How to Survive Living Abroad
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live abroad?
Let me be honest and tell you, it is not as exotic as you think.....
This is the most naked and honest blog post I have ever written. In fact, few people know the truth. So here is my real life experience living abroad. It is the truth I have not told anyone.....that is.....until now.....
If you like this post or you connect with it, please leave a comment below. You never know how much I may need to hear it ;-)
I remember feeling the excitement. The anticipation. The thrill of ditching everything I had ever known to fly 3000 miles away. To live in a country I had only visited once. To start a life with my husband. A man I just married. A man I barely knew. I had only met him 6 months before on an island vacation. I secured all my hopes and dreams into my heart and I jumped. A leap of faith. And I came to France. I was 27 weeks pregnant and really had no idea about the road ahead. I did not know the struggles I would face. The speed bumps. The heavy hits or dark deep holes. It was an adventure. It was a fairy tale. My fairy tale, coming to life. I had no choice but to see what words would get printed on the pages of my new book.
A 24 hour travel day did not wear down my excitement. I was not thinking about the old love letters I threw away. Giving my resignation to a job I loved with all my heart. My collection of clothes that I put in garbage bags for donation. Dust collectors that held sentimental value - sold. Roller blades, evening gowns, expensive appliances, bedding, books…….Everything I worked my entire life earning was gone. In 3 weeks I got rid of it all. And I was too excited to care. I had no idea the scars it would leave on my heart later. The mourning I would do for my lost belongings. My old life. My past life. I left it all there and got on a plane with two suitcases.
I got off the plane and ran into his arms. Crying with relief. I had arrived and our life can truly begin. Together. And nothing else mattered.
It wasn’t long before the honeymoon phase wore off. France had lost its lustre. It wasn’t shiny and new. It wasn't exciting. It just was. Instead of seeing all of things incredible things around me - all I could see was what I didn’t have. I didn’t have my family, my friends, my crazy insane run here to there schedule. I did not have the gym. My classes. My colleagues. Family dinners. I didn’t have neighbourly chats, coffee shops, book stores or my teams. All I saw was what I was missing out on. And it put a heavy blanket on me.
The fatigue of pregnancy set in. Imagine being stuck at your in laws, with no way of driving standard, no place to go and nothing to do. It made me lazy. I just slept, ate, read, watched stupid french tv and cried. Rinse, wash, repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This was the beginning of the deep dark black hole. I didn’t know it yet but it was the beginning.
Then my life changed. My son was born. It gave me life. Gave me purpose. Gave me a schedule. I felt whole again. Complete. Like my life was meant for something. Something bigger. Him.
And I knew I needed to find my strength.
4 days after he was born we moved into our very own apartment. It was our own little oasis. Finally a place of our own.
We moved from a teeny tiny village without a bakery to Neuf Brisach. 3 bakeries and a small grocery store. I felt like I won the lottery of life. For a brief fleeting moment the hole did not exist. I saw the world perfectly. In the eyes of my baby. I thought everything might just be ok.
Little by little the adventures of being a new mom had disappeared and life was mundane. Cook this. Clean that. Heat this. Make that. Wash this. Sleep. Rinse, wash, repeat repeat….repeat! Motherhood also sinks her claws into you. The emotions. The stress. The worry. Without family or friends to lean on I was just treading water. Just keeping my head about the surface.
My black hole started getting bigger.
I was miserable. I had this incredible looking life, from the outside. I lived in an exotic country. With a fairytale romance. New baby. Gorgeous, handsome baby who gave me endless snuggles. Beautiful apartment in a beautiful village. So why wasn’t I happy? Why couldn’t I appreciate what I had? What was the darkness that was starting to cover me? The blanket was heavier. The hole was bigger.
My marriage was slowing cracking as our happy perfect exteriors started to dissolve. We started to see who we really were. Separately and together. It wasn’t a fairy tale anymore. It was more like the Dungeons and the Dragons. We fought so much. And not just a typical fight but an all out war with screams, tears and door slams. It was not the marriage I had envisioned for myself. Not the picket fence with the manicured lawn. It was straight out of a Freddy Crugor movie and I wondered when the human masks were taken off. Stolen is a better word. And how I ever got here.
I wanted out. I couldn’t think straight. I barely slept. Eating was an after thought. The stress started to read havoc on my body. My hair was falling out all over the place. I was losing weight. My skin was pale and my body was aching everywhere. The only thing I took care of was my son. I gave him everything he needed. I forgot my needs. My wants. My plans. My husband became an extra in our life. I didn’t care about his needs. I don’t even think I listened to them. They didn’t matter to me. I was too tired and too busy to care.
My husband and I became two ships. Just passing each other. Never really talking. Never really connecting. We just were. There. Each taking up space.
I counted the days until I would be rescued. My new prince a plane ticket home. I cried. I planned. I schemed. But I never booked that flight. As many times as I came close I never booked that flight.
When Dickinson said “it was the worst of times…it was the best of times” I know exactly what he meant. It was the worst of times yet here with me was the most precious gift. I had the most important thing in my life cradled in my arms. Crying to me to come and get him. To protect him. To love him. Little did he know that he was protecting me. Saving me. Pulling me up when I just wanted to stay in that deep dark hole. He was the reason I still got up in the morning. The reason I got the groceries or cleaned the house. I wasn’t doing it for me. It was for him. Little did I know that those small actions were keeping me from going under and getting buried. Small daily steps were steps in the right direction. I just did not know it at the time.
He saved my life and he showed me how precious and incredible the gifts of the world are. I would not still be living here in France if it were not for him.
