My Expat Life: A Catalyst for Self-Discovery

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Hi there! Today I am really excited to share an interview with my husband about his expat experience. I only speak for myself when I write here, so it’s really nice to have an opportunity to hear more from Jeff and for you all to get to know him a bit better, too. Although Jeff grew up with what I would consider radical stability (compared to me) he has lived in China, Germany and of course England during his adult life.

582769_10151076699190775_798018275_nHow would you describe your expat experience?

I feel that it’s really exciting, that there is never a dull moment.

I think that life seems more possible as an expat.

After taking the leap, moving overseas, and living overseas for such a long time, it seems like so many other doors of possibility have opened.

I can’t talk about my expat journey without including my family’s journey of overcoming job loss while overseas, the struggle of dealing with that and making it back to Europe– all within one year. When we lost that job in Germany, it was hard not to think that was the end of our “expat dream.”  [You can read the short version of that story here.]  When I applied for this job in England, I was even told, that maybe I shouldn’t even apply, since it would be really unlikely for me to get the job. So, being here now feels like an incredible accomplishment! And it has given so much more value to my “expat experience” because I have had to work so hard for it.

Having almost lost the opportunity, I had to really work to get it back and make it happen. I could have just “folded” and let it go, but instead I had to dig deep and keep pressing forward for what I knew I wanted and what my family wanted for our lives. To not allow the circumstances to dictate what would happen for our lives in the next few years. I felt that I was able to take control rather than falling victim to bad circumstances– and this was one of the first times in my life that I was able to not be victimized by my situation, but to pursue what I really wanted, and to go after it!

10250081_10152360936710775_29266238_nWhat are some opportunities that you see now, which you didn’t have in the USA?

Career opportunities, for one. Thinking more creatively about my career is something that I have started to do here, which I didn’t do back in the States. Not thinking of myself in strictly a classroom environment, or as a teacher, but thinking of my work in other capacities as well.

Travel is obviously one of those things. Being overseas makes the whole world seem a lot closer, in some ways. Particularly in Europe– there are so many vastly different cultures, all within such close proximity. Living here gives us the ability to have a wide array of rich and diverse cultural experiences.

There’s something about living in another country– on another side of the world– being so far outside of your comfort zone and having changed your life so radically, it makes you think What isn’t possible?1014178_10151809279065775_764569647_nWhat has your favorite travel experience been?

Definitely our time in the Canary Islands. There were so many things about the landscape that reminded me of being back home– the climate, the volcanic landscapes (similar to Oregon) and the Latin culture there felt so familiar, having lived in Los Angeles. It was completely exotic– yet familiar. Experiencing the warmth of our host and the people there made me want to be a warmer, more open person.

The fact that we had saved for a year to make this happen was really huge for us, too. Because we all contributed, we each owned a piece of the trip in a way. We were doing something that felt completely foreign to us– out of our reach in a past life– going on that kind of trip from the US was not even within the realm of possibility for us when we lived there. It felt like a really unifying experience for our family, since we achieved it together. Arriving there in the end and spending a week enjoying felt more significant than any other trips we had taken together before.

Has living overseas changed the way you see your own country?
One thing I have found is that being over here has given me a greater appreciation of being an American, and a greater appreciation of my home country. Not because I don’t like where I am or the culture I am living in, but more because I have been able to have the outsider experience of looking back into my own culture, and it crystallizes for me what is unique about my own culture. Talking to people, someone might say, “Wow! You’re from America? I’ve always wanted to go there!”  It makes me realize that other people have the same feelings about the US that I have had about Europe, when I was back home. A lot of people have countries that they dream of going to, but they need to realize that they are living in someone else’ dream country. Living here has allowed me to see my home country with new eyes.

I love that Americans are so progressive and forward-thinking. Always trying to innovate, and do new things. I’ve had a unique experience, being an American expat who is working within an American community inside another country– I’m constantly seeing the juxtaposition of both cultures. I experience American culture alongside British culture every day.8378_10151590051075775_1115305339_nSomething I appreciate more about the US now is the “neighborly” culture. That people (at least where I’ve lived) will acknowledge you on the street, and neighbors genuinely want to get to know each other, and people are much more willing to lend a hand. You get the sense that if you needed help, someone would be there for you.
I remember being annoyed at times, constantly hearing people ask “How are you?” and all the chit-chat. It felt a bit un-genuine when I was living there, but even though it’s a formality, I have realized that it’s actually a really nice tradition of connecting with each other. We are at least interfacing, even if we’re not connecting on a deep level with everyone we come in contact with.

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming an expat?

DO IT! Figure out what you really want your life to look like, and go for it. Don’t let the idea of being an expat feel out of reach for you, because there are a lot of ways that you can make it happen. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you are moving towards what you want, rather than trying to escape what you don’t like in your present life.

And nurture the relationships you have right now, because you will need those connections to support as you set up your new life.IMG_6770Jeff, thanks so much for sharing your story with all of us! You have been such a fantastic partner to go on this journey with, and I look forward to all of the adventure and new experiences ahead of us.

Do you have any questions for Jeff about his expat life and experiences? I’m sure he’d be happy to chat with you in the comments below!

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8 Responses to My Expat Life: A Catalyst for Self-Discovery

  1. Rois May 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    Thank you Jeff for sharing your thoughts. My family and I are moving across state to full fill a long time dream soon which involves a leap of faith.
    My husband has his last day of work today before we leave for our new adventure,he’s struggling a bit with the whole mind set of having to have a traditional 9-5 type job verses seeing how to go about having an income in different ways. I am going to share this post with him, I think it’s going to at least give him some food for thought.

  2. Trish Carty May 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Thank you Jeff and Adriana! Great post of which i can fully relate and my hubby has some great perspectives as well! Trish

  3. ariana May 16, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Rois-Thank you for your comment. How exciting for you both to embark on something new. It will, without a doubt, change your lives. You will have to report back on your adventures. And good for you for going after something you wanted!

    Trish-I’m glad to know that you can relate. It’s nice to know that others have had similar experiences.

    • ariana May 17, 2014 at 9:03 am #

      (These comments are from Jeff!)

  4. Julie May 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Jeff, What are some of the ways that becoming an expat could happen? My husband is newly retired and dreads another Wisconsin winter, he’s looking for an opportunity to live elsewhere.

  5. Kim May 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for a different viewpoint on the casual formalities here in the US. I will keep that perspective in mind instead of thinking let’s get on with the real conversation.

  6. Jeff May 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Julie–There are countless ways to become an expat. Being retired opens up even more options as you are not limited by a single career field or even a career at all. You could have a few part-time jobs doing things you love. Also, live/work arrangements are a good way to go as well (gaining free food and lodging in return for your work on a farm or something similar). How exciting for you two to think of another possibility.

    Kim–I’m glad to hear that you appreciate the new viewpoint. I remember feeling the same way, though, when living in the US, but now sometimes miss that “superficial” connection.

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