It has been exactly 5 years since I left my country and moved to Europe. It seems like a long time ago, but at the same time like it was yesterday. I still remember saying goodbye to my family and friends at the airport, seeing my dog’s face as I put him in his kennel for a long trip ahead of us, and the excitement of a new life we were about to begin in a new country, in a new continent.
5 years has gone by since that day. During this time I lived in 2 countries, 4 different towns, in 4 different apartments, moved 4 times (yeah, I remember the boxes), got a Master degree, did 4 internships, got engaged and married, learned my 5th language, visited 12 new countries and founded a travel blog. Crazy, I hadn’t thought of the last 5 years this way previous to writing this post.
Before I get all sentimental about the fact that time flies and I still have the feeling that I haven’t done anything meaningful in this life, know that I am very happy to be where I am. However, I know many people who don’t feel the same way about living abroad. Everyone who lives in another country faces challenges, have their hard times and some even give up.
Some people just can’t get used to the local culture, to the language, to the weather, find work, get integrated with the locals, and many other expat problems that everyone is going to face sooner or later. Even being happy today, my expat life wasn’t always like that, and still isn’t perfect (and I don’t expect it to be; I like challenges).
I also had my hard times being an expat in Switzerland and Germany, trying to pursue my dream job, learning German, feeling lonely at times, hating the grey and dark days of winter, missing my family, being sick, and believe it or not, I also had problems making friends.
Each one of these problems taught me something different, and one of them was that everyone can be a happy expat, doesn’t matter where you are and which situation. Some of you might be thinking right now “are you crazy?”. Probably, but take your own conclusions after reading my recipe to be a happy expat:
Open your mind
To other cultures, new language, new ways of thinking, to new opportunities, to respect the differences and the local rules. For some, this might not happen easily or fast, and if you think that you are one of them, try harder, and harder; until you get there.
One step at a time
Meaning: have patience! You won’t get used to your new life in one week or in 3 months. For some this process will take longer than for others, but in all cases, it’s a one step at a time thing. Each day you are taking a new step towards learning a new language and the local rules, making friends, getting used to moving around and so on. This is probably the hardest ingredient of this recipe to be found: patience.
Give without expectations
If there is something that would make not only everyone’s lives easy but also the world a better place, that would be to give without expecting something in return. By being an expat you will constantly find yourself in a situation, which you will feel like you are giving more than everyone around you. That is because you are out of your comfort zone, where every step seems like so much effort.
Don’t worry, it will get better, just keep going. You might think you are getting nowhere, but one day you will look back and see how far you’ve come. Remember: patience!
Know that mistakes are part of the success
Mistakes. You will make many as an expat. Mistakes while driving, riding a bike, misspelling words, while greeting someone, on a job interview and many other awkward situation. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, they are more important to success than you think. So learn from your mistakes.
Appreciate the little things
Appreciate the fact that today you managed to memorize a new word in your new language, that someone said hello to you, that today you get the chance to try again what you didn’t manage yesterday. Let the little things make you smile, they are new steps toward your happy expat life.
Remember that there is always light above the clouds
Every time when I look at the grey winter sky of Germany, I try to remember that right above those clouds, the sun, the moon or the stars are shining. And I try to think about it whenever I’m having a hard day. No storm lasts forever, soon you will see the light; no matter how long it takes.
Embrace the here and now
You can be happy wherever you are, just accept that right now you are where you are. Embrace your new country, your new language, your new house, your new neighbors, your new life. Embrace the here and now; it’s a challenge, but it’s a new chance to be happy.
No, this recipe is not easy to follow.
No, I don’t always follow it, and that’s where the problem lies.
Yes, every time I follow it, it works.
Yes, it can be applied to anyone’s daily life, not only as an expat.
Yes, it will take time until you get there.
Yes, it is possible!
To all expats out there: you can do it, you can be a happy expat!
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