Friday, 24 July 2015

Remembering your first expat experiences – From surviving to thriving

The first six months of expat life are such a whirlwind that often there is no chance to stop and reflect on all of the changes, both big and small. Every expat is reminded of the distance when that weekly video call home disconnects unexpectedly, or a once routine lunch-break call to your best friend wakes them up in the middle of the night.  Cut off from friends and family by oceans, time differences and unreliable broadband, an expat in their first few months is well and truly in survival mode.  But with your head down and focused on getting through the challenges of expat life, it’s easy to miss just how much you’ve grown into life abroad.

Image source: Creative Commons / George Pauwels

Take navigation. Every expat knows what it’s like to set off with a spring in their step to meet a new friend, only to end up lost and more than a little late. Perhaps that map would have made more sense if you’d thought in kilometres instead of miles. By the end of the first 6 months however, it’s difficult to even think back to the first time you ventured out from the comfort of the airport to find your new apartment. Expats quickly progress from needing colleagues to map out each and every route on the metro, to knowing the quickest routes and even which carriage to stand in for a quick exit. All of a sudden there’s a switch, and you’re no longer asking for directions but giving them - to tourists and expats newer than yourself. When hosting guests, and taking them through the hidden entrances of bars and restaurants known only to locals, you may have a moment where you sit back amazed at the fact that you’ve become a local.  Only then do you realise that for while you’ve been able to traverse the city with the same calm once felt in your hometown.

Image source: Creative Commons / Kevin Dooley

The first meeting back with relatives is when many expats realise just how much they’ve changed. There’s only so much from home that you’re able to fit in your suitcase. It’s impossible to carry your sports teams, dance class or favourite theatre shows with you. When you relocate to another country you go from knowing what you enjoyed doing and the people that added so much value to these activities to a blank slate.  Expats adapt, discovering a talent for softball, a knack for Hong Kong’s fashion or perhaps even a taste for chillies they never knew they had. They find new things in their current environment to enjoy, and discover new people to enjoy those moments with - whether they’re other expats or locals.

So even though the first six months were a whirlwind, every second was worth it. The first six months aren’t just about exploring a new home, but finding a new you.

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