Friday, 25 July 2014

Expat life: if it doesn’t work the first time…fly, and fly again

Our latest guest blogger, Dana Newman, writes about the rewards of persisting as an expat…..and how to order a pizza in Prague.

Image source: creativecommons/ Flickr/ Moyan Brenn

I travelled abroad for the first time my junior year of college. It was the trip I’d told everyone I was going to take since I was a junior in high school. It was the reason I’d stayed in-state for college, and the reward from my parents for a lifetime of good grades. I was going to study abroad in Spain for one semester. And I lasted all of six weeks there.

When I called my stateside study abroad advisor from a payphone, crying two weeks into my time in Spain, she convinced me to give it a little longer. When I called her again after week three, I was adamant about leaving. She told me I’d never make it back to Europe. That if I gave up my first time, I’d never leave America again.

Two and a half years later, on my one-year anniversary of living in Europe, I thought of her. And smiled.

Traveling abroad isn’t easy! It can be fun and enriching and dazzling. But it can also be scary and lonely and overwhelming.

When I set off the first time, that was certainly the case, and when I packed up my things and flew across the Atlantic Ocean to the Czech Republic a year and a half later, nothing had changed. Except for me. Living away from my friends; my family; my familiar foods, smells, sounds, and social norms hit me once again like a ton of bricks, knocking me square in the chest, making me feel like I couldn’t breathe, just as it had the first time around. Only this time, I looked that fear dead in the eyes, and I pushed forward, determined to stay and see it through.

My first day in Prague I walked into five different cafes and restaurants around town; and after several seconds of panicked nervousness, dashed back out of each one. Sure, I’d practiced speaking Czech day and night for a month before my trip, but talking to yourself in the grocery store and forming a sentence before the audience of a real, live Czech are two different things. I considered it at least a half-success when I managed to ask for a table and then took the menu from the server’s hand before I got spooked by the all-Czech content and fled the scene via the back door.

By mid-morning of my second day, the food I’d eaten on the plane ride over had long since worn off, and I was trying to ration my Clif and Luna bars for when I got really desperate. With a growling stomach interrupting my sightseeing, I gathered up every ounce of courage I had and forced my feet to once more lead my body into a near-by cafe. And this time I was too hungry to run off. With my lips stubbornly glued shut as they were, I resorted to silently pointing out my desire to the barista--a plastic cup of yogurt with granola and fruit--then paying equally as mute.

I did better come dinnertime. Down the street from my hotel were two food options. One was a Czech-style restaurant with a menu consisting of a bunch of dishes that hadn’t been taught within the first five lessons of my learn Czech CD. The second was an Italian restaurant. The menu was still in Czech, but I figured, how could I go wrong with pizza? I could just order the cheapest pie, which was bound to be plain old cheese, right?

Of course the bothersome little voice in my head told me I should take advantage of the “real” Czech experience. That eating at a pizza place would be a cop-out. But then I reminded myself that just two days ago I’d flown halfway around the world (Am I giving myself too much credit here? Okay, how about a third of the way?) to a place where I knew nobody (no exaggeration) and could only very slightly speak the language. I’d earned a meal of easy-peasy pizza.

Too bad it didn’t turn out quite as straight forward as I’d hoped! Apparently in the Czech Republic there is an option even cheaper than cheese pizza: tomato sauce pizza. It was quite a surprise when the pie showed up at my table...naked. Lesson learned; in the Czech Republic, make sure to order a pizza that contains the word "sýr" in its description if you want cheese.

Next time I did.

Living abroad is all about trial and error, and finding the right way to do something will often mean doing it wrong one or more times. It takes patience and it takes endurance and it takes resilience. But more than anything it takes the will to do it.

And if it doesn’t work out the first time, fly, fly again.

About the author

Dana Newman is an expat YouTube vlogger and writer whose debut novel, entitled Found in Prague, is based loosely on her experiences living in the Czech Republic when she first moved to Europe in search of her roots. For the inside scoop on expat life (such as the truth about beer gardens and why the German sauna culture is like mayonnaise) as well as travel videos from around the world, check out and subscribe to her Wanted an Adventure YouTube channel. She can also be found on Twitter @WantedAdventure, sharing her international thoughts and musings in the most concise form the Internet has to offer.

Would you like to guest blog for us? Let us know in the comments section below or by tweeting @expatexplorer

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