You Let Go, You Let Grow
I remember moving from Cologne to Barcelona in 2012. When I first arrived, there was this feeling of great excitement. After all, at 34, I had just moved to the city that I had fallen in love with ten years earlier, so this felt like a dream come true. But I also missed the people I loved. What really helped me was the fact that I was working for a language school and would often hang out with my Spanish colleagues and foreign colleagues who had also recently moved to Barcelona. And yes, sometimes the temptation of skyping Saturday night away with a close friend and a glass of Rioja was very tempting, but I tried to keep these occasions very few, because what I needed was to connect with people in my new home of choice so that it would quickly feel like home. After all, I was on a voluntary mission, no one had pushed me into this decision of relocating.
Being the communicative person that I’ve always been, at least as long as I can think back, an important factor in my friendships has always been that of exchanging feelings and experiences with those close to me.
Which is why I will never forget the first time one of my new Spanish friends texted me asking if we could get together, because she wanted to talk about something that had happened to her. It was all in Spanish and I needed to ask a lot of questions but I remember walking home that night thinking, “I’ve got a new friend, yay! Someone called me and wanted to tell me something that troubled them, wow, this is really starting to feel like home!”
But sometimes, there was also this feeling of being an alien, a bit like described in one of my favourite tunes, "Englishman in New York" by Sting.
Take for example the sacred Spanish hora de comer which could be translated to "the hour of eating".
Understand, I come from a culture where striving and ambitious individuals do not necessarily have a break but instead shove their sandwich in their mouths while creating an excel table and admitting that you’re having a break can actually be perceived as lack of productivity, sadly. So, here I am, teaching my German classes at a Spanish company and overhearing my students talk about taking their lunch break together or to my great surprise, managers cutting my class short saying that it was time for lunch. And the look on some of my colleagues’ faces when I would suggest work meetings during the lunch break, or being told off when I arrived 15 minutes early to a job interview because it was still la hora de comer, I could still laugh when I think back …
Note that, seven years later, I've probably become the biggest fan and advocate of la hora de comer, that time where you may have the chance to even get together with that friend who's currently wrapping up their doctoral thesis while following their usual work schedule and, thus, is way too busy to meet during the weekend, go to a nice café or simply sit in a park with your tupperware, updating one another on what's new in life. I loved letting go of my concept of effectiveness and the uselessness of breaks in order to embrace that of a good wholehearted lunch break, celebrated in company and without any shame.
So, one thing that I’ve definitely learnt in the past years is that the project of relocation will work best and feel the most satisfying when you agree to let go of set ideas and concepts, allowing you to grow new ones that may be better companions on your journey.
But this said, a little bit of a struggle is normal, and I believe that all emotions should be allowed during the expat experience.
Just because you are playing after the script that you wrote yourself and for yourself doesn’t mean that you have to be jumping and dancing ‘round the clock, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Sometimes a feeling of frustration or even not liking our new environment comes up, and that's totally ok. Because relocating to another place can be a hard and messy job and rarely do things work as smoothly as we dreamt because life depends on people wherever we go and people, including ourselves, can be hard to deal with. From my own experience I can tell you that reconnecting with your initial reason for choosing the place you chose or even just taking a day off for quality time, visiting a park or museum, and having coffee or a glass of wine in a place with a wonderful view can work like magic. Just like in a relationship, taking some time out to reconnect and letting go of routine and any ambition can be a key factor to make it work and to keep on enjoying the experience.