I am super excited about beginning a new series at the Chino House today called Expat Stories! I have met loads of expats in the last several weeks, both in person and online. I love hearing the stories of other folks who have moved away from their home country to adopt a new one for a season.
So, here’s the first one.
Expat Story: Tina in Russia + Czech Republic + England
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Tina. I am currently living in a small town in West Sussex, England, south of London. My husband’s media work with a non-profit organization is what brought us here. This is my family’s 5th country in 14 years and we’ve been in England for 7 months. Our first move abroad was to Russia, where we spent almost 2 years. We then moved to Prague, Czech Republic and lived their for 9 years. We adopted our oldest daughter from the Czech Republic at 5 months old and 8 months later delivered my twins in a Czech hospital. Our adventures then later took us to Madrid, Spain for 14 months, Vienna, Austria for 12 months and then transferred to England where we hope to stay for a long while.
What is something that has been difficult about living abroad that you did not anticipate?
We were well trained and prepared for a big move overseas as I had never been abroad so that training by our organization helped a lot. My biggest difficulty when first moving to Russia was realizing how terrible I was at learning another language! I was slow and I found it didn’t come as easy to me as it did my classmates. That was hard at times and I really struggled, but I got there.
What new tradition or habit do you want to take away from your present home? Why?
We’re still learning about traditions and holidays in the UK. We’re familiar with Guy Fawkes day in November and Boxing Day the day after Christmas. To be a part of the culture we find it’s important to join in the celebrations. We’ve taken Easter and Birthday traditions from the other countries we’ve lived in.
If a friend came to visit you in your current city for one day, what would you take them to see?
So hard to narrow it down! Windsor Palace is about an hour and a half drive. We’ve not been yet but it looks amazing! Maybe Stonehenge are even a trip to London to take the hop on hop off bus around town.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to live abroad one day?
*Travel light. Half the stuff you end up bringing you probably won’t even use! I love to get goodies from home, but enjoy the local food, clothes, beauty products, etc.
*Learning a language is hard and takes effort and lots of practice. Take it slow, but make it a priority.
*Jump into the culture as much as you can. Eat the local food, learn to cook the local foods, meet the local people, join in and learn the history of their holidays, travel around the country and see the scenery.
*Culture shock and homesickness can hit at any time. I’ve seen it take a couple of weeks to 8 months or longer sometimes. There are stages too and find that it can still hit me at random times 14 years later! That’s ok, it’s normal. Everyone is different and you can get through it if you’re making a conscious effort to make life abroad work.
*The dream of living abroad may fizzle and wear off after awhile. I lived in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Prague. I never tired of Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, the castle, but I noticed that after 9 years I just didn’t look up as much to take in the beauty. I’d remind myself to because I made a vow when we moved there it wouldn’t get old! The scenery didn’t get old (I just got comfortable with it) but the culture and language can. And that’s ok. Take a day and be American, eat American food, watch American tv, hang out with your American friends and act like an American (or whatever other country you came from). Just don’t get in the habit of it or you may not appreciate what’s around you and you may come to despise it.
*Be sensitive and respectful of the culture. Most people moving abroad tend to do that, but I’ve seen some get bitter and it made those around them miserable and I would assume they were probably miserable.
*Expect to be changed! Once you’ve lived abroad your perspective, world view, tastes, likes and dislikes can change and that really is a good thing. You might feel like a freak when and wherever you are. Even when you go to your home country, but that’s ok. Embrace it, be proud of it and know there are others out there who can identify (finding expat/travel bloggers is great for that!).
Thanks Tina so much for sharing your Expat Story with us!
Do you have any questions for Tina? Leave them in the comments!