Wednesday, August 2, 2017

My Routine Expat Life

Hi Everyone,
Occasionally I get messages from readers asking what my expat life is like nowadays—they’d like to know how my life today compares to when I first came to the Czech Republic. Some readers have a vision of my expat life as something of an ongoing nomadic adventure filled with unlimited travel, parties and new experiences. Today’s post will answer some of those questions and correct some of the misconceptions about my own expat experience.

The First Year

I had never dreamed of becoming an expat and had thought my mid-life years would be spent in the comfort of my own country, near my kids and folks. Life, however, took a different route when Jiri and I married.

The Reluctant Expat

Living abroad was actually the last thing I wanted to do; however, I was married to a Czech and we wanted to live our marriage in one place, in the same time zone—together. We had to figure out where to live and how. We finally decided it was best if I moved to the Czech Republic. I moved here in 2006, rather than Jiri moving to the US. He still had ties keeping him in the Czech Republic and I was relatively free in that my kids were out on their own, making me an empty-nest mother. I wanted to be with my husband, so off I went into the wild world beyond the borders of the US.

The First Several Months of Expat Life

The first several months of expat life were scary, to say the least. I entered a new life in a new country, not understanding much of the language and having little idea about the culture. You can read and study in advance of a big move to a new country, but book-learning will only get you so far. I had done my homework, but still had so much to learn! Not only that, but I had delved head first into a cross-cultural marriage with little preparation, other than love.

Cross-Cultural Marriage

I have to be honest—the first few years of life in a cross-cultural marriage were a challenge on most levels. Learning to be the wife of a Czech—this is still an ongoing adventure/challenge. I know Jiri would say the same that life married to an American can be quite puzzling at times. 

For each new experience you go through as a couple, there’s a new level of learning to go through. You’ll encounter cultural differences you didn’t even realize existed and then have to find ways to work through them. As the years go by, you learn more and more about one another and how to work together as a cross-cultural couple. It’s not always easy, pretty or romantic, but if you truly love and respect one another you’ll find a way.

Adventures & New Experiences

Along with the challenges of our cross-cultural marriage, there were many adventures—seeing, doing and experiencing so many new things. The first year or two were the most challenging and adventurous.

Jiri and I did a little traveling around Europe; I was able to join him on work trips to conferences in beautiful places. We visited Paris, Rome, Tours, Barcelona, Sevilla, Florence and other places on the Continent. All were wonderful experiences and I was able to see places I had never dreamed of seeing.

Cultural Differences

Other adventures involved learning how to live more like a Czech and how to manage more of the aspects of Czech culture. Jiri has been an incomparable guide through this process, though we’ve both faced some frustrations along the way. Here, I’m thinking of being a loud American in a quiet Czech society, remembering to take my shoes off before entering a home, not wearing lace in public, etc.

We’ve managed our way through most of the issues. If I haven’t completely adapted to living as a Czech, I can at least give the impression I have. I know how to behave properly in different circumstances, so that even Americans have thought I was Czech and that my English was almost perfect J.

Some people have taken issue with me in my becoming more Czech-like. They say I’m an American—I should be who I am, etc. My answer—I am who I am and stay true to who I am as an American. However, I am married to a Czech and want to blend in as much as possible. This makes our life easier when dealing with other Czechs, including my Czech family. It also shows my respect for my husband and his culture. I want to “behave properly” so others will accept me a little more readily. This may not work for everyone, but it’s worked quite well for me. I can “behave properly,” but am still very true to myself in all ways.

Going on Twelve Years in the Czech Republic

In December, I will have lived in the Czech Republic for twelve years! That doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. The years have flown by so fast.

After this amount of time, many expats living in one country for that long would choose to finally become a citizen where they reside. People have asked if I will do this; no, I have no plans to change my citizenship or to have dual citizenship. My home country is still the US. Even so, I do enjoy living here with my husband. This is a beautiful and amazing country.  However, at some point we will eventually move back to the US.

Routine Expat Life

After living here for over a decade, my life is still an adventure. There are always new things to see and do. Even so, life has become routine—and that’s OK. Jiri goes to work each morning and comes home in the evening after work. I’m a housewife and stay busy cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. We spend time with family and friends when possible and stay busy with hobbies. Life has become routine—my expat life is routine and I’m quite happy with that.

While it may be routine, my expat life is far from boring. The expat adventures continue, but in a slightly different way than they were in the beginning. Now I can explore not only this beautiful country, but also get to know myself a bit more in the process. This whole process is a precious gift—one I appreciate every day, even the routine parts of my expat life.

Things I’ve Learned as an Expat

There are a number of things I’ve learned about being an expat over the years. Here are a few that most long-term expats can relate to:

1). Eventually, your expat life becomes routine, unless you’re a nomadic expat: wherever you choose to live for a relatively long time, life will become routine—that’s normal and OK.

2). You will experience times of homesickness: this is most common in the beginning, but may also crop up during unexpected moments in later on in your expat life. It might be the passing of a loved one and you can’t get back for the funeral, it may be a holiday or thoughts of family and friends back home. You may long for certain foods and treats from home or even feel the need to touch base with your home culture, etc. It takes various forms and can come up even after living abroad for a while. Homesickness is generally worse in the beginning, but you can find ways to deal with it over time.

3). Being an expat means starting over: as an expat, you’ll find it’s impossible to take your old life with you. Everything--from relationships to possessions--will most likely have to be left behind. This isn’t an easy process. Not only will you start a new life as an expat, but you’ll face a new culture and language in most instances. So understand that you’ll being starting almost completely over if you choose to become an expat.

4). Embrace change: living in a new country, you’ll eventually find that some of your ways of being, doing and thinking may change. That’s OK. You’ll still be yourself, but your views, politics and more can actually broaden when you experience life in another part of the world. Don’t be afraid of this change—rather, embrace it and learn to live in a broader way than ever before in your life. Incorporate this broadening of your horizons into who you are—you’ll be a lot happier and at peace with yourself if you do.

 5). Embrace yourself: you can’t run away from yourself and life’s problems by becoming an expat. Any problems or issues you have in your life will only go along with you. Life in a new place eventually becomes routine; you’ll be getting up with yourself each morning and facing those issues you’ve not yet confronted and dealt with in yourself. Before becoming an expat, know who you are, embrace yourself and have self-confidence—these will sustain you in your new life.

6). Live like a local: get to know the local people in your new country of residence. Don’t be afraid to try your language skills and become friends with the locals. They often appreciate attempts to communicate in their own language and welcome a new friendly face. Visit places the locals enjoy—not only the places expats gather. At the same time, don’t be afraid to join the expat community, too. That way you can enjoy new friendships with locals and other expats—your life will be enriched all the more.

7). Be flexible and enjoy life: these are the two most important aspects of life, whether you’re an expat or not. Being rigid doesn’t get us very far in life, while being flexible and embracing change help us to meet many of life’s challenges. Not only that, but you can also enjoy life if you go along and have fun on the ride, wherever it takes you.

These are the things I’ve learned from life as expat over the last twelve years. I was very reluctant to take on life in a new country, but being married to Jiri has led me on many adventures, including the adventure of learning more about myself. I’ve finally come to accept and embrace who I am through the process of becoming an expat with a routine life in the Czech Republic.

That's all for today!

Have a great day & God bless!

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