When you choose to move abroad there are some changes and challenges that are blatantly obvious – right there ‘in your face’ obvious. Such as the natives speak a different language than you. Like the predominant religion is not yours. Like the food is different to what you are used to eating in your passport country. Like the weather is constantly hot and you are used to four distinct seasons. That kind of obvious.
But there are other challenges of a life overseas that you don’t necessarily think about before you make the leap. Like these four things.
1. Living Life in a Second Language
Yes, you got that you’d need to learn a new language when you moved abroad but did you consider that you don’t just speak a second language everywhere you go, but that you actually have to live your life in a second language? If you have moved for the long term, or have a local partner then you’ll soon get that speaking in a tongue not your own is very different to living life in a tongue not your own.
My husband’s first language is Dutch and I obviously knew that before I moved to the Netherlands. But now I realise just what it means when I say my husband speaks and is Dutch. It means my in-laws are Dutch. It means my children are Dutch and they go to a Dutch school – so their teachers speak Dutch. My children’s friends communicate in Dutch, as do my children’s friends’ parents. I do my shopping in Dutch. My neighbours speak Dutch. People who knock on my door speak Dutch (mostly – but those are stories for other posts I think) and when the telephone rings there is a good chance there is a Dutch speaker on the line. Dutch, Dutch, Dutch. One the one hand that’s great – you can’t beat that kind of immersion when it comes to learning a language. Eventually you actually start thinking partly in Dutch too but are you really ever so fluent that you can be your true self in a second language?
No matter how many books I read in English, how often I speak to my kids in English, how many calls I make back to England to speak to family and friends or how many programmes I watch on the BBC there is no escaping that I live my life in Dutch. Even after 15 years in the Netherlands that is sometimes tiring and frustrating. The words I need to express myself properly are sometimes not on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes I come across as an idiot who can’t string a proper sentence together. It can sometimes be a little bit lonely living as a minority of one…….
2. Emergencies and Illnesses Back ‘Home’
When there is a medical emergency, or when a relative has little time left on this earth, running to go and see them is not a matter of hopping in your car. I unfortunately know from recent experience that such situations can leave you with a heart wrenching decision. It’s an aspect of expat life that only gets harder as the years roll by. Bad news is a fact of life, even expat life. Illness and death do not always give fair warning.
3. Living Between Two Worlds
I’m not Dutch and I never will be. Even if I wandered off tomorrow and picked up Dutch citizenship whilst wholeheartedly renouncing the Brit in me, I still wouldn’t be Dutch. However, after 15 years in the Netherlands I am also now too Dutchified to call myself a pure bred Brit. I live life walking along the middle line between two cultures – a cultural and national no-mans land if you like. It’s a weird place to live.
4. Celebrations and Parties
Recently (though no longer as recent as I’d like) I turned 40, as did all my friends I went to school with in England. Popping back to celebrate the milestone birthdays with each and every one of them was just not on the cards. The same applies to weddings, christenings and other happy occasions. Logistics rule out joining in every party we’re invited to back in my passport country. There are new parties locally to attend of course, but missing out on celebrating with loved ones back ‘home’ is tough.
Over to You: What challenge did you stumble upon that you hadn’t expected or thought about before you moved overseas?