Today I’m excited to share another post in the Expat Wisdom series with you. Incase you’re new here, the Expat Wisdom series is a project on my blog where I share the story and advice of one expat every month in order to build an online community of expats and to hopefully help some of you! You can read more about the project here.
This month I’m excited to share the story of Marina Chaffanjon who has lived all over the world! She is originally Russian, but moved to Sweden when she was 20, then onto London, Paris, Dubai, Mayotte, and now French Guiana! She definitely had some advice to share from all her moves, and I hope you enjoy reading what she has to say.
For context this post was written just before new years eve…
It is the 31st of December. We are in Moscow and about to start the New Year’s fiesta which is the main winter holiday in Russia. In six days, we, that is our family of four, will leave for the new adventure in Guiana, an overseas French department. One month ago, we left another French territory, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean called Mayotte, which was our previous home for the last one year and a half. We went first to Grenoble, to visit my French husband’s family, then to Moscow to present to my family our four-month-old son. This cross-over through the continents in the span of one month is typical for our family. This is how we have lived since both my husband and I became independent and that is how we see our family of vagabonds, always on the move.
Although we are used to starting our lives from scratch, every time is still very difficult, especially with kids. Not only do you have to navigate in the condition of complete instability, but also stand strong and calm for your kids who will cling to you to be their harbour during the storm. For the expatriation experience to go smoothly, I have summarized some tips here.
Almost every time I moved to a new place, it was my first time in the country. Because I didn’t have the opportunity to see the place before moving there, I tried to get in touch with some people, preferably women of my age, living there. This way I could ask some general questions and project myself through the eyes of this person. At the same time though, whatever people tell you, it’s still up to you to make your own impressions; people can live through the same events completely differently. So, my first advice to you – try not to have any judgements about the place you will move to. Go there with the child’s mindset: open-hearted and open-minded. It’s absolutely normal to gather information about your future home but give yourself a chance to develop your own feelings for it.
Then, once you have settled, be curious, try to meet local people, talk to them, go for new experiences and learn at least a couple of words in the local language if you can. It’s one thing to meet other expats with whom you will probably share a lot in common, but it’s not the same as learning about the local community through its representatives. It’s not always easy though (some societies are more closed than others) and might require some creativity from your side. Some contacts are made through work, others through charity or clubs. While I lived in Mayotte, I happened to volunteer for Medecins du Monde – not only did I have a chance to see the life in the biggest slum in Europe where I would never dare to go alone, but also I met a local girl who immediately invited me to her cousin’s wedding, a local Mahoran manzaraka, one of the brightest cultural non-touristic events.
In the beginning I used to travel for my own studies or for my so far successful career in luxury marketing, but then I decided to follow my husband once he got an interesting offer. Moving to Mayotte meant not only quitting my career, perhaps forever, but also leaving my comfort zone. Following your husband doesn’t mean being submissive or not having your own life. You can continue making your own career in a new place, try something new or, perhaps, decide to become a housewife and dedicate your life to your children. It is up to you, but whatever choice you make, one thing remains true – as an expat to be happy, you need to constantly reinvent yourself. I know girls who switched from boutique managers to Zumba teachers to high school professors, others who launched a successful business from scratch after a corporate career while raising up children at the same time. This is not easy though because you have to believe in yourself even though you have an impression of not being credible in this new profession. My advice here – don’t be afraid. Close your eyes and jump into the unknown. In the worst-case scenario, you will change jobs, but either way you will learn some new skills and something new about yourself.
And if you jump in there, hold your partner’s hand firmly. Moving with your family to another part of the world is stressful and might be so mentally charging, that it may easily make the atmosphere in the family explosive. Remember, you are not alone in it and your partner’s support is very important. You are a team and for whoever’s career you made a move, the other one is not just a follower but an active participant in the family’s choice to relocate. Also, bear in mind that it’s not less easy for kids to change their environment just because they can’t always express their anxiety. They also leave their comfort zone, their friends, their rooms, their habits. They can become capricious, overexcited or fall sick when you move. It’s normal and there is not much you can do apart from being patient with them, reassuring and support them as much as you can.
Once you have moved, invest in your new home. This place should really look, smell and feel like home if you want it to be one. Whether you have a chance to move with all your belongings or just a suitcase, make your new home cosy with whatever makes you feel good. For some it might be plants, for others, decoration – even if it might seem like a “useless” spend of money because it is temporary, go for it!
You don’t always decide when your expatriation experience will end. It might depend on different circumstances like your job or something unpredictable as the worldwide pandemic. But if you do, leave before you get bored and become unhappy. Preferably, leave when you feel just right. If you imagine your expatriation as a curve, you should leave when you have just passed by the top but before you have hit the bottom. This way you will have plenty of good souvenirs that will make you happy to come back.
Finally, in-between your expat travels, return to whatever place you call home when you don’t have any permanent address anymore. There should be a place where people are happy to see you regardless of what part of the world you come from and leave for. Some are happy never growing roots, others – staying loyal to their land. But both need to reunite sometimes to get inspired by each other.
It is the 31st of December and we are leaving for a new adventure in just a few days. But for now, we are here, with my family, enjoying our “half-time” in-between our intercontinental expat travels, and we are good.
Thank you again to Marina for contributing to the Expat Wisdom project, she has a lot of interesting advice to share. Be sure to take a look at her blog here to keep up with her journey or find out more about any of the moves she mentioned.
If you’re interested in reading more posts in the Expat Wisdom project take a look at the archives here. Think you have an Expat story to share, reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org!
See you next week,