Photos coming soon! When we re-launched The 3 Star Traveler we lost many of the original photos from posts. Lori is gradually working her way through past posts and uploading the photos once again. Check back soon!
One hundred and twenty-six.
That is the number of days since we left expat life and extended travel adventures to begin the process of repatriation. A process that continues with a long awaited move into a house last weekend and reverse culture shock moments which seem to build instead of lessen. In these past days I have had zero motivation or inspiration to write about expat life or travel in general.
I think I’ve been a bit lost. Lost and trying to figure out where I now fit in.
During the days of living in another country I was comfortably in my little corner of the travel world filled with ideas and blogging away.
Now? Well, now I wonder what I have left to offer that someone might be interested in reading.
Over the past week I’ve been asked for advice from friends who are considering the same move we made to Brazil three years ago. In our conversations I’ve realized that this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to go deeper in evaluating how I’ve changed and the overall impact of the adventure
I tend to downplay what I have to offer regarding my expatriate experience. I constantly compare myself and time abroad to the expat experiences of others. I think – I should have done that, I should have had a better grasp of the language, or I should have traveled to that city. I worry about over generalizing the culture I was in or offending someone.
As I’ve had time to reflect, and as I’ve been asked for numerous pieces of advice as of late, I’m realizing that I do have quite a bit to offer. Not just regarding expatriate life, but for travel and experiencing other cultures of the world.
Perhaps my advice will appeal to someone in the same position; someone who isn’t moving to a city where they will find ex-pat groups to buddy up with for support, or where English can be used for communication in public. Or perhaps it will be someone that never thought they’d be an expat yet find themselves on the edge, ready to take the jump.
For those people, this is what I learned living for 2 ½ years in Maringá, the third largest city in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil.
It will change you.
Regardless of how content you are with who you are at this very moment, an expat experience will change you. You can hold on to your core values, your beliefs, but you will return a different person.
Whether these changes are good or bad will vary greatly on what traits you value. You may become more balanced or more stressed; more peaceful or more easily frustrated; more concerned or more apathetic.
When we moved I left a job where I was constantly looked to for advice in my field of study. I guided people’s work, gave presentations, taught classes and didn’t mind being the center of attention one bit. I was also hotheaded, firm in my beliefs (also read opinionated), structured in some aspects of my life and go-with-the-flow in others. I always strived to be accepting and respectful of others and their time, easy to work with and approachable. Although I’m not sure that always showed beneath the other aspects of my personality.
I returned a person who enjoys being alone, loves quiet as much as noise, preaches less and does more while trying to understand that everyone has their own way. I can sit for hours and stare at a field or ocean thinking about nothing and everything all at once. I appreciate efficiency and service more than ever. I’m a slow and quiet driver barely showing the signs of road rage I had three years ago. In other areas of my life I’m more easily frustrated, and on many subjects I’m downright apathetic. I now can’t stand to hear constant complaining and have a much more positive outlook on life overall.
To be honest, none of it makes any sense. I’m a hodgepodge of different feelings and emotions that come together to make this new me. Many changes I like, others I’m working on.
Prepare to feel unique.
If someone asked me what is the one thing I miss about expat life it would be uniqueness. It is a feeling that can’t be described to someone who hasn’t experienced it. It has nothing to do with titles, status, talents or looks, and isn’t a better-than-thou or condescending type of a feeling. It is an internal feeling that brightens your mood and makes you feel special even if you are only special to yourself. When you travel back home after living abroad and realize how comfortable you feel in a room where you don’t understand the language, how much less materialistic you are, how grateful you are for all you have, you feel unique. There is no other way to put it.
You will be that person.
I’ll never forget my first trip back to the States when my Dad was telling me how he and my brother encountered a person out in public who came to them speaking an Asian language apparently seeking directions. They had no idea how to communicate with him or how to help.
I said, “Dad, that’s me.”
The person who couldn’t ask for what she wanted, who didn’t know where to go, who was giggled at by the girls behind the bread counter when she tried to order in Portuguese. I was that person. And if you move to a country where you don’t know the language, you will be that person too. It’s a humbling experience. Enjoy it and grow from it. You’ll never look at a person who doesn’t speak your language in your home country the same way again.
Your level of acceptance will be tested.
I mentioned how accepting of other cultures and people I thought I was prior to our move, right? Notice I said thought. No amount of travel can prepare you for living in a new country, adjusting to local customs and having interactions with the people. You may think you are a big person like I thought I was; one who would never look down on another person or culture, or feel your way of doing things was superior.
Trust me, you will be tested. You may have your moments of being disgusted and hateful, and you may even feel embarrassed at things you said or did. Changing everything about yourself from what you eat, to how you cook, how you communicate and how you conduct day to day activities is challenging for anyone. You are bound to get frustrated. Acknowledge your shortcomings and ensure you grow from them so you can come out the other side as the accepting person you thought you were to begin with.
You can get all the advice in the world and it won’t change your experience.
Before moving, I received advice not to pass up any opportunity, to learn the language and to stay in the moment. When we set out for expat life I was bound and determined to follow every bit of this advice to enhance my experience. Some things I did, others I failed at and some I completely forgot about.
Moving abroad is an emotional experience and it can be difficult to simply adjust to daily life in general. What you do or don’t do has no relation to success or failures. You are you, and your expat experience will be different than that of anyone else. Your life abroad will be both what you make it and what it was meant to be. Good, bad or indifferent the important thing is that you appreciate it and the person you have become because of it.