It won’t be news to anyone but life doesn’t always turn out like you expect it to. If someone had told my seventeen year old self that I would end up living in the Netherlands with a Dutch husband and three children who are way more Dutch than they ever will be British, I would never have believed them. I would have been intrigued, but convinced? I don’t think so.
Whilst I was making plans for my future, fresh out of university with a degree in European Studies, someone, somewhere was sniggering saying, “Well, I doubt you’ll be needing any of that – maybe you should have tried learning Dutch. That’s a language you will be using daily when you are 27.” But how was I to know?
Expat life is planned for some, it sneaks up on others. Either way, it probably means life as you envisioned it doesn’t quite become a reality. Expat life changes things – and sometimes that means a huge adjustment. Expat life can throw a spanner in the works. All the things you imagined for yourself in life can turn out so differently, in the blink of an expat eye.
It’s a feeling I touched upon in a chapter I wrote about my Dutch wedding in the Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style anthology. I had visions when I was younger of me trying on wedding dresses with my best friend at my side. I always figured my mother would also be a part of that build up to my wedding day. Together we’d be sipping bubbly while trawling through a range of dresses to find the perfect one for my big day.
|My final choice of wedding dress|
The reality was very different. Both my best friend and my mother were in England and I was here in the Netherlands. I actually put off looking for a dress for a while, and I guess it should have been one of the first things on my mind. At the time it wasn’t a conscious decision to keep putting the visit to the bridal shop off, but looking back, I understand why I was more reluctant than I should have been to try wedding dresses on. It’s the little things that suddenly slap you in the face and make you realise that expat life means sacrificing some things to gain others.
Having my first child was another reminder of how expat life changes things. In a non-expat life I had visions of my mother waiting outside the delivery room, eager to see her grandchild. I guess I figured I would have her to lean on, as the voice of experience, whilst I was pregnant in a different country. The reality was a million miles from the ideal. If I look back now I can’t say whether there would have been more interest in my children from my mother had I not left England. It’s a question I will never have the answer to, but I do know that my expat life changed our relationship for the worse. And I can’t change that.
When you opt for an expat life things change. It is inevitable. I wouldn’t change my decision to move overseas for all the tea in China, or all the fish ‘n’ chips back in England. But maybe, I could have been more prepared for the changes that expat life brings about. I don’t mean the daily, practical things; I had envisaged those. I mean how expat life changes how the little things turn out, how it challenges the plans and visions you had for yourself, how it strains relationships with those left behind. How it puts turns in the road you hadn’t seen coming.
To thrive as an expat I’ve needed to throw everything I saw for my future self out the window, and start with a clean slate. Make my plans from scratch. I’ve had to deal with the unexpected, and recover from being blindsided many times. Expat life means a pay off. That is the only certainty.
But I’m glad I’ve had the chance to find my way through my expat life. The journey was worth it.