As an expat, the most important thing to remember (that took me years to realize, and will probably take me more years to take to heart) is that it’s okay to be unhappy when you’re happy. If you’ve ever been an expat, or traveled solo – that sentence will actually make sense to you.
If you don’t quite get it…let me explain;
you’re living in a new country, maybe with a new love interest, maybe for school, etc. You spend your weekends exploring new cities and your week-nights in local pubs and cafes. You see beautiful places, and when you post photos of your adventures on Instagram, your friends send you messages like “you’re so lucky” and “I’m so jealous, I bet you’re having the time of your life.”
Meanwhile, there are times in your “amazing life” abroad, when you sincerely wish you didn’t have any of it. There are times in your life abroad when you just want normal. Even if that’s the same small-town, boring normal that you wanted before to so desperately get away from.
It’s not a shame to need that comfort and security, and it’s definitely not a shame to hate your life abroad sometimes.
So much of the time, when you’re abroad, you’re missing the people, places and things about “back home.” Then, once you’re back home, you start to think “why the hell did I want to come back here?” and you start to miss the people, places and things of your life abroad. That’s what the life of an expat really is (after being incredible and life-changing), it’s usually missing people, all the time. No matter where you are now, there will be someone or something somewhere else that you miss. It’s a (small) price to pay for the luxury and blessing of living in multiple parts of the world.
I always used to think that I was being selfish or arrogant or ungrateful when I would get into these little slumps of sadness during my “adventure” abroad. This is a pretty common thought process in almost every single person I’ve met who has lived in a foreign country.
But! I’ll let you in on a secret. A secret that’s taken me 3 years (and two international moves) to figure out.
Happiness is a momentary choice. You don’t know how you’ll feel in a year, a day, or even an hour from now. But right now, this second, you can make a choice. You can make a choice that will make you happy right now; have a bubble bath, go for a walk, have a glass of wine.
When I moved abroad the first time (in the summer of 2013), I thought I was making the choice of a lifetime. I thought this decision would alter my life and set me on a life-path. I thought this meant I was going to live my whole life in Belgium; grow old, have kids…everything in Belgium. And that terrified me. So I decided to think of the choice to move abroad to live with my boyfriend as a spring-board to a life that I would later make in Canada with him.
“You’re only here until he is finished school” I said.
“You’ll move back to Canada within a few years” I thought.
“It’s only for a while, just hang on…” I reminded myself.
10 months later, I had to move back to Canada (without my boyfriend) due to visa complications.
While I was in Canada during the summer of 2014, I was miserable.
“Just get through the summer, make enough money and you’ll be able to move back to Belgium to live with him.” That was my plan.
Another 9 months goes by, and we were finally together again in Belgium, living with his parents while we renovated our little starter home.
“A few more months and renovations will be done” I told myself.
“It’s frustrating to live in such cramped quaters (one room to ourselves in his parents house), but soon we’ll live in our own house…”
Another 5 months goes by and our home still isn’t ready, but it’s ready-enough for us to move into. So we do. And I’m constantly frustrated by the piles of tools, wood, insulation and garbage that cluttered our tiny home while we finished it.
For years I was waiting for different things to make me happier.
I look back on those days and think about how much time I wasted just ‘waiting’ to be happy. I kept waiting for the right time, the time when things would be exactly the way I thought they’d be, the time when things would be perfect. That time doesn’t exist (because we’re all just waiting for that time, and not enjoying life!)
I guess the key (as an expat) is to figure out what choices to make that will give you happiness at that time and for the foreseeable future.
One of the most important things I have learned as an expat is that THE CHOICE(S) YOU MAKE TODAY DON’T HAVE TO BE SET IN STONE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Yes, your circumstances might change and other decisions might need to be made later. But deciding to be happy with where your life is right now is the key to being happy with your new life abroad.
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