My Expat Life: Seeing Home from a Different Vantage Point

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This week’s expat guest post is from Susan, of The Natural Singer.  She lives in Switzerland right now with her family, and has learned to see home from a different vantage point through her expat experience.

It is with pleasure that I am able to share my experiences as an ex-pat for Ariana’s great blog. I have not put pen to paper (or, rather, finger to keyboard) to describe my experiences, so I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to reflect in this manner and express what I have learned over these years.

One of the things that I like most about Ariana’s blog is that she doesn’t just focus on food and recipes, but she shares a great deal of herself by revealing her struggles and triumphs. I have found that it is through our struggles even more than our triumphs that we are able to discover who we really are.

Our Story

We are Americans living a rather unorthodox life, I suppose. I’m a singer by training and my husband is now a doctor. We have been living overseas for 6 years now. How we came to live overseas, however, was a result of a series of unforeseen circumstances. That’s ‘vague-speak’ for having experienced the proverbial crap hitting the fan for us as a family, and we weren’t sure what that meant for our future. My husband was attending medical school at the time and then…well… he wasn’t anymore.

We were living in the US, had just bought a home in Maine, just had a baby girl and life seemed to be moving forward as we’d always hoped and dreamed. Then it appeared that our dreams were shattering right before our eyes. We looked at different possibilities for my husband to finish medical school. Some options were in the Caribbean and some in the US.  Then he began to look at Europe.

The Big Move

After researching several different countries, we settled on Bulgaria. Bulgaria was ideal because it was relatively inexpensive to live there, the medical school was also inexpensive and they would accept all of my husband’s transfer credits from his US medical school. I also looked forward to being in the middle of Europe where I could search for opportunities to perform.

I had done some research before moving there. I watched all of the Youtube videos I could find, read many different overviews of the country and spoke with an American medical school colleague of my husband. She was helping us to move there and was attending the medical school at the time. She absolutely hated it there and had very few positive things to say. That ended up being good for me because I felt I was going into the situation with both eyes as open as I could. Nonetheless, I was ready for the adventure.

Living in Eastern Europe was a wonderful but also challenging experience for us as Americans. The remnants of almost 50 years of communist rule were ever-present and could make day-to-day life difficult. With that said, we still have a part of our heart in Bulgaria. Bulgaria was a place that taught our little girl to speak Bulgarian. It was a place that gave us the most delicious and succulent tomatoes on the planet. It was the birthplace of our second daughter. It was the place that allowed us to follow our dreams.

Our Life Now

Fast forward to today and we are still living overseas. We are currently in Switzerland. Ahh, the land of clocks and chocolate!

We ended up in Switzerland almost by chance. We planned on only being here one year for my husband to finish his PhD. My husband had just finished medical school in Bulgaria and almost on a whim decided to apply for a residency position in Switzerland. Truth be told, we didn’t think he would get it because it can difficult to get jobs as foreigners here. Not only were we foreigners, but non-EU citizens, which places the odds even further out of your favor.

My husband was offered a position the same day he had interviewed, and we were ecstatic! It was not what we had in mind to end up in Switzerland, but we have been very happy for the circumstances turning out the way they have.

Switzerland is a wonderful place and very different from Bulgaria. Each place has its pros and cons. While I love that the trains run perfectly and on time and it’s very clean, I miss the warmth and hospitality of friends and even strangers in Bulgaria. The pros about Switzerland is that it is a fantastic place to raise a family. It’s very safe and it offers a very high standard of living.

The cons are that Germanic cultures (we live in the German speaking part of Switzerland) tend to be more private and not as open to others. That is not to say that we have had bad experiences because we haven’t. People have been very friendly and polite, but I would not characterize the Swiss, generally, as warm folks. It has taken a bit longer to form relationships, but I can be very persistent 😉

Lessons Learned

Living abroad has also taught me a lot about myself and my home culture. I learned that as Americans we are very pampered and even spoiled with conveniences. Living without a car and clothes dryer is not only possible, it can be a benefit! I learned that being resourceful can be a vital life skill. I learned that looking at how others live provided me with insight about how my own culture could benefit from new perspectives. I also learned from living in other cultures that some very “American’ characteristics could be quite useful. In essence, we have a lot to learn from each other.

I have had the gift and opportunity to look through the lens of other’s experiences and I call it a rare blessing. I have learned that despite our many differences, people everywhere at their core want security, peace and happiness. We have appreciated every moment of our adventure and will continue to make our ‘home’ away from home.

Susan of The Natural SingerSusan is a classically trained singer currently living in Switzerland with her family. She is passionate about all things related to health and wellness. An avid home cook, Susan loves to experiment with dishes from all over the world. She’s a homesteader in the making who finds herself in the city at the moment, but dreams of having a plot of land someday where she can put her hands in the soil and plant to her heart’s content.

Thanks for sharing your family’s story with us, Susan!  I love that your husband applied for a position that he didn’t think he could be offered, and that the reward was immediate.  I think you do have to be extra-bold sometimes to make it as an expat, and it’s so exciting.

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3 Responses to My Expat Life: Seeing Home from a Different Vantage Point

  1. Susan Gaines June 15, 2014 at 2:13 am #

    I loved reading this account. Yes, yes, yes… the conveniences in America. Should we lose our electricity and gasoline the wail of misery would be heard round the world. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I need it.

    • ariana June 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

      I agree, Susan! There is SO much that we Westerners take for granted. This reminds me of last week’s guest post from Diana– people thought her life must have been hard growing up because she didn’t have running water. But that was the least of her problems!

  2. Anna November 16, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    Love these expat posts. So full of valuable perspective.

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