Open letter to my newly expatriated self

So You’re Moving Around the World?

Hello you doe-eyed, adventurous, naive, cute little baby expat you. Hi – how are you? Here in Denmark – we say “hej!” It sounds like Hi. Don’t worry – you’ve got that one in the bag. No accent required. Have you moved yet? No? Ok. So – you are still super excited, anxious, about ready to pop, explode inside and get this ball rolling. About as ready as you were to have your first child at 39 weeks pregnant. People just need to stop telling you how much easier it is when the baby is on the inside and how much sleep you won’t be getting. All you want is to meet this little creature kicking and prodding you and keeping you awake at night. Get out already. That is what it feels like right now before the big move abroad. I get it. You want to start the starting. Move already.

How long have you been talking about it? And how many people have tried to help and share and explain? Here’s the thing. Only you will be the one moving (not withstanding all your family.) And only you will have to figure it all out for your ownself. There is really no manual for how to move abroad in exactly the place you are going and in what time period and with which family that you are doing it exactly right now. Ready or not? GO! Do it. Seriously. You can do it. But you knew that already or else you wouldn’t have sold off half your earthly belongings, rented your house, given away your car, left all your family and friends behind. I do want my espresso machine back bro. Someday. Ok? That was a loan. Just saying.

Did you make it here? There? Good. Don’t be mistaken. It will be rough. Don’t be discouraged. Even when you move to Scandinavia in the dead of winter and decide to do Christmas a million, zillion miles away from your family because you thought it would be more “charming.” Don’t be discouraged. It is charming. Really. For a few seconds. Maybe a few more. But once the tree dies and the lights are rolled up, it is going to get a little rough. Keep going. You can do this. This isn’t your first rodeo. You have moved before – you know what it takes. Persistence. Courage. Persistence. Smiles. Persistence. And more smiles. Seriously. Never underestimate the power of a well-placed smile. Even in a culture that is unaccustomed to public stranger-to-stranger smiling – keep smiling. Even when there is a storm cloud of tears brewing up inside you. Smile. But cry too. It’s ok. Maybe just do it at home – in your new home.

10 Things to Do in Copenhagen at Christmas | Oregon Girl Around the World

And I will tell you that you don’t need fancy things to make it your home. You don’t even need your things to make it your home. Believe me. Your things won’t come for more months than you anticipated. You will survive. What you need immediately is a comfortable place to sleep, a few familiar pictures and honestly – you are good to go. This is your home now. Call it your home. Stop calling wherever you came from “back home.” It will only complicate things. For you and for the kids. Home is where the heart is and now you must bloom where you are planted. As cliché as those Hallmark sentiments sound, you must embrace them. Else this place will only be a comparison to and fall short of your old “home.” You are home now. And it is good. If you let it be. I promise. It will be.

What I know you will do is prioritize your family’s assimilation. And you should. That is what you do. And you do it well. You planned, researched and coordinated. I know you. But remember – and here is where I also know you will need a reminder or two – that your family will not fully feel that their world is on point until their captain is confidently at the helm. That is you. You must prioritize yourself in all of this. Easier said than done, I will tell you. Easier said than done you are telling me. I hear you. I heard you. I was you. But you will quickly see that YOU are the center of this equation. And sometimes it may feel like your ship is listing in a dense fog, but don’t worry. It is still stable and on course. It will right itself sure enough.

Copenhagen Denmark Fog Winter

I am here to assure you that you can do it. You can navigate these waters. (Denmark is surrounded by water. You live on an island. You’ll soon be talking in water metaphors be assured.) But know that I believe in you. YOU believed in you. Remember back a few months before you moved – that giddy excitement? Conjure that. I’m not joking. HA. You tell me. I hear you now. I didn’t hear it myself this past January. But still I’m saying it. Believe it. Help your children find activities and classes and friends and bus routes and ice cream flavors and kanelsnegls (cinnamon rolls) that make them smile and be happy here. Do that. But prioritize yourself too.

