Any long term Expat is going to miss certain foods after a while. Foods you grow up with are pretty deeply ingrained in the memory and often when the expat life gets overwhelming, we just crave certain things from our home country. This is normal and I definitely enjoyed being back in the US last year to go shopping. However I often get asked what foods we just can’t find here. We can find most everything, the point is the lack of choice.
Being an expat is an overwhelming experience. Nearly everything about your daily life will change. This starts with the big things like language and housing and goes all the way down to having to find a different brand of butter. The expat move usually means that most of your stuff is not coming with you and you will have to build up a new circle of friends. So dealing with all of this newness stripped of your normal armor. This is one of the first challenges, so here are some of my ideas on how.
Many travel guides and blogs talk about getting to know the locals when you travel. As a expat though, it makes me rethink where is the line between an expat and a local. I like to feel what it would be like to live in a place. I like that the guy at the little breakfast bar notices when we don’t come around or that a waitress knows our order after only a few days. This is that sense of “home away from home” that I enjoy. Connections with locals can make you feel like you belong even when you obviously don’t.
One of the things I think most Europeans who have never been have a hard time to grasp are the distances involved in getting places in the US. Highways are everywhere and you need a car to get just about anywhere. An hour commute to work is standard and due to traffic this could mean 40 miles or only 10. Just going to the nearest grocery store is often a mile or two. Going back this summer I was able to see the driving experience with new eyes.
Recently my bike broke. For most Americans imagine what it might feel like to lose a car. My main mode of transport in the summer months reduced to the phrase “more expensive to fix than to buy a new one.” I am not totally stranded though. Thankfully there is wonderful public transport in Freiburg, but it is still sad. I bought the bike during the first summer that I was here, which makes it 3 and a half years old. It is getting darker and colder, so I wouldn’t be riding as much anyway, but it is awful to lose it.
You are different than everyone around you. Perhaps you don’t speak their language so well (or at all). Maybe you miss your friends at home that know all of the inside jokes. You are out of your comfort zone so far you can’t even see it anymore. And this isn’t travel, so you could be living alone and likely working all day. The expatriate experience is a wonderful one. Though it can be a isolating and lonely one at times.
I will also be heading home in June after over three years as an expat for a “home leave”, so this topic is close to my heart too. In this guest post, Suzer expands upon one of her posts about going home again. The mix of identities that an expat has to deal with “going back.” Check out her blog for more expat tales from Australia.- Andrew