10 Undeniable Facts About Being an Expat

Living abroad as an expat is a thrilling adventure paired with its ups and downs and something in between that. See, you miss your home, but you’re so happy with your new home. You’re not quite a local, but you’ve also passed the stage of being a tourist. You’re adapting to a new culture and country and you’re learning how to balance your old ways with your new life. And because this lifestyle is somehow in between everything and not always as glamorous or vibrant as it appears, I’ve listed 12 honest and non-spoken facts about being an expat.

Whether you are an expat or you are thinking about living abroad, we simply can’t deny these brutally honest and sometimes funny truths.

1. You don’t feel like a tourist… but you don’t feel like a local either 

When you first set foot on your new, hot destination, you’re overwhelmed with the joy and sense of adventure you’re experiencing. You feel at the top of a mountain, the beginning of a fresh start. You still feel like a tourist somehow, until you’ve discovered most things on your bucket list and you’ve been accustomed to the daily life in your new life.

After the newness wears off, the feeling of being a tourist gets replaced by the feeling of being a local. But you’re not. That’s made pretty clear by the locals who either don’t like the way you’re trying to speak the language with the heaviest accent someone could ever have, or by the fact that you still dress and talk like the unique mix of cultures that you are, and not like the locals. But hey, you feel like a local. You feel good and accepted. At that counts, doesn’t it?

2. You have the weirdest food cravings from home

One thing that surprised me the most about living abroad is that I used to describe the cuisine of my country as boring and not so tasty or special. (In case you didn’t know yet, I’m from Belgium). However, I found myself having cravings of Belgian sandwiches, chocolate (less surprisingly) and even random, greasy fried snacks I never thought I would ever miss, or even like.

At work, me and my Dutch colleagues could talk for hours, days, even weeks about food at our home countries. Yes, it really was our main topic. And it hurt so much that’s it’s so far away. And we’ve all been there: late night cravings of food that’s thousands of miles away. One of the most hurtful things, isn’t it?

3. You’re totally on a holiday mood… until your alarm goes off 

Living abroad, you’re living a good life. Sun is shining, you know you made a right choice doing this, you have a fun job – your pay check might be half of what you used to earn back home, but the quality of your life has easily been doubled, and you feel good.

That’s until you really get into the work life and routine and you realise you actually don’t have as much free time as you’d wish to have. So after that weekend or road tripping through the south coast and visiting beautiful exotic beaches, it can be depressing to have your alarm set for Monday morning at 6 am.

But I believe that you can make the best out of every day and fill your life with fun hobbies, after work activities and networking events. And little by little, that Monday morning feeling gets better and better. Not as good as a permanent vacation, but hey, you’re as close to that as it can get.

4. You start mixing up languages and create your own mix in your head

When learning a new language, it feels like your brain is making place for this and has to delete some old data – for me, using up to 6 different languages a day, it feels like I made up this new, unique, one-of-a-kind language, a mix of everything in my head.

However, you might experience this even by frequently using two or three languages simultaneously: you might stop in the middle of a sentence because you forgot how to say one meaningless futility or a special word you just can’t put your finger on.

But hey, keep rocking that multilingual life and keep learning that new language. Tell your brain to space up because this is happening alright!

5. FaceTime and WhatsApp become your best friends 

As you obviously won’t be able to see your close friends and family so often, you replace real-life contact with virtual contact: phone calls, text messages, video calls: you’ll find yourself talking to your mobile device for a lot of time.

Remember it’s really important to keep these relationships you have at home, but to also find a healthy balance between building up new relationships in the country you’re living in.

Don’t forget to go out and be social or spend time with your friends! Remember why you moved abroad and what was your motivation to discover a new country.

6. You miss the weirdest and smallest things from your country

Besides from random snacks cravings, you will find yourself missing on random habits, traits or events from your country. Special fairs or celebrations, gatherings you used to go to with friends or family or even transportation systems: nothing is too crazy. You got used to certain things and right now, they’re no longer in your life.

