What They Don’t Tell You About Becoming an Expat
"You’ll have to memorize the metric system and exchange rate to US dollars."
"Don’t forget to buy converters for your American plugs and voltage charges."
"Don’t take pants. It never gets cold. No really, it never cools off."
"Public transportation will be your friend; get use to it."
"Give your loved ones a proper squeeze, because you might not see them again for another year. "
"It will be difficult to follow US sports or watch your favorite shows. "
"You are moving 12 time zones away, and it is a force to be reckoned with. "
"Do your research on food brands and where to buy the cheapest products, because EVERYTHING is silly exxx- pensive over there!"
"Take loads of your favorite products with you, because you might not find them in Asia."
Hmm...these phrases were just the tip of the iceberg that people spat at us while we were furiously packing and preparing for our first international relocation. Moving abroad is one of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences you will ever undertake. You can’t fully grasp the enormity of how much your life will change until you actually say yes and do it. However, what "those" people did not warn us about was the emotional whirlwind ahead.
What they don't tell you about becoming an expat...
Remember being in college, surrounded by your best friends, having the most extraordinary experiences, and wishing the fun would never end? That description is on point to explain our expat endeavor. If you jump in feet first and say "yes" to every opportunity and invitation, a two-year stint in another country can be one of the most incredible journeys of your life. However, rewind back to those college days for a minute...imagine in the midst of your spectacular memory making...your friends drop a bomb.
They will be graduating early, leaving you behind. You are overcome with awash of emotions. Thrilled for the opportunities which lie ahead for them, yet incredibly sad to lose such wonderful people from your every day.
That is precisely what this past week has felt like. We have an amazing group of 10 or so couples in our condo complex whom we adore. We go on dates, have cookouts, birthday parties and vacations together, our babies have playdates and some even go to school together. I was also fortunate to have this supportive group around when our littlest was born. I could go on and on about each of them. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And this past week, our little group lost a big piece to our puzzle; our first family moved away from Singapore for a promising future in the United States.
This week has smacked me square in the face for a multitude of reasons. We have seven months of our two years left. Seven months. Some days, it seems like a long time. But I know the truth. The past year and a half has FLOWN by, and Wednesday was the end date for some of our closest friends. The amazing couple down front moved to Singapore from London (where their sons were born), and previously challenged a long distance relationship planted between Panama and Chicago.
Like many expat families, they had never lived together in either of their homelands nor close to family, and now they have the opportunity to do both. They had ridden the expat gambit for nine years and finally decided it was time to settle. Time to move to one of their home countries and have the comfort of family nearby.
However, selfishly, I realized...what flat out sucks about them moving away was the sudden thought this will happen again. Many many times...again. Three more families will be finishing up their contracts in Singapore during June/July. One family going to New Zealand, one to the UK, and one returning to NYC. Our time is up in October, along with another family we’ve grown close to. More friends are leaving in November and then January. And these are just friends from our condo. Toss in families we’ve befriended in other areas of the island...and guess what??
There are true Singaporeans and other friends who originally came over on expat packages that have decided to plant roots and call the Little Red Dot home. But those people are rare in a major international hub. Staying is such a tough decision and hard on the heart. Because those who choose to stay will constantly fight the notion of having dear friends come and go, in and out of their lives. The revolving door is heart-wrenching.
Don’t get me wrong, the expat lifestyle has its perks, especially the proximity and affordability of international travel within southeast Asia. But it certainly has its pain points, too. Plain and simple.
Read also: 6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat
At first, it’s incredibly lonely. Those first few months are rough. You slowly meet people and then jump in feet first. Your initial thoughts are to be cautious, because hey- I’m only going to be here for two years. Why allow yourself to grow close and develop deep friendships, since it’s only temporary? Quite the contrary!
Living far from home, you find yourself QUICKLY leeching onto people. These insta friends become family overnight. They are living the same season of life with you, raising kids, going to work, and traversing a foreign land with no creature comforts of your homeland. You lean on each other like gold and treasure those friendships even more. You fall in love with people on a much deeper level. You know it’s only for a short time. You hang out as much as possible; laugh and live it up every day. You treasure each date night, playdate, beach day, and vacations even more.
And to the women who have truly become family...you helped me navigate a new venture into birthing babies abroad and expat motherhood with grace. And you knew how to build me up when I thought juggling two boys in a foreign country would be the end of me.
Singapore is much like any other global city: Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong...where temporary expats are common. If we decided to stay, the revolving door of friends would be constant.
Then it suddenly sinks in...oh the pit in my stomach.
The first lady I ever met in Singapore warned me how quickly this would happen...and then how fast it would slip away. It’s sad. Very very sad. You have these momentous occasions with people from all over the world. And just like that. They are gone. It’s to be expected. And honestly, it’s part of every conversation. "Where are you from? What do you do? How long are you guys here?"
You instantly know how long you have to make memories with these amazing people you just met. The upside to the negative is how much you treasure every single day.
you know it's coming to an end. As that time stamp gets closer and closer, you make the absolute most of it. We are out exploring as much of Singapore as we can squeeze in before our hourglass runs out. The countless memories created is what makes the bittersweet feeling so intense. Ugh...my heart hurts, and it will continue to whine each time we have a farewell party.
Even though my heart wants to hide, my soul will tell you living abroad is the best decision you will ever make. Your life will be richer than you can imagine. These experiences...the eye-opening, breathtaking moments will not happen staying in your home country. The lifelong relationships created will be filled with some of the most adventurous yet laid-back people on the planet. Living in an international land with a different language, culture, school curriculum, approaches to lifestyle and even motherhood will humbly change you in the best way possible. If you get the opportunity,
My motto has been: "you can always go home." Even though, most extend their time or keep riding the expat wave to another country on a different continent. Once you dip your toes into this adventure, it's terribly hard to take them out. It becomes a way of life. And with friends in all pockets of the globe, you begin to think like a global citizen.
Read also: 5 Easy Resources to Making Friends Abroad
Even if returning to your previous house after a short assignment, you will never be the same. You have seen how others have lived. You have tasted the air and felt the Earth of other countries. You've made sense of why others do the things they do. And you constantly find yourself questioning
The winds of change will continue to blow, but don't let it stop you from living in the moment. Take the leap! Move to a place wildly different from anything you have ever known. Bask in the uncertainty. Learn to slow down and thrive in the moment. Because as that moment passes you by, the people in front of you will be moving on before you know it.
Unlike many articles, there isn't a specific call to action or solution to a major problem. Only this-