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Expat Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Becoming an expat is an adrenaline-inducing prospect, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. With all of the excitement experienced while building a new life abroad, there are, of course, also a few hurdles. Here’s an honest summary of what expat life is really like — including the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Moving abroad and becoming an expat is an opportunity that not all are lucky enough to experience. Although it is a big adventure, the experience of creating a new life abroad as an expat is often described as a ‘two-faced friend’. On the one hand, it is an exciting time with new opportunities and experiences ahead. However, on the flip side, the sudden realization that everything in your new home is unfamiliar can hit hard. The prospect of having to build a new life and the fear of the unknown can be daunting at the beginning.

The Good

Broaden Your Horizons

Deciding to make a home in a different country offers new opportunities with a new culture, and potentially even a new language. Opening up yourself to all these different possibilities gives you the option to greatly broaden your horizons and potential. The new experiences during your time as an expat can positively change your mindset, values, and beliefs, offering you alternative ways to look at the world. Immersing yourself in another country’s culture offers the chance for you to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and network with a diverse range of people.

Endless Travel Opportunities

Moving to a new place is the perfect opportunity to explore the country that you now call home! As an expat, it’s almost certain that you’ll catch the travel bug and, with each new place you visit, you’ll find more to add to the list. Check your country’s transportation links to find out which country you can visit for a weekend away — the only problem you’ll face is deciding where to go next!

Make Lifelong Friends

Leaving loved ones and close friends behind can be tricky, especially when you face the challenge of settling into a new place. This means that people you meet abroad become your lifeline and friendships are formed quickly. Be it fellow expats, with the common ground of shared experiences and possibly nationality, or locals who help you navigate your way around your new city, show you the best places in your new home, and maybe even help you practice your language skills — these people will be your family away from home and help you settle into expat life.

A Time for Personal Growth

Choosing to become an expat can be a difficult decision, and you should feel proud for having the courage to take on the big challenge of setting up a life elsewhere. The hurdles that come with moving abroad provide many opportunities for personal growth, as you learn how to overcome and embrace the challenges you face. It is a character-building time which will also help you become more independent. Facing things alone can be scary, especially without the safety blanket of friends and family, so learning to go it alone is a real achievement.

The Bad and the Ugly

Culture Shock

It is highly unlikely that there is an expat out there who hasn’t experienced a certain degree of culture shock. Even if the people in your host country speak the same language, there’s bound to be aspects of the local culture which are very different from your home. With your life turned upside down, the mundane daily routine you had at home suddenly seems almost desirable again. It can be easy to sugar-coat the life you had before, simply because it was what you knew well. However, just because something is unfamiliar doesn’t mean that it is unpleasant or that you’re not going to enjoy it. Patience is key in helping you settle and feel at home as an expat, and it’s important to accept that culture shock is a normal part of the process.

Language Barriers

A language barrier can be one of the hardest challenges an expat faces when moving abroad. It can make even the simplest tasks, such as shopping in a supermarket or ordering a coffee, both difficult and time-consuming. Although learning a language is rewarding and a great achievement, it doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be a frustrating process. When you struggle to understand the local language, it is natural to feel a little lost or anxious. It can be tempting to stay in the expat bubble and only spend time with those from your home country but learning the local language and making friends with locals can really improve your expat experience.

The Never-Ending Goodbyes

Making an international group of friends in your new home is a worthwhile experience and leaves you with great friends for life. But sooner or later, for one reason or another, people get offered new jobs elsewhere, move back home, or on to their next adventure, and you have to say goodbye to those who made your time abroad a lot more enjoyable. Even though technology makes it a lot easier to stay in touch, it doesn’t feel quite the same as a sit-down chat with one of your friends when you’ve had a bad day or just need a hug. The same can be said for visits home to see your family; it’s nice to be able to spend quality time with loved ones, but it can be difficult to know that you will soon be off again. In these moments, it’s important to remember and be grateful for the fact that you are lucky enough to have people in your life who mean so much to you!

Loss of Identity

Spending so much time away from your original home and building a new life elsewhere can create an identity crisis for expats. The longer you’re away for or the more places you move to, the less attached you can feel to any nationality. In your new home, it may be difficult to identify as a local if you do not share the same nationality as the rest of the residents there. On the other hand, visiting friends and family in your home country may be strange if you do not feel as though you belong there anymore. This is especially the case if your host country has a very different culture, which you have become accustomed to over time.

Although it’s true that being an expat isn’t easy, the experiences you get out of taking the plunge to move to another country are invaluable. The opportunities and memories made will last a lifetime, giving you important life skills. Like with any journey, there will be great highs, and also some lows along the way — this doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it. As soon as you’re brave enough to say yes to the opportunity to build a new life in another country, there will be no looking back!

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