Over the course of the last 5 years of living abroad, I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles about, well, living abroad. After all, who better to understand the challenges and successes than fellow expats that are going or have gone through the same things? Knowing you are not alone is often all it takes to give you that little boost to get through yet one more day of forms (in another language of course), moving boxes, school applications and general culture shock.
I find that I can relate to many of these articles and it gives me comfort, especially on those tougher days. But recently one stood out to me. The author was writing about the top 10 things she had learned from living abroad. On that list, the one that hit me the hardest was probably the one that I had been struggling the most with – Bloom Where You Are Planted.
What did she mean by that? I think it’s probably up to interpretation but my feeling on it was to embrace what you cannot change. For example, we now live in the Netherlands and it’s definitely not Spain (where we lived before here)…nor is it the US (where we are from). It’s somewhere in between and full of it’s own differences that make adjusting a challenge. For example, in Spain, no one spoke English. And while I had no problems with the desire to learn Spanish, it was hard, incredibly hard, and there were so many days where the language barrier just beat me down. Getting things done took infinitely longer because of language issues and it was frustrating. Or maybe it was just because it’s Spain. It’s hard to know some days. Looking back I realize that this barrier made me more resistant to fully integrating into society.
But now we are in the Netherlands and the majority of people also speak English, something I’m incredibly thankful for, though I’d like to note that I am taking Dutch class as well because to fully integrate, learning the language is a necessity. However, because there is no language barrier with the many English speakers, I feel we have integrated faster than we did in Spain – we can make phone calls, make appointments, ask directions, ask for help and so much more. However, that does not mean that we haven’t struggled with cultural differences. But because of my experiences in Spain, I’m trying my best to figure out ways to better bloom in my new surroundings. Part of this is learning to find happiness in the location that I am in now.
However, as we all know, embracing that change is easier said than done. And as expats, I know very few who have not struggled with this concept (my husband somehow being one of them who adjusts like it’s no big deal). It’s all a part of the cultural adjustment to living in a new country. What can we do to help each other adjust to this new life we’ve chosen? In Spain, after a while, we just called them “ahhh Spain” days and we did our best to laugh off the situation that was causing that day’s meltdown. Plumber didn’t show up for the third day in a row? Ahhhh Spain… You have to go through drivers ed all over again because they won’t convert your US drivers license? Ahhh Spain… Restaurants don’t open for dinner until after 8 and you’ve got a 2 and 5 year old? Ahhhh Spain…. and so on and so on…Eventually your Ahhh Spain days become less and less frequent but every now and again they manage rear their ugly head and keep you on your toes. We still haven’t come up for the lingo that sounds just right for our Ahhhh Netherlands days (Ahhhh Netherlands feels like a mouthful!) but I’m sure it will come to me eventually 😉
Eventually things become “normal” for you again. But they never feel quite 100% the same as home and so you aren’t truly blossoming in your new home culture. And I think this is where this author was going with this. You can’t let the differences prevent you from enjoying the positives that your current living situation has to offer. You need to accept the differences, put them aside and move forward. It doesn’t hurt if while doing that, you can remember why it is you chose to live this unique life and that each of these differences, challenges and frustrations are all a part of the expat experience. And they will make those really great days. Those days where you realize that this life is amazing opportunity and that you need to embrace it and all that comes with it. It’s those days that I want to focus on here. My other blog (see About) talks all about our daily life and challenges, but here, here I want to focus on the good – not the bad or the ugly – parts of expat life. Because sometimes we forget, there is a reason we chose this life. And while I can’t help you to bloom where you are planted – only you can do that – perhaps I can help you laugh along the way or at the very least, see the lighter, brighter side that expat life has to offer.