Life As An Expat: Things That Surprised Me About Living Abroad

It's been about ten days since we got back to the States. Do the math on that and you'll see that we arrived on the Fourth of July. An epic start to a new life if there ever was one, wouldn't you say?

We were in Atlanta for a few days seeing family, then made our way to North Carolina. We're now staying at my dear momma's house for a few months until we're ready (aka financially able) to buy a home. Big, awesome, really fun stuff is in the works, that's for sure. 

Not that enough time has passed since I returned to the States after living abroad to learn all I have to learn about the experience, but I've begun the process of reflecting on my life in London from the other side. Ten days in and looking back, there are several things that came as a total surprise to me about living abroad. Here are a few of them:

It Was An Instant Shot Of Perspective

Living in London for three years gave me an incredible, unexpected amount of perspective. That's something I gained a little bit when I moved from Atlanta to New York and spent many a late Sunday afternoon holding back tears at city-bound airport gates. I was in my early twenties and doing my regular return to the city and its nausea-inducing cab rides to the West Villlage or Brooklyn. The other end promised a dinner of cereal, peanut butter, and/or tortilla chips and a quick scan of The New York Times before heading to bed and getting up the next day for another big week of big city work. Do that for a few years, as many of us have, and you'll learn a thing or two about missing the ease of a life you know.

But living outside of your country for an extended period of time will show you things about yourself (and your country) that you never knew and never would've guessed you'd find out. It's almost like the three years I spent in London sped up any sort of quarter-life crisis I would've had at home. Living far away was a crash course in figuring out who I was, and I know it would've taken years for me to get to where I am now if I hadn't left home.

Yeah, perspective has been a bonus.


Feeling Like A Kid Again

And not in a good way. For all the perspective gained and personal growth that's done, one thing that always frustrated me in a maddening, eyes-spiked-with-tears kinda' way was the loss of the really everday knowledge that make you feel like an adult. I've mentioned before the frustration that comes with moving to a new country and not knowing any of the brands in a grocery store, not to mention which grocery store you should even go to.

It can be equally frustrating to live in a state of transition where simple questions like "What's your phone number?" leave you without much to say. More often than not, I find myself going into explanations about having just moved, changing numbers and addresses, etc. probably as some defense mechanism to prove to a total stranger that I'm usually more independent and better off than I am right now.


The Legitimate, High-Quality Friendships

Who would've thought that moving abroad would grant me access to such incredible friendships? Before I left, I didn't know about the "expat community" or really care to get involved but man, am I glad I did. These are your friends and allies, and the only people who will really understand what you're going through and will be eager to talk to you ad nauseam about visas. Since leaving home, I've made friends all over the world who I came to know in an instant, very real way purely because of our shared experience. Feeling vulnerable far away from home has a way of turning strangers into friends. It's pretty incredible.


Homesickness, And What It Becomes

This was something I struggled with more than I would've ever guessed. Living in London, I was homesick for my family, friends, climate, and scenery – not to mention any and everything American. Even the smallest things, like seeing an American brand or overhearing another North American accent on the street would make me feel so much better. As bad as it was, eventually it was something that I (and I'm assuming most folks who leave home) got used to. Even unusual situations start to feel normal after a while, and my experience with homesickness was no different. You get used to living your life away, and that's all there is to it.

But then – what's funny – is that when you do come back, no matter how much has changed at home, it'll feel like you never left at all. Life can change a lot in a few years, that's for sure, but it's also amazing how much stays the same. It's almost like you never even left.



It's a weird feeling to be elsewhere in the world and feel like, somehow, an entire country of people that you know back home may know you better than the community around you. It's a false feeling, of course, but it's one that I think most anyone who has left their home country even for a short while would recognize. This feeling gave me a strong, sturdy allegiance to my country. Of course it was always there, but I think patriotism and a love for where one comes from has a way of showing up the further you're away from it. You don't know what you got 'till it's gone, you know?

Anyway, I never would've thought I'd so thoroughly enjoy hearing The Star-Spangled Banner at a baseball game, but here I am.

There will be plenty more to say as time goes by, of course. Overall though, things are feeling pretty good. Comfortable, slower, friendlier. Just right, you know? I'll keep you guys posted – after all, it's just been over a week.

Oh – and if you've ever lived abroad or even thought about living abroad, I'd love to hear about your thoughts. This is an experience that's different for everyone so I'm eager to hear what others have to say on the topic. Let me know!