I’ve never done a “blog link up” before, but I’m feeling inspired by Amanda van Mulligan over at Life with a Double Buggy and I thought I’d participate.
There’s a lot to love about expat life (there’s also plenty to dislike, which at least keeps life interesting). Here are some of the things I love most about my life as an expat.
1. I have a new perspective on my homeland. Back before my expat life, when I was living in the US, there were things I liked and things I didn’t, and I believe I always had enough sense to see through the “everything’s better here” mentality I often saw around me. But it took stepping outside of my own culture to truly appreciate the things we actually do better than anyone else (hamburgers, milkshakes, the sheer variety of international food readily available, cheap yet quality clothing, delivery of everything, and a genuine willingness to attempt just about anything) and to understand the ways in which we generally don’t measure up to other places in the world (public transportation, ridiculous and unattainable standards of beauty, access to health care, and early childhood education). I miss and appreciate the wonderful parts of America and can frankly question our failings. And I also have the perspective to choose to opt out of many ways of thinking that I always took for granted, especially if I can now see that it does me a disservice.
2. Learning that “doing” has a time and place (and it’s not evenings or Sundays). America is a 24/7 country. It feels like everything is open and available all the time, and this creates a pressure to constantly being “doing” more, checking more things off of the to-do list. Living in Austria, where everything is closed evenings and Sundays, has changed my perspective completely. It used to frustrate me to have to accomplish my errands during business hours, but now I truly appreciate the peace and sanity that comes from setting aside evenings and Sundays as time for friends, family and rest.
3. I know that a true challenge can be good for my kids. The mentality of over-protectiveness and “helicopter” parenting that pervaded my early years as a parent does not exist here. At school and in the playgrounds, children here are given more opportunities to fail and they are less protected from the consequences of those failures. Playgrounds are made of wood and metal with plenty of dirt and rocks. Slides are tall and without safety rails. At school, preschoolers handle knives and lit candles. 3 year olds go on field trips with their classes, and 9 year olds ride public transportation on their own. These challenges and responsibilities allow the kids to stretch themselves physically and mentally. They accomplish hard things, they learn to brush themselves off and try again when they fail, they learn to be cautious in order to stay safe, they learn to be responsible for their own actions. Left within my own American culture, I doubt very seriously if I would ever have allowed my kids to take on some of the challenges they’ve tackled here. And what a shame that would have been.
4. Living a life less ordinary. I don’t think of myself as a risk-taker. This isn’t a path I ever thought I would choose. I think of myself as much more typical, do-what-everyone-else does kind of person. (Although I mentioned this to my husband the other day and he did remind me that not all that many people leave their lucrative careers as software engineers to become basically impoverished dance instructors, which we did several years before moving to Austria, so my mental image of myself may need some adjusting.) But I am so profoundly grateful that this is what I’ve done. Choosing to do things differently, choosing to take on the massive challenge of relocating our family overseas, choosing to let go of my own expectations for myself (and my perception of the expectations of other) has given me so many amazing benefits. I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve learned more about the world. I’ve become a happier person. I worry less. I enjoy more. I’m a better parent. I’m more emotionally flexible and so much less judgemental. Stepping outside of the “normal” path, and beyond my own perspective, is an amazing gift. And, I love that my kids are growing up to truly be citizens of the world. They will have a perspective about the world, and an ability to move through it, that will shape their entire world view for their entire lives.
5. The confidence I’ve gained that I can handle anything. Being an expat (especially, I think, an expat parent), I’ve experienced so many challenges. From emergency hospital visits (in 3 different countries now, I think?), to enrolling our kids in a completely different kind of school than we had ever anticipated, to the daily slog of using a language at which I’m basically inept, life abroad with kids has forced me to push beyond my own limits. I have dealt with difficult situations and people, I have taken care of myself and my family and, even in the face of some of our hardest moments, we have been able to find joy and peace. I no longer fear being faced with a situation that is too hard for me. Whatever it is, I know I will be able to meet the challenge. I have a faith in myself that I”m not sure I would ever have gained any other way.