Following my last slightly depressing article, I thought it was best to share a reflection piece (with a hopeful overtone and undertone) as I approach my two year anniversary of living abroad.
I’ve lived in the Netherlands for 1 year, 11 months, 15 days and 21 hours.
SEASONS OF CHANGE
When you move to a different country and drastically uproot your life, you tend to remember details like the time you arrived. You even recall your first thoughts as you peer out of the cab window, observing the flat land, dusted with farm animals and ditches. “Welcome home,” you remember saying in a voice slightly strained from travel and nervousness.
As soon as that plane landed, I felt a gust of wind ushering in a new phase of life.
A friend once told me we experience life in seasons. Everything in life has an expiration date (from a biological and social sense) including stages of development. If we compare our phases in life to nature, one of the most difficult things we face is learning when to let go of a particular season and accepting the next.
Sitting in my room and enjoying the gorgeous weather (for once), I feel another breeze and know another season is about to begin. I’m shedding off the last of my autumn leaves, and preparing for winter. I’ll refrain from saying, “Winter is coming.” Ehem, no I won’t.
In the Netherlands, winter is rainy, cold, dark, and full of terror (not so much the last bit, but I couldn’t help throwing in another Game of Thrones reference). But winter can also be inspiring and beautiful and full of wonder; think snow-capped mountains, tiny villages lit against the darkness, Christmas markets and the smell of delicious German carnival food, and iceskating on frozen Dutch canals. That’s the type of winter I think I’m about to face. A transformational one that rejuvenates me and gives me time to set my priorities, storing my best self for spring.
When I arrived in the Netherlands, it was my autumn. I was constantly changing to the point where I eventually shed all the aspects that I didn’t like of my former self and former life. But all the leaves have nearly fallen and their colours are fading. Autumn is coming to a close and I’m definitely ready.
SEASONS VERSUS EXPAT LIFE
If you look at life as a series of seasons like I do, it makes it a bit easier to handle expat life. Expats need to be okay with change. In fact, it should be a prerequisite before signing up for expatriation.
“‘Scuse me, ma’am? Do you want to live abroad?”
“Gee whiz, well I sure do!”
“Great, but first you should understand we’re looking for people who are okay riding on life’s never-ending roller coaster and not feeling comfortable…ever”
“Um, so I won’t know where I’ll be living 3 years from now or won’t know who my friends will be?”
“Yup, that is correct.”
When I first arrived and began making friends, I would get quite insecure about losing them. One of the defining traits of expats is that nothing is forever and certainly living in a foreign country counts as such. Now I’ve come to accept that the life I have now and the friends I have now are fabulous and will always be important to me, but they may be just that…for now.
This mindset helps me to live in the moment and enjoy what I have. In a way, I feel like expats have the mindset of terminally ill patients. We don’t know how long the opportunity to live abroad will last and so we do our best to take advantage of every minute.
Comparing life to seasons as an expat makes it easier to handle whatever is thrown at you. It allows you to take a step back and say, “Okay, I get it. This [insert current dilemma here] is just part of whatever I am going through, but it will end and a new season (phase) will begin.”
It should be an expat zen mantra…
My life is a season…OM.. It is constantly changing and I have to roll with it…OM…My life is a season…It is constantly changing…OM…
You get the picture. Even by repeating it, it makes expat life a bit easier and allows you to soak in all the good aspects from the change of seasons rather than the annoying parts like hot and muggy weather or hail storms and constant darkness.
Expat life is not easy, but I understand why friends and family back home can get jealous of it. It’s always exciting and the words “comfortable” and “boring” generally don’t exist in our vernacular. Maybe I’m just a drama queen, but I can assure you there’s never a dull moment.
And channeling my inner Groot, I’m more and more confident and happy with the fact that I am Expat. And to my fellow expatriates, I hope you feel the same.
Original article can be found on my personal blog: https://dutchish.wordpress.com/