Life as a New Expat

Is it too early to write this post? Sometimes, I don’t even feel like an expat, mainly because I can’t even believe we’re here. Mostly upon waking or emerging from the fog that is watching an American television show, I realize that I have completely forgotten where I am. Then it all of a sudden hits me: Oh my God, we’re in Denmark.

So let’s call this post, Life as a New Expat. Life as One Recently Expatriated.

Life right now for this expat is very day by day. All expats learn to accept this truth, and you will read about it in any blog or book about moving countries that you can find. But as a new expat, this fact is only more true. You find yourself by turns excited, overwhelmed, curious, anxious, fascinated, frustrated, proud, self-conscious. It’s a grab bag of emotions, and you never know which one you’re going to get on any given day. (Or any given hour, on some days.)

The thing about being an expat is that the smallest things start to carry such importance. Successfully withdrawing money from the bank will have you flying high the rest of the day, feeling like you can take on any challenge your new home might throw at you. The next day, a confusing and frustrating trip to the grocery store will have you brooding for the rest of the afternoon, wondering when you’ll feel at ease in your new city. Everything that you used to take for granted about just living, all those little things you used to do on autopilot like buy laundry detergent at Target or go out to dinner after a stressful week, is now something that must be considered and planned ahead of time.

And we have it good because most Danes speak excellent English. I can’t imagine what the culture shock would be like if you moved to a country where there was no common language.

So being an expatriate is all about patience, mostly with yourself. It’s about knowing your limits, reminding yourself to breathe, and letting yourself take more breaks than you may be used to. You made it through your first social event? Have a cookie. Had a tough day at work because everyone kept dropping into Danish and for some reason it just got to you more than usual? Here’s a beer and some American TV.

Eventually we’ll watch Danish television – with subtitles – and we’ll go out to eat on the weekends. Eventually we’ll be able to buy groceries for an entire week because we can think more than one day ahead. But for right now, baby steps.

Baby steps are fine.

(And also, I find that coffee helps immensely.)

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5 thoughts on “Life as a New Expat

  1. You are definitely entitled to call yourself an expat, you earned it, you made the move and opted for a life full of new and exciting, sometimes overwhelming situations and experiences! 🙂 One thing that is interesting about becoming an expat is that no matter how much you describe your new life to your family and friends back home, unless they have experienced it themselves, they’ll never understand. Just like you said, everything you do back home in your native language is like being on auto pilot, it’s easy. Everything gets turned upside-down when you move abroad.

    I like how you worded this post, from the small victories like withdrawing money making you proud of yourself to completing your first social outing – small talk in a foreign language is a craft that must be finely-tuned. I remember the first wedding I went to over here. I was so excited to see what the differences and similarities would be. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of people coming up to me because I was the interesting American with whom they wanted to speak and test his German skills, haha.

    I think we all experience these emotions at one point or another, in one way or another. I forget all the time that I am 4,000 miles away from home, that I used to shop at Meijer or Target, that I had a car, etc. Isn’t it interesting how you can accustomed to anything, any type of change? It all just takes time. What a difference a day makes sometimes…

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    • Thanks for your comment. This blog started off as mainly a way of sharing our experience(s) with our families, but I think you’re right, that you can’t really understand unless you go through it. You’re also right about the human capability of adapting to circumstances. That’s what I keep telling myself, that it just takes time. Already, some things and places seem very familiar to me, though new places and experiences are that much more jarring because of the contrast. But when I think about a year from now looking back on this time, on the things I wrote on this blog, it’s hard to imagine but I bet we’ll feel 100 times more adapted to our new city.

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      • That’s exactly how my blog started off as well 🙂 I think us expats have this desire to chronicle what is changing in our lives for our families and friends but also for us personally so we have something to look back on, like you said.

        I have been in Germany since January of this year and so many things are already familiar and I laugh when I look back on certain things that were so intimidating to me at first that have become mundane – like making a doctor’s appointment, haha.

        I really enjoy reading your blog entries! Keep up the great work 🙂

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  2. Great post, Allison! I remember going through some of the same emotions six and a half years ago – but mine were tempered by the fact my husband is Norwegian and Bergen is his home. He was a buffer of sorts for my confusion and cultural understanding; he made it easier.

    You and your husband are each experiencing the same changes and emotions – I’m enjoying reading of that experience through your eyes. Your words express it very well!

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