And that’s okay: it only makes you appreciate what you had back then and it makes you creative to look for others ways to “replace” that right now. For example, transportation systems: I never took a metro in Belgium and now it’s my main source of transportation. I miss having a car so so much, but I realise it’s not a good match: living in a vibrant capital doesn’t leave much practicality for having your own car.

It’s important to realise not everything is suitable for every destination or culture, and it’s perfectly normal to have these mixed feelings.

7. Visits and travels are what you live for 

Honestly, fellow expats, let’s all say it together: I love travel. I love being a guide to my friends and family and all my visitors.

Who has a fully detailed, scheduled itinerary of a citytrip to your city? We all do, let’s face it. We’ve all had several visitors and we’ve all given them the same tours over and over again. But we love it, because we are so proud of where we live, which city we chose, and how much we know this city now.

And, on another level, there’s the love for travel and adventure. And even though we have as much as free time as any working adult, we make time to travel and we find ways to have small adventures in your daily life. Small trips is what we look forward to the most, since that was our main goal of living abroad: discovering new grounds. 

8. You’re always dreaming about future destinations 

You can be as satisfied as you wish with your current destination, but we’ve all had thoughts about where to go next or how long we should still stay at one place.

“Oh well, a year has passed. But I’m not done yet. It’s okay to stay somewhat longer.”

“Oh look at the time, already two years have gone by. But I still haven’t went to that place…”

You know the feeling. We’re all dreamers who want to discover the world in all its facets. And as there as so many destinations and so many great cities to live in, it’s unstoppable to have these thoughts and dreams. It’s even necessary. Because if you would have never chased your dreams, you would never be where you are right now.

9. You start to realise home really is a feeling and not a place 

This might sound super cliché, but as you’re missing your home with your family, you also realise that you actually created your own, new home.

A friend of mine once told me: “The moment I have to change apartment, I will move to another city. No way I will be able to feel like home in another place than this one.” When I asked him why, he replied: “Because the moment I sit on my toilet in my bathroom, that moment is the only one that I truly feel like I’m home. I will never feel that sentiment anywhere else in this city.”

Everyone has their own way of turning a place into a home and creating that sense of home that you can’t find anywhere else. But you should never fear that you won’t have it anywhere else, since that sentiment came from you. You can take it anywhere. You can move it do different parts of the world, different countries, cities and apartments. It’s your feeling of home, and it’s there because of you.

10. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re making the best out of it

Let’s be honest: do you really have a fixed plan? A 3-year schedule or your life? Or a shorter or even longer plan?

Me neither. Being an expat, you are very organised on one level, and totally loose and going with the flow on another level. It’s admirable, really. It’s finding a balance between I don’t know what I’m doing and somehow being connected to a goal or a purpose.

I think that’s what keeps us expats going: striving towards a life filled with new adventures, meaningful connections and beautiful memories. Discovering new lands and cultures and seeing a lot of this amazing world. And maybe we don’t have a detailed plan or a plan at all. But maybe thats exactly what we don’t need. 

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.

Reflections on Expat Life: What I’ve Learned So Far & Tips

The loneliness of the expat is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.

This quote captures the feeling of being an expat perfectly . You are free. You have taken distance from your life at your birth town. Yet you are alone, on a quest. A quest to a life full of adventures, discovering new cultures, traveling, meeting new people, learning, falling and getting up. It is not that different from a normal life based in the same village as your family and friends. It’s just that you have come to the realization that life will end one day, and you want to make the best out of each and every day and life your true purpose.

Phew, that was kind of heavy. Let’s discuss in a more lighter way how the life on an expat is made up. It has been since February 2018 since I last spent an official night as resident at my parents home. After that, I lived in Barcelona and Lisbon. I took a chance, started a new life. Twice. And what I have learned from this, in this relatively short time of period, is beyond what I could have imagined.

You Get To Know Yourself More

Being an expat, living on yourself in a new environment in a new country, you automatically get to know yourself more. You know what you can handle and what you can’t. You discover new interests, new hobbies, new habits, etc. I myself became more strong and spiritual while living in Lisbon. I never liked doing any kind of sports, but here I love devoting my time to yoga. Everybody’s experience is different, of course. But you get to know your habits, your addictions and your needs.

