Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Happy and Successful Expats
When I moved abroad, I was one of those people who really hadn't planned on ever moving from my home country. It was never even a possibility, let alone a thought. However, Life has a way of changing your course and changing your ways of being, doing and thinking. Once Jiri and I had met (four years after my divorce), my life course was changed forever. Eventually the course led here to the Czech Republic, and here I sit typing to you now. It's a very amazing process that has led me to this point. I'd like to tell you more about being a reluctant expat and what I've done to help myself along on this expat journey.
I call myself a reluctant expat because I didn't want to leave my family, my dog and home to move outside of the U.S. I wanted to be with my Czech husband, but had thought he would be moving to the U.S. to build our life there. That option was not available to us due to family responsibilities my husband has here, in the Czech Republic. That meant I had to move to be with my husband. This is why I call myself the reluctant expat. I often feel I have one foot in each country, not literally, but by having family on both sides of the ocean I have "one foot in each country."
Often, after first moving here, I felt torn in half. I sometimes still have this feeling, especially when traveling back and forth between my two homes. When I'm in the U.S. I'm missing my husband and our life here, when I'm in the Czech Republic I am missing my family and life back in the U.S. The feeling of being torn in half has lessened with time and experience, and I'm happy to be here in the Czech Republic with my husband, but it has taken some effort on my part to learn how to become a happy expat. It has definitely been a process.
The process of converting from a reluctant expat to a happy expat has been somewhat of a struggle at times. I had to go through the process of grieving when I first came here--grieving for the loss of my family and friends, and experiencing complete empty nest syndrome when my youngest moved to college; grieving for my comfortable and stable life for a life filled with a new language and culture, etc. The grieving process is normal for all who first leave home for life abroad, even for those who are ready to move from their home country. There is also much stress involved with learning how to live in your new home. It's necessary to learn the culture and language; i.e., how things work in your new home country. This takes time. When you throw in life with a new spouse the stress can be unbelievable. I had to deal with all of this when I first moved abroad.
How did I deal with all this stress, the grieving process and adapting to a new life? The only thing I can tell you is that I did some crying, lots of learning, arguing with Jiri (normal newlywed arguments and adjustments), and learned how to stay in touch with my family and friends, back in the U.S. In other words, I had to work through all of my feelings in order to come to terms with myself and my new situation. This is only normal. The process of coming to terms and acceptance can take a long time for some, whereas others are quick to go through the process. Everyone is different and each person will go through this process in their own time and in their own way. This process for me is probably not completely over, I feel like a work in progress. But that's OK. The important point is that I'm making progress and am moving forward, and that's a very positive point to remember.
What has helped me on this process of adapting to my new home? There are several things that have helped me to adapt to life abroad. The first one is the Internet. The Internet was how my husband and I first met, on a genealogy page to be exact. Much of our courtship, aside from visits to one another, was conducted over the Internet via usually daily emails. Through this experience I've become an expert at how to maintain relationships via long-distance. I now use this experience to stay in touch with my kids, parents and friends back home. We use Gtalk, Facebook and some other programs to stay in touch. My kids and I even play games together over the Internet. It works and is a great way to stay in touch and to be active in the family. Even my 95 year-old grandmother gets on Gtalk with me. That's so wonderful. The Internet connection is so helpful for us. We all miss one another, but still are able to have daily contact, when schedules allow.
What a luxury this Internet connection is. When my great-grandfather moved from Czechoslovakia to the U.S., 100 years ago, he had to rely on letters to travel back and forth between him and his loved ones. Letters back then could take weeks and months to make the trip. Now, with the Internet, my family and friends stay in touch at the speed of light. I take advantage of this connection every day I can, and this has helped me to settle into life in my new home, allowing me to have a foot comfortably in the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
Blogging has also been a great help in the process of turning me from a reluctant expat into a happier expat. I took up blogging as a way to let my family and friends know what was happening in my new life, sharing pictures and funny stories. Somehow other readers came along and some began to comment and from this new friendships developed with other expats. Most of these fellow-expats are in other countries, but I count them as real as any friends I see, in real-life, every week. Blogging not only has become a way to reach out to other expats, but it has somehow helped with the psychological process of working through the grief and sense of loss through communicating with others who are going through the same process.
Blogging also became a way to actually begin to focus on my new life and new home. I began to look around and see exactly where I was living. In turn, I was led to begin exploring my new home here, in the Czech Republic. I found that this country is beautiful and filled with nature, ancient and lovely architecture, and culture. I have the opportunity to actually live here and experience all of this rather than only reading about it in a book. What an opportunity for one who had never even thought of living outside of her home country, and was reluctant to move in the first place.
Along with blogging, reading has also been a way to help me to appreciate my new home. I try to read one or two books about the Czech Republic and Prague each month or so. I am a voracious reader so reading is as natural to me as flying is natural to a bird. Geography has always been a favorite subject and now I'm living it. I can live and read about geography (focusing on the Czech Republic and Europe) at the same time. Reading has opened the Czech door for me on many levels. I have learned more about Czech history which has helped me to understand why Czechs are the way they are. I have used books to try to learn the language (would that my tongue would capture the words as my eyes do).
Reading also helps me to learn about new places to visit and new sights to see here in this country, and around Europe. I read everything about the Czechs and the Czech Republic, and surrounding countries, I can get my hands on. I have gained much more than knowledge from all of this reading, I've gained a new appreciation for a new culture and people, and have also come to understand my own Czech family roots. Reading has been invaluable, too, for my process of turning from a reluctant to a happy expat.
Like I said the process for me is not over. Is it ever over? For some people maybe, but my heart's still back home with my family and my dog, though my heart is also here with my husband and our Czech family and our friends. Is it uncomfortable to have a foot in the U.S. and one foot here? Yes, sometimes it is, but truly I'm happy to have the opportunity to be living abroad. This chance will never come again in my life. I'm happy to have made the decision to move to the Czech Republic. I had to work hard from being the reluctant expat to becoming a more happy expat, but what an adventure. I don't regret it at all and have managed, by using the tools mentioned here, to become a happy expat who has one foot back in my home country, but also has a foot in my new home here, in the Czech Republic.
My advice for those who are living abroad and struggling is to take a good look at why you are there. If you have to stay for a time, then try to learn to appreciate your new home in ways that are meaningful to you. For me, this has meant using the Internet to stay in touch with family, blogging and reading. Find the tools that work best for you and apply them vigorously to your own situation. Reach out to other expats in your new home or on the Internet. There are many organizations allowing expats to connect with one another. Use every means you have to try to make the change from being a reluctant, unhappy expat to becoming a happy, successful expat. You won't regret the effort and you will gain in unimaginable ways. Your life will become rich to over-flowing. And maybe one day you'll be able write a bestselling memoir about your experiences living abroad.
Go out and be a happy and successful expat and enjoy your life!
That's all for now--have a great day!
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