He gave me strength to stay. He gave me the strength I needed to have the conversations with my husband that I did not want to have. He gave us the strength to make it work.
I miss home. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I do not feel that stomach sinking pull. It could be something as simple as a Canadian flag on a backpack, or a tea bag left on the counter, a text from a friend, letter from my mom, new flower blossoming, lilacs on a tree, kids in the park, or a picture on my wall. Everyday I feel that pull. That ache. That miss. I am sure that will never change.
So I thought I would share some survival tips with you. Ways to help you with the transition and culture shock.
11 Tips on how to Survive Living Abroad:
Have an emergency plan in place.
I carried every possible phone number of my husbands and his family in my wallet. I wrote them all down on a piece of paper and then taped it so that if it got wet I still had it. That way if I lost my phone, or it died etc. I still had the numbers and could have someone come get me. This helped relieve the anxiety and stressed I experienced when I went out and my husband was at work.What kind of plan can you have? What can you put in place to ensure you are safe or have help when it is needed? Think outside of the electronic box. Once I got lost in the middle of the mountains, with no cell phone signal, my gas light had just clicked on and my GPS was in french and I could not set it. I did not set myself up for success. I learned from this. Now I always set the GPS in the car before I go anywhere unknown. I never leave for a trip without filling the tank - even if it is 3/4 full and I have a spare set of numbers in the car just in case!
Hiding is ok!
It is ok to spend days just chilling. Exhaustion, culture shock, or just when you need a time out. It is ok to lock yourself in your room, eat familiar foods and just be - alone. Without all the chaos, noise and busyness. I read so much when I first moved. It helped me find my inner calm and peace. Don’t beat yourself up for this. It is ok and welcomed. Take the time out that you need - always!
Get familiar with what is around you.
I walked so much - just to learn streets, paths and ways around the villages we lived in. When I knew where I was I felt better. Safer. It took me a long time to drive too. I had to know the route well so I wouldn’t panic. Get familiar as fast as you can to help ease your mind. Walk, bike, bus or drive around where you live and google places that you want to frequent. if Starbucks is your thing, or the pool - find the addresses and go there often with someone who knows the way so that when you are solo the element of surprise is removed.
Learn to speak the language.
I hated hearing this. It was so annoying. “You have to learn to speak french!”. It felt like so much pressure and stress. I wanted to say to them…do you have any idea what it is like. I need time! But it turned out time was my enemy. I am 3 years here and I can get by but I am not as strong in french as I should be and it makes me take extra hiding days that I really should not need.Take classes. Get a tutor. Try online resources. Here is a great online resource - their tagline is “learn a language free, forever”. http://www.duolingo.com.It is so hard. Trust me - I get it. But learn as much as you can. Especially the basics. It will save you!
Get out there. All kinds of people. You never know who you will meet and how they could forever effect your stay!If you want to speak in your native tongue try expat groups. Here is one that I am trying now because I can create a group in my area vs travelling to the large cities that are so far from me. http://meetup.com.
Getting in shape or staying in shape will help you keep your sanity. There are a ton of free resources that will allow you to workout with no equipment and from the comfort of your own home. Even with kids. I am working on no excuses. So here are my best free resources:http://neilarey.com/workouts.htmlhttp://www.dailyhiit.comhttp://hasfit.com.
Bonus: Join fitness classes or groups in your area that you enjoy. You can meet like minded people, get your sweat on and maybe even leave with a new coffee date.
Use your phone a friend card
When the days are dark you need to call in for help. For positivity. For connection. Phone a friend. Now what sucks about this is time zones. Some of my darkest hours were when the rest of the world slept and I felt screwed. So it helps to have a friend in the same time zone. Use them and abuse them. If you don’t have one then call all your friends on your list until you find one that answers their phone at stupid o’clock. If you cannot reach anyone write an email - venting and writing may help clear some of the clouds and bring out the sun.
Sometimes all we need to fit in is to help others. To give back. If you can volunteer. It might be a missing piece for you that you had no idea you needed. It can not only be food for the soul but amazing community! If you are apprehensive about this know that when it comes to volunteering they really do not care what language you speak. They need help. They need you. It is likely they will adapt and put you with those who speak your language. You may be surprised at who you meet or who you help!
Take comfort in the fact that no matter what happens you can always go back.
Or somewhere else! Keep a stash of emergency go home money. So if you really want out you have the means to do so. There is nothing worse then knowing you shouldn’t be where you are anymore but have no way to make that happen. Emergency funds are key to getting a ticket out and easing your mind on the tough days.
Find something for yourself.
For me this was creating my own business. My own blog. And helping families get started with all natural products. Finding something I love and am passionate about got me motivated. Got me excited. It was something I look forward to and it changed everything for me. Find that for yourself. It may not be starting your own business or writing a blog. But it could be scrapbooking, designing video games, creating websites, sewing projects. Etc. Something that you love. If you are not sure what that is then create a list of 100 things you absolutely love. Then go through the list and find the one thing that includes as many things as possible on that list. That is your thing. That is what you should be doing. And maybe you could even get paid for it. Imagine getting paid for doing something you love ;-). Game changer!
Be easy on yourself.
It takes time to adjust to new places. New cultures. A new way of life. It took me three years to finally feel like the dust was settling. I don’t know if that is average but I know it takes more time than we anticipate. So give yourself a break.
I have come to appreciate what is in my life presently. Where I am. This beautiful country. What is around me. What I have access to.
I have learned to grow where I am planted. Life changes us. Circumstance changes us. But only we can change how we feel about it. What we do about it!