It’s been six months now since we moved to France. Six months of ups and downs and sideways. It’s been one of the most exciting, enlightening and emotionally challenging six months of my life.
Being an expat has opened my eyes to a whole new world and I recently got involved in a HiFX campaign where expat experts offer tips for moving abroad from their own experiences. The tips, which you can find on the HiFX Expat Page, range from personal to financial and are worth reading for anyone considering moving abroad. While doing that, it made me think more about what I would tell myself if I could pop back in time and visit pre-expat me.
I’d leave a giant pile of research about expat groups and French paperwork on my desk, throw some instagram polaroids around for motivation, then I’d put ten post-it notes on my wall…
TAKE THE TIME TO ADJUST
Change is good! But good doesn’t mean easy. I don’t think I grasped just how different France could be from England. It’s something you can only really see if you move to a different country. Initially we tried to go head first into everything. We’d already been travelling for six months so we were looking forward to settling, and I didn’t quite realise that wouldn’t just fall into place hard that would be in a foreign country.
LESS DAYDREAMING, MORE PLANNING
It’s hard not to start daydreaming when you’re looking at a future in a foreign country. Before we got here we imagined a picture perfect ‘vie en rose’ which, according to instagram, it probably is. But everyone knows social media is the filtered version of life; I’m not exactly going to go instagramming pictures of tax forms #nofilter. In France, of course we don’t just go for bike rides and eat croissants and sip wine in the sun all day. When we first got here it was a bit of a long way to fall down to earth but once we got back up, avoiding stepping in dog poo, and looked around we realised that the reality, with all its flaws, was actually a heck of a lot more interesting than the daydreams.
EMBRACE BEING THE AWKWARD FOREIGNER
You are going to say some stupid things and you are going to look like an idiot at times. You will translate it later in your head and go, wait, did I just say I needed to cut my horses instead of my hair?! DAMNIT! But it’s ok – the more mistakes you make, the more you learn and the more you bond with people who will laugh with you (not at you though, they get glared at). It is hard not being able to be your full self in a foreign language but it can also be fun as you really have to make an effort, and eventually you may find yourself growing your own little foreign personality.
TAKE TIME WITH DECISIONS, DON’T FEEL YOU HAVE TO ‘SETTLE’
I’m naturally quite an indecisive person but sometimes the pressure to just decide and sort everything quickly in a foreign country can backfire. It’s sometimes seen as a weakness not making decisions straightaway but there should be no shame in saying: I just need to take a bit of time to decide, I need some more options before saying yes or no. We put pressure on ourselves to sort everything out straight away and take what we could get, because we hadn’t been there long enough to know any better. Sure, you need to be realistic and be flexible but don’t undervalue yourself just because it all feels foreign.
TAKE LESS STUFF
Downsizing when moving abroad is something I’ve talked about before and comes up time and time again from other expats who agree that the fewer ‘things’ you have with you, the better.
I packed lightly when we came to France, but our ‘stuff’ has started building up again, something which made moving house way more painful than it needed to be.
RELAX AND ENJOY IT
We spend so much time focusing on what was, and so much time worrying about what will be instead of focusing on the here and now. Sometimes you need to remind yourself to take life for what it is, enjoy it, chill the heck out and be.
STAY IN TOUCH
I don’t do this enough and it’s advice I’m still giving myself because I’m honestly not a great ‘sharer’ in general. But making the time to talk to people properly is something I need to make an effort to do more of. Posting pictures on facebook and ‘liking’ someone else’s doesn’t count. It’s like watching a play and clapping; it’s not going backstage and shaking their hand.
GO OUT OF YOUR WAY TO MEET PEOPLE
Making new friends is something that is just harder when you get older. And they’re not going to come to you. Going out of my way to meet people and do things has kept me sane while I don’t have loved ones near by. Expats are a great support and through expat groups, sites like couchsurfing.com (more that just a place to offer your couch), meetup.com, and just saying yes to invitations, even when we don’t feel like it, has given us an actual social life in this funny French place.
I already had the blog when we moved but I wasn’t doing a huge amount with it and I was very shy of having people actually read it. Yes, I know that’s the point of a blog but well, I’m just full of contradictions. I thought it would just be an avenue for me to write the odd story but somehow, along the way, I got to find my blogging groove, gained confidence, met some brilliant people, and occasionally got opportunities through it. Keeping this little bad boy going has been much more rewarding personally than I ever thought it would be and for any other expats out there I would say the same: write it down and share it; it’ll be good for you and somewhere along the line it might be good for someone else.
What would you tell yourself if you could go back before moving abroad?