so, that snuck up on me. just back from my extended trip to realize that today is my two year europe-versary. two years abroad, two years since the day we came across from toronto to glasgow (ah, we were like wee bairns then), unsure of what the future would be like here in europe. well, far better than i could’ve expected, for starters. i never would’ve dreamed i could live as good (or better) in a small czech city than i did in a massive american metropolis. and when things are going good, why mess with it? we are really enjoying life in europe and are keeping an open mind for what will come next year.
this year was obviously less shocking in an expatriate-acclimation sort of way, but even so, i learned a lot about life here, and perhaps just living in general. these are some of the best things i have learned in my second year as an expat…
1) YOU SHOULD BE LEARNING A LANGUAGE
on the european continent, you could drive for two hours (and many times less) and be faced with an entirely different language. and here i was, sitting pretty with a little time on my hands not filling my brain with knowledge. so i picked up the phone (er, email) and signed up. the first step is always the hardest, but my language classes also led to finding a conversation partner. much better than nothing. now, i am poised to start german classes again this autumn as well as continuing czech lessons (book & tape) with alex.
2) HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS
this was the year we finally made some expat (and local) friends in our city. it took over a year to find the small, tight-knit group but we did. alex has his weekly gaming nights as well. i’m glad we didn’t just throw up our hands and give up on this one. to those still looking for friends in your new city, i would advise plenty of patience and a willingness to say yes to every invitation, as well as looking for local interest groups in your town.
3) BUT THEY COME AND GO…
the typical ESL teacher life usually has people coming from abroad to teach for a year, then back to their old lives they go. it’s rough to see your best buddies head back to wherever they came from, and now that alex will be the sole native english teacher at his company for the region, there will be no more newbies to educate on life in czechland and make trips to prague with. the nature of the fleeting friendship has been a little easier to accept nowadays… and it’s always another person to visit when traveling through their home country!
4) HOW TO BUDGET FOR TWO PEOPLE
sure, it’s easy to budget for yourself but as the sole money manager for the both of us, it’s been a real trial and error process. but i am happy to report that we were almost exactly on budget for the poland trip, within an error margin of about $100. i’m feeling like a real winner for that one, but budgeting to have enough left over for the poor month to follow is still something i’m working on.
5) TO RECONNECT WITH OLD FRIENDS (& MEETING NEW ONES TOO!)
recently during my big poland trip, i got in touch with a friend from the old days that i haven’t see in over three years. it was really hard to be the first one to reach out and to put aside past differences, but since we’re both doing kind of the same thing, living abroad and all, i felt like we had too much in common to drift apart… and nothing to lose. so i said something, and i’m so glad i did! now i have a new (old) friend that’s only about an eight hour bus ride away.
6) TO INTRODUCE MYSELF
you know how it is when you run into a new person but neither of you introduces yourselves… and basically the rest of your interactions are always a little awkward? i discovered it’s always better to introduce yourself, no matter how shy or unwilling you feel at the time.
7) TO JUST NOT CARE
last spring, i ran into a friend at the pub and when asked how he was doing, he responded (in kind of a vague manner), “i just don’t care anymore!” and went on to explain because he stopped caring (about whatever), he’s a happier person. for me, this applies to fitting in with the locals and being myself in this new country. to all of the negativity that can come when someone scowls at you in passing or stares for a little too long at my boots:
i just don’t care.
8) THAT FRIENDS WILL BE THERE
in my first year abroad, i was often sad about missing friends: why they aren’t writing me back or contacting me… weren’t they thinking about me? likely because of the flurry excitement surrounding the engagement, i’ve been back in touch with many people since winter and i’ve just felt waves of support and encouragement even though an ocean separates us. although skype & emails will have to do for now, i feel more assured they will be there the next time i can see them. i don’t worry so much about it as much as i used to.
9) TO CELEBRATE THE LOCAL, TO BE IN THE PRESENT
someone once said that wherever you are is where you were meant to be. that can mean a lot of things, but more specifically this year it meant to embrace local holidays and celebrations and stop pining after american holidays and festivals that i was missing. tomorrow is american labor day, but i already celebrated (er, acknowledged it) it on the first of may, by czech traditions. it’s better for one’s well-being to enjoy what’s around you and embrace it.
10) THAT THERE IS NO PERFECT COUNTRY, BUT THERE CAN BE PERFECT SITUATIONS
this lesson was put forth by alex (also celebrating two years in europe today) that no one country is clearly the best country when it comes to living abroad, but there are situations that can suit your personal needs more than others. germany is a wonderful country to live in, but it also has very strict rules, lots of bureaucracy, and high monthly taxes. czech republic is a very relaxed place to live and the pace of life can be slower, but they’re not known for their shiny, happy dispositions (until you get to know them better). we’ve learned it’s all about what you want out of your experience abroad and every country has their strong and weak points which should be considered.
except austria, which manages to defy all logic and just generally be perfect.
have you learned any of these lessons yourself this year? if you live abroad, what else would you add?
pssst… a look back at our first europe-versary one year ago & photos of scotland.