Six Surprising Benefits of Being an Expat

»So, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here, not enough for both.» -Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Although this quote might seem somewhat sad for some of you, this is the perfect caption of the life of an expat. And it is not at all sad, it is unique in all its ways. Being an expat to me is truly wanting to explore a new city, country, culture, and that desire for exploring goes further than just a holiday. It makes you leave everything behind and make a jump into the unknown. But what are benefits of being an expat, apart from the obvious – moving to your dream destination or accepting that dream job? In this article, I’ve listed six surprising benefits of being an expat.

1. You Develop a New Culture in Your Life

The life of an expat is very diverse. You are born and raised in a certain culture, country and city. You move out of that bubble, out of your comfort zone, and start a new adventure. You open yourself up to learning all about a new culture and integrating in this new way of life with a curious and open mind.

On this adventure, you do not only get to know that new culture and carry your own culture from home; you also develop your own kind of culture. This new kind of culture consists of a mix of the traditions, values and manners you picked up from your old home, your new home, and your way in between.

See it as a kind of combination of how you processed all these cultures and how you deal with them in your life. I see this change, this growth, in my own life: I grew up in Belgium, lived in Spain and now in Portugal. In my own home that I created here, I don’t live by Belgian traditions, nor Spanish or Portuguese. I merely live a mix of all three of them. And then my families are of Greek and Italian roots. So you can imagine it gets all mixed up. But that’s what makes the home of an expat so unique and special.

So at the end of the day, it’s a lot of cultures and values to keep up with. But that is the beautiful part of it: you mold it all together and create something that’s completely one-of-a-kind.

2. You Develop a Unique Way of Seeing Things

As you meet people from different origins, you start to notice different forms of communication, may it be expressions, gestures or slang. But not only the communication, verbal and non-verbal, are important here; it’s also about the mindset and mentality of the people you meet. In Southern countries, people tend to be have a different way of living than in Northern countries. Many would say Southern people are more »relaxed» and live by the thought of »tomorrow is another day».

Let’s say you move from a Northern country to a Southern country. It would be difficult to adapt to this lifestyle: meetings are not always punctual, and appointments may not even be liven up to. You might get frustrated or not be able to understand this. But after a while, you know how to live up to meetings, dates and appointments because you adapt to this way of life. And you do realize that if something doesn’t happen today, then there is another chance tomorrow. So relax. And maybe you needed this little piece of mentality. Maybe you needed to take some stress off your shoulders in your daily life.

This unique way of looking at life and communication with people is very valuable and can be used in various areas of your life. The way you deal with situations has changed because you have learned and grown. If you can leave to an unknown place and build up a whole new fulfilling life, then what aren’t you capable of?

3. You Gain an Inner Sense of Courage

Not too long ago, I had a dinner planned with locals. Lots of people would look forward to it and just go for it. I didn’t. I didn’t want to go, because I was tired of forcing myself to build up conversations in a language that I’m not strong at, with people I barely even know. I just wanted to stay at home.

But then I realized why I came here. Why I moved abroad. Why I am where I am now. And something inside me said to go for it. It’s just a meaningless dinner, but go for it. Meet these people. Speak the language. Make mistakes. Laugh about it. Learn from them.

So, I gathered all my courage and kept thinking about the center of it all, the reason behind it all, and the more I thought of this center, the less I wanted to stay at home. All of a sudden, it looked like an opportunity I couldn’t skip out on. Meeting new people ánd having a chance of learning the language? Yes, please!

Because I went back to the core of why I am doing this, I gained courage and motivation to go out there and meet new people. I gained the strength of being an apprentice and accepting that it is okay to make mistakes, to use the wrong words. It’s important to have a laugh about it and then learn from it.

4. You Process Homesickness in a Different Way

This may sound vague, but it is a principle that can be applied to in various areas of your life. As an expat, you miss out on a lot of things. At the homebase, your family and friends are continuing to live their lives. Because of your new lifestyle and job, you will probably miss out on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries etc. Even on random, average days, you will miss your close ones.

But that all makes you realize what you have: a family, friends, close ones. It makes you process homesickness on a different way: you may be missing your family, but you feel grateful to have a family and a second home to can always go back to. That awareness is super important, as it gives you more strength. For the sake of adventure/a partner/a job you moved elsewhere, and the consequences are you will miss what’s not there.

I even started missing some types of food or drinks from my hometown I never thought I’d ever miss. But that makes me realize how cool my hometown is and what I actually have in my life.

5. You Acquire Skills on Different Levels

Besides from surviving completely on your own – an accomplishment an sich – expats tend to develop a variety of skills during their adventures abroad. Whether it be learning a certain language, cuisine or professional skills, there is always a win-win situation when it comes to learning new things.

You become more open to try new experiences, such as social gatherings or discovering a new place. It doesn’t scare you off, because you already acquired that skill to overcome fear of change. I’m not saying moving to another country will give you nerves of steel, but it certainly helps you in developing a stronger sense of courage.

Let’s say you have to go to a hospital in a strange country. The first time, this is a scary and difficult thing to do: you don’t understand the language, you don’t know how everything works, and you’re not from there so you don’t feel comfortable or people might not be helpful or welcoming towards you. After having done this in a couple places or hospitals, and figuring out the local manners and language, you become more adaptable to being in this uncomfortable situation and how to approach people and ask for their help. You know how it goes, what you did wrong the first time and how to do it right.

There are several skills and experiences that help you while living abroad. And the more you experience (and fail and learn and try again), the more you grow.

6. You Create Your Own Lifestyle

Moving to another country means building up an entire new life. You create a second life, on top of the one you have had your entire life. You rent a house which turns into a home, you meet people who turn into friends, you find a job which turns into a new passion and you begin a new start which turns into a whole new life.

The freedom to choose your surroundings and lifestyle is a huge advantage. I am convinced people need space to grow. If you want to grow a plant but you leave it in the dark and don’t water it, it won’t grow. As plants need space, light and water to grow, us humans need space and an open mind to grow. And creating a lifestyle that resonates with what you want, is the best way to do this.

Becoming an expat requires a lot of courage, sacrifice and most of all: dreams. Dreams to start a new life, to meet new people, to learn new things. Motivation and passion to being a new adventure are crucial. For whatever reason you might have read this – maybe someone in your environment is an expat – I sincerely hope this gave you new insights about how and why we do this. And if you are thinking about becoming an expat and moving abroad, then I hope these six surprising benefits of being an expat have helped you and gave you a little push in the back.