Welcome back to another post in the Expat Wisdom series! Incase you’re new here, the Expat Wisdom is a project I created where I share the story of one expat every month. The goal is to create an online community of global expats who share their stories and advice with one another. You can take a look at all the Expat Wisdom posts here.
This month, I’m really excited to share Kathi Daniela’s story! She’s an expat currently living in South Africa, but she’s lived in a whole host of other countries. If there’s someone that can speak about picking up and moving multiple times, it’s her! She also has a beautiful blog which you can find here. Here’s what Kathi wrote for her Expat Wisdom story:
My expat story began with me never wanting to be an expat. Yes, I had dreamed of living abroad for a while – but I never imagined myself living in another country constantly. So, when I did my Erasmus in Denmark and then returned to Germany, I felt like that had been it – the expat experience I had been craving was made and life was back to its normal way. Oh, how life sometimes laughs about your plans and ideas! Since my Danish adventure in 2014 I have lived on two continents, in five countries and seven cities – I am not telling you this to brag but just to explain how my story of being a kind of serial expat unfolded.
Moving from Denmark to Germany to South Africa, to the Czech Republic, again back to Germany and then to Bosnia-Herzegovina taught me a lot. Even though I live the serial expat lifestyle with an open heart and an open mind, adjusting to a new place (and even your old home) always takes time and is always a challenge – sometimes it’s an easier one than other times. But I would be lying if I said that I never struggled. And I would be lying if I did tell you that you won’t have to step out of your comfort zone. You will, and many times. So, let me tell you what always helped me to adjust to a new place – and maybe it can help you too!
First of all: Put down your phone! I know it’s tempting to stay in touch with your loved ones at home when you don’t have new friends yet. I know it feels good to still have a connection. But here’s the catch: When your head is stuck in your old home country, you will never feel like you fully arrived in the new one. You will get homesick more often and more fiercely and you will need a much longer time to get from the holiday- feeling to the “I really live here”-feeling. So instead check expat groups online.
Facebook, Instagram and Couchsurfing have worked a charm for me many times already. It’s never easy to meet people in real life that you met online, and you will maybe have a few awkward meetings. But you’ll also meet people that are just down your alley, I can promise you that. I met some of my best friends in expat groups online and we stayed in touch even though I don’t live in the places anymore. There’s nothing that connects you like living abroad and the challenges it puts on you.
In the beginning I always started fresh after a new move – brought nothing with me but a few books and my clothes. But now, after having moved countries multiple times I realized: To make you new place a home, you need things that make it feel like home. To me, it’s my art. I bring a few of the pieces I bought with me to put on the walls – and a new apartment instantly feels like home. To you it might be art as well, it might be books, it might be a special piece of furniture. Whatever it is: If it’s really important to you and if it’s possible to bring it – then bring it! It will make all the difference when you open the door to a new place… and it looks like home!
And last but not least I want to tell you something that I learned from living in seven different cities: I didn’t love all of them. Some of them I didn’t like at all. And it took me a while to accept that, but the truth is: You don’t have to make yourself love a place! As expats we often think that what we did is irreversible and that we need to stick to our decision now and get through the hardships. But just because you made the choice to leave your old home doesn’t mean you have to love your new home right away – or ever. If you really feel this is not the place for you than you have all right to leave again. Changing your mind doesn’t mean you have failed – it just means that you’re taking responsibility for your health, happiness and own wellbeing. So, if you realize a place is not for you – go ahead and change that. Even if it means moving again!
I hope you liked hearing a brief overview of Kathi’s expat journey, and her advice! Once I make my move to Washington DC (once it’s safe with the current pandemic), I’m definitely going to be using her advice for taking the things with me that make it feel like home!
If you’re interested in sharing your story for the Expat Wisdom project, you can take a look at the description here and reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Instagram at @little.miss.expat!
See you soon,