because the past week I have had so many “panic” moments. HUGS!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this and that it resonated with you. I’m sure you’re doing better than you think you are with the class! Comparison really is a joy thief but it’s so hard not to compare sometimes!


  2. Allison says:

    I can totally commiserate as I do some of the exact same things. I always think I should be learning things more quickly, getting there faster, and I always compare my journey to those of others. It’s hard to remember that you have to go at your own pace, that doing something different at a different time doesn’t mean it’s wrong, and that you will get there eventually, but both are very true. Your move sounds like it’s been pretty challenging, so congratulations on making it to the 6th month mark! You will get there. Just think, in 2 years, you’ll look back at this self and you won’t believe how far you came. :)

  3. Oh starting over can be such a struggle!!! Especially when you’re in an unfamiliar setting, and you can’t properly communicate… but hey, at least you have some ties there, and if you moved back to the States, you’d be in the exact same position. Starting over. At least now you are almost 6 months in! Yay!!! :)

    • Exactly! I keep thinking of how ominous it was when I started both my undergrad and postgrad degree. Everything is hard in the beginning but once time passes you can look back with a great sense of accomplishment!

  4. anna says:

    What a beautifully written and apt post. That quote “You don’t have to learn everything at once and it is just not possible anyway” is exactly how I felt when I first got to France and you’re absolutely right about not trying to compare your beginning to someone else’s middle when you are quite literally starting again, from scratch!

  5. Gypsy says:

    “Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I really like that.

    Interesting how little ones really influence our take on an expat move. In a sense they make it a greater challenge, in another, they help us maintain a focus on what really counts.

  6. Erika says:

    It was really interesting reading the perspective you’ve gained and what you’ve learned! You’re especially right about the kindness thing — I think perfectionists like us can be really mean to ourselves if we don’t perform to our standards. But it’s good to know you are learning to be patient and just take the victories as they come! And victories in a foreign country feel really good! They may be small, but they mean so much after so many struggles! :) There will be a time — sooner than you think, I’ll bet — when you’ll read this and think, “Wow, I forgot about all that stuff that was so challenging!” :)

    • Thanks Erika! And I really can’t wait for that day! But I remember what it was like the last time and it seems it always takes a year or so for me to really start feeling comfortable. I know things are already starting to feel like home so that’s a good sign. :-) Thanks for coming by!

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