Back in 2012 I made the HUGE decision to pack up my bags and leave everything I knew to be normal behind.
I waved goodbye to my mum with all my worldly belongings rammed into one 23kg suitcase and boarded a plane to…. Saudi Arabia!
My move into the expat world, turned out to be the best decision I ever made and 6 years later I’ve flitted between several cities in Saudi Arabia, the tropical islands of Turks and Caicos and Bermuda, and today, I write this whilst sipping coffee and munching on stroopwafels in the place I (currently) call home, Amsterdam.
Over the years I have been asked an array of wacky questions in relation to my expat life. It’s nice that people pay an interest, but it’s also highly entertaining and borderline funny to learn what people really think of your new life.
6 years living away from my home country of England means I’m fairly qualified to tell you all about some (extremely common) expat misconceptions I’ve come to hear over the years.
‘You’re so lucky’
Listen up…. If there’s one thing to never, ever say to an expat, this is it!
I chose to leave the UK because I was unhappy with my life there. I actively chose to leave. In order to get where I am today, I have been through countless interviews, telephone calls, endless networking, visa processes, medicals and piles of paperwork. I have spent hours seeking out opportunities and learning new things in order to make this life possible.
It wasn’t handed to me on a plate. I went out to actively seek it. Even now, I am constantly learning and looking for new opportunities.
I am not lucky. I hustled, and I worked incredibly hard for what I wanted. Every expat will tell you this.
Anyone can be expat if they want, they just need the courage to take a risk and the patience to work hard until it pays off.
‘You must never miss home by now’
Being away from home for long periods of time, and setting up home in new places across the world does not make you immune to homesickness.
I may not have lived in the UK for many years now, but I still call it home. I have family and friends there. And, believe it or not, I’m still interested in what’s going on with current affairs.
I’ve been known to miss a good cup of tea, or even the rain at times. Homesickness will always creep in at some point, but it never lasts too long.
Likewise, culture shock is a real thing and can be difficult to get your head around. It took me a while to settle into living in Saudi Arabia, never mind working there. But, if you have an open mind and an open heart, if you’re interested to learn about new cultures, you can adapt.
And, if you can’t adapt, then you can always go home.
‘Your life must be a constant vacation’
The truth is, most people become expats because the lifestyle is better than that in their home country. Vacation allowance and salaries are often much more attractive than that at home.
One of the main reasons I left the UK was to fulfill my dreams of travelling and the Middle East was a great base for this. I was offered generous holiday entitlement and was in a great part of the world to travel from.
But don’t be fooled.
The hardest I have ever worked has been as an expat. I’ve always worked longer hours than I did at home, and the constant language and cultural challenges can be difficult. So much so, that statistically, a large number of expats actually leave to return to their home countries. Working environments can certainly be difficult and some of the hardest working people I know are expats.
‘You must be fluent by now’
Yeah yeah, I know I should learn the language. We all know we should.
And trust me when I say, I have tried. Many, many times. Naturally after 4 years in the Middle East I could get by, but in no way was I anywhere close to being fluent.
Likewise, in the Netherlands, where despite the fact that everyone speaks English, it seems harder to be able to really get stuck into life without speaking Dutch.
When you make a move to a new country there is so much to think about and learn that the pressure of a new language can feel extremely intense.
The classes are in the pipeline.
‘Your life is so glamorous’
You do know that we still pay bills, do our taxes, do the cleaning, cook, worry about our finances, relationships and the future, right?
The real world does carry on, and with it, all the mundane little tasks and feelings, unfortunately.
‘When are you coming home?’
Maybe tomorrow, maybe never.
I think it takes a certain kind of person to become an expat. To enjoy the continuous hustle and ongoing change. And, quite frankly, that kind of person doesn’t plan so far ahead. We tend to make choices on a whim.
We don’t see our expat lives as being temporary, we’ve worked hard to get where we are. So, the misconception that we aren’t ‘settled’ or that were going through a ‘phase’ can feel immensely offensive.
I love being an expat, and for now, I won’t be swapping it for the world. It’s a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs and I love living that way.
Leaving the UK has impacted my life in so many ways. Not only personally and practically. It has also taught me about the world I live in, opened doors and presented opportunities I previously would have only dreamed of.
It might not be a constant holiday, but until you’ve lived as an expat, even for a short time, there’s no amount of words that can describe the feeling.
I’m continuously encouraging people to follow their dreams. You never know, it might just be worth the risk.
…and if it turns out it’s not for you, then you can always go home.