You Blossom Up & Find Your True Purpose

Because you have no outer distractions or influences or other people around you – whether it be family, friends or a lover – you can do completely what you want to do. It’s like solo traveling – you get to do what you want thus you take your chances to try out new things. While trying these new things, you meet new people, you experience what you like and what you don’t like and you can move on with that knowledge.

“Stepping out of that comfort zone is scary. Challenging. Frightening. And the best thing that can happen to you.”

You Gain Independence

Living on yourself or sharing a house with (an)other person(s) causes you to be more independent. You clean, clean up, do groceries, manage your life and household; you know how to take care of yourself and build up your own life. This is important knowledge everybody needs in their lives. To be able to take care of yourself on your own is the most important thing you can learn.

Loneliness & Homesickness Is Inevitable

Even if you build up your own life in a new country, surrounded by glorious self-love, friends, maybe a lover, an amazing job, there will always be missing that one part: family. You will be homesick and you will miss your family and friends at home. That’s natural; how can you not miss the most important people in your life? But that is what makes the visit to home that much better and fulfilling. And the moments when you cherish these people and memories, will give you a feeling of gratitude because you realize you have these amazing people to miss.

Being An Expat Opens Up Your Mind & the World

Let’s continue with the most wonderful advantage, and maybe the reason why you became or want to become an expat: discover the world. Explore new cultures. Not as a tourist, but as an expat. By living somewhere, and truly mixing in that culture, you will gain experience about how that culture truly is like. It opens up your mind: you are open to new experiences, like learning that new language, getting to know all about the local food, music, traditions, and so on. And hereby comes the realization of how big the world is (and that you should explore as much as you can).

You Are Open To New Experiences

Imagine living at your parents’ village your entire life. Would you try new things? Things that scare you? Would you eat new kinds of food that you never heard about before? Would you learn a new language, not by an online course but by really speaking and hearing it? Your answer is probably no. In your comfort zone, you are safe. You are comforted. Stepping out of that comfort zone is scary. Challenging. Frightening. And the best thing that can happen to you.

When you are living abroad, you don’t mind trying new things. And that is healthy – us humans have to be open to new things, it’s good for us. That’s how you learn things in life. I wrote a list of all the things I learned during my time as an expat, and I probably didn’t write it all, but the list is long. And it is only getting longer. Not just language or culture-wise, but also personally. If you are an expat, I suggest you to do the same. It is mind-opening to see how much you’ve learned during a period.

So don’t be afraid. Go after your dreams. Step out of your comfort zone. Whatever your dream or aspiration in life is: go for it. Because the world is big and there is a lot to discover. I hope you have a clearer image about the life of an expat and what my experiences are.

Olá, Linda Lisboa!

It’s been three and a half months since I’ve moved to sunny Lisboa. Okay, I admit, it’s not always sunny here. But winter is packing its bags and spring is just around the corner.

A lot of people ask me: do you sometimes have regrets about moving to Lisbon? My answer is: I miss my family, friends, and familiar surroundings, but that doesn’t mean I regret this decision. I knew that travelling and moving around places requires some gut and courage. I am making the best out of my time here and that’s all that matters now.

So, let’s move on from the boring chitchat and move on to the real purpose of this blog: Lisbon city. 

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Lisbon really surprised me. The authentic city has not only a coffee place on every corner, but also hidden rooftop bars and gems of (cheap) restaurants that will leave you rollin’ right out of the door.

Besides the delicious food and bruising bars, Lisbon has a cool and chill nightlife too. There is a neighbourhood called Bairro Alto where all the youngsters come together at night on the colourfully decorated streets to celebrate life. 

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What I love most about this modest city, is the views. Wether it’s out of your own window, the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, or one of the beautiful miradouro’s, Lisbon has some really relaxing and cool views to show you. 

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Another thing I learned about Lisbon is: don’t be afraid to go out there and explore things on your own. The city has tourists of course, but also a lot of locals and expats. Who knows who you will meet and have a great time with! 

Furthermore, I’d like to show you my favourite spots in this city – but that will be for my next blog. 

Bom dia Lisboa, I am back!