Summertime in Copenhagen - 10 must do's | Oregon Girl Around the World
Danish Ice Cream on Rosenvængets Allé, Østerbro

To that end – say yes. Seriously say yes to everything. Taste everything. Try everything. Turn down no invitation. Even if you never tried whatever that was before in your life. Try it. You don’t have to like it. Be true to yourself. Don’t do it again if you don’t. But just once, try it. For me. And for you. I promise. Would you believe me if I told you that you love singing in a choir? Or that you like salty licorice? Or caviar in a tube? Or curried herrings on rye bread? Really? Yes. You really do. Try it. Say yes to coffee invites even if you don’t want to get out of bed when it is so dark and cold and wet outside. Say yes to dinner with people you don’t really know. Say yes. You never know.

And you will hit that dip. Every expat does. There have been studies done about it. The one when the “honeymoon” is over? When little things like cigarette butts and dog shit on the sidewalk drive you crazy. (Is it just me?) And it feels like nobody knows your name. Still say yes. OR – say no for a little while. That’s ok too. You have not failed because you aren’t 100% happy here ALL the time. It is a VERY long way away from family. That counts for something. Especially in a country that places a very high value on community and connection and hygge – that untranslatable word that you may come close understanding, but never really achieve because it has a lot to do with comfort levels and community and coziness and connection and family. So while you are enjoying it here and while you may be lucky enough to share it with some of your family who can come visit – you will never stop missing the rest of them and the desire to share your new home with them will not go away. Get used to that. That will probably not pass.

Find your way to Västsverige | Discover West Sweden in Fjällbacka via Oregon Girl Around the World

But the blues will. January sucks. Stick it out. Take a vacation. Come back home. You’ll be surprised home much you’ll miss your HOME. Keep saying yes, keep smiling. The light here changes as quickly as an expatriate’s moods. Or maybe just yours. Spring will spring again. It already is. Take advantage. You can do this. You know you can. I know you can.

I’ll write again soon. Xoxo, me

Seychelles Mama

14 thoughts on “Open letter to my newly expatriated self

  1. You’re definitely brave. But what adventures await you. I envy you the newness of a place and the daily discoveries you will make. And home will be there to welcome you back whenever you can get back. Best wishes to you for a great experience, a great adventure.

  2. sueann

    Hate to say it, but I told you – you could do it! And you did, have and are going to. You rock sister, no matter where your “home” is. Can’t wait for it to be back here. Muah!xoxo

  3. This can apply to all countries where a person is new. One thing to consider is that after living in another country, one is never quite the same. I’ve now lived in four and am a hybrid, an international and it is more than okay, but the base will always be New England Yankee more than American. Enriched my life all of it.

  4. This is so inspiring! I feel like an expat’s journey is a rollercoaster of emotions…I have been an expat in London for five years and so many people around me are going through a similar phase as I am… I have just written my first post yesterday and I am already amazed by the number of people (more experienced) in the same situation as me. Why is it that one does not want to move back ‘home’? Where is home anyway?…I’m hoping some people out there have figured it out because I haven’t! Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

  5. I love looking back and seeing how far I have come 🙂 I have written a series of posts (well possibly two or three, I can’t remember now!) since I arrived here in South Africa charting my process and comparing myself to a baby growing up. So I arrived as helpless as a child, six months on and I felt like a tweenager or maybe even a teenager. I hope that by the year when we return back to our home country for the first time I will return here as an adult!

  6. Ahh this is a lovely lovely post. It made me a bit emotional thinking back to my newly expatriated self! There’s still lessons to be learned but it’s not it amazing how far we come!?
    Thank you for sharing this with #myexpatfamily I really enjoyed reading this!

  7. I love this post so much. I’ve been through it all and agree with the advice. DO say yes to EVERYTHING. Every experience, every invitation. You will learn so much. YES you will hit bumps in the road. Culture shock is real and nobody can avoid it. It goes away. Now after 4 years in Switzerland, I’ve decided to move on. As soon as I made that choice, I started loving it here more than I ever have! I value the relationships so much, and the feeling of home in a place that was totally alien to me when I arrived. I know I’ll have this somewhere else someday, but I know just how tough the road is to getting here now. So I’m savoring every moment of knowing WTF is going on around me while I still can!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thank you! We’re kind of in the same place as you contemplating options and saying yes to somewhere new possibly. It’s crazy what we have learned and gained with this experience and are open to where it takes us next!

      1. It is kind of crazy. I don’t know whether I should be commending myself for being totally adventurous and not resting in my comfort zone… or kicking myself for not quitting when ahead. Only time will tell.

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