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Why Being an Expat Is the Absolute Best and the Absolute Worst

Being an expat can be both the most amazing experience in the world and the hardest. From fantastic new friends, to feeling far from home, find out just how simultaneously difficult and awesome life abroad can be!

Why It’s the Best

Getting to Travel the World

I wrote a letter to myself when I was in my early twenties, to be opened in ten years. The decade has yet to pass, and the details of the letter have faded in my memory. The only thing I remember writing, was that I hoped by my thirties that I was well-traveled. And if moving to Europe has given me anything, it has certainly been the ability to travel. I’ve lost track of how many cities and countries I’ve been to, and how many I plan to see within the next year. With 25+ vacation days per year, as well as reliable / affordable trains, planes, and buses, it has been possible for me to see more in the past five years than I ever could have if I had stayed in the US.

Making New (and International) Friends

Living in Munich I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many people from around the world. I have friends from more countries than I can count and have learned how to say cheers in at least seven languages! When you live far from your family, friends become your lifelines. They are who you call when you need to move apartments for the fifth time and can’t rent a car because your license doesn’t transfer. They’re the ones calling the tax office on your behalf because your German isn’t nearly good enough to understand terms like Einkommenssteuererklärung (income tax return).

Friendships that might have taken years to form back home can happen seemingly overnight, because you both understand what it’s like to do things like get your wisdom teeth out all alone and don’t want to have to go through it again. You get to celebrate Canada Day with your new bestie from Toronto, and you start using British phrases without realizing it because so many of your friends are Brits (or just learned British English growing up). Your local friends can help you experience Oktoberfest in a way you never would otherwise, and your new American friends understand why it’s still so strange to drink a beer in a public park.  

My friends have made living abroad more amazing than I ever could have imagined and I’ve formed bonds that I can only hope last a lifetime.

Having Amazing Experiences and Expanding Your Worldview

Since moving abroad I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had an “oh my gosh, I cannot believe this is my life” moment. Whether it’s something as exciting as watching Germany win the World Cup after I first moved to Munich, or simply walking around one of my favorite neighborhoods on a sunny day, hearing people speak German, French, Spanish, and more. Living abroad and truly experiencing life in a foreign country provides you with so many little moments that make you appreciate it.

I still marvel at being able to walk to three different bakeries each day for fresh bread, whereas back home we might have three bakeries for my entire city. Being able to easily move around without a car is a privilege that I never thought I’d have unless I lived in a place such as New York City. Having these experiences, both large and small can’t help but broaden your view of the world. And, of course, living in such an international environment gives you more chances to interact with people who come from a different background and have a different perspective.

Why It's the Worst

Getting to Travel the World

Call it a case of wanting what you can’t have but the more you see of the world, the more you want to see. I find myself spending hours trying to decide where to spend my vacation days. Every friend has a different recommendation, every day brings a new Instagram story that I want to experience for myself, or a new list of the “hottest places to see this year” I have to remind myself that (god willing) I have plenty of time left to see the world, and don’t have to do it all at once.

But having the opportunity to travel is also counteracted by wanting to go home! Having to choose between seeing your loved ones and going to a fantastic new place is not an easy decision. How do you explain to your sister that while you’d truly love to be there for her birthday, you’d have to take off ten days of vacation to come visit, and then spend most of it alone while everyone else is at work.


Making New (and International Friends)

It’s not actually the international friends (or new friends in general) that is the bad part, it’s that international friends often leave. It’s not easy being the one left behind while all your amazing new besties move to new cities or back home. And while hopefully you’ve been able to maintain your friendships from back home, they can’t join you for a drink at your favorite cafe or commiserate with you over the la­ck of air conditioning in Germany. You’ll try to stay involved in their lives when you’re thousands of miles apart, but you’ll miss meeting their new boyfriend, or seeing their new house, just like they’ll miss knowing you moved apartments until months later, or forget which German city you live in.

Every time a friend from your life abroad leaves, you have to start the process of meeting people again. And while you know it will be worth it in the end, it can be emotionally exhausting to keep having to start friendships from scratch multiple times a year. 

Having Amazing Experiences and Expanding Your Worldview

I’m a very different person than I was before living abroad, thanks in large part to the many experiences I’ve had and the challenges I’ve faced. It has made me see and experience the world differently, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. However, the “downside” of going through these changes while abroad is that they are difficult to explain to people who haven’t had the same experience.

No matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to explain to all my loved ones why I want to live outside America, or how outdated things like our healthcare system seem to me now. I’ll always be an American and am proud of the more “American” parts of myself, whether that be my willingness to make friends, my obsession with good burgers, or my appreciation of country music and southern manners. But while I love arriving back in the US, where I understand the customs (and the language), it doesn’t feel 100% comfortable to me. It’s like putting on a dress from years ago that still technically fits but isn’t quite my style.

Germany will never be 100% my home either. While I’m still slowly working on my German skills, I can’t picture my language skills becoming strong enough that my sarcastic sense of humor or writing style will translate. I’ve truly come to appreciate the mountains and hikes available, but I’ll never be a natural skier or mountain climber, like most of my German friends are. Winter will always seem too long!

When I’m in Germany I refer to the US as home, but nowadays when I’m back in the US I find myself referring to Munich as home. It’s both a beautiful and difficult thing to have two homes,  like having two best friends that can never connect, that you have met at different points in your life. Each one means something special to you, and you’ve had experiences with both that you couldn’t duplicate with the other. In an ideal world you could combine the two, but in reality, you have to enjoy the best parts of both, and accept any shortcomings.

At the end of the day though, I wouldn’t trade the experience I’ve had living abroad for anything. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to make this choice and to be able to continue to choose this life. My mother language and my passport have opened up opportunities that many people don’t have. And my friends and family have encouraged me more than they’ll ever know. So, if you ever get the chance to move abroad, I’d certainly suggest giving it a go!

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