Part One: What I Learned as an Expat
I’ve been lucky enough to live abroad twice in my life. Once in Sydney and once in Rome. Both were equally formative and equally unforgettable.
As anyone else who has lived abroad can testify, the difference between visitor and resident in another country is vast. You go from searching out the highlights to seeing the lowlights, from holiday mode freedoms to normal life restrictions. Don’t get me wrong, learning to live somewhere new is one of the most fulfilling and eye-opening experiences, but it doesn’t come without its doses of reality too.
Here are some things I learned during my time as an expat:
Confidence is everything.
Dining solo is one thing, travelling solo is another. Moving aboard to a whole new city alone is something else entirely. It takes some guts to go there but even more to stay.
Whether or not you’re a naturally confident person, when you start this new life you need to act and practice confidence in order to gain it, to put yourself out there to build your personal network. Luckily as a foreigner you’re already fascinating to locals so most likely they’re pursuing you already! Confidence in knowing your way around and starting to feel like you own the city also helps you to graduate from slightly lost and confused tourist to legitimate inhabitant.
Culture is beautiful yet complex.
Before I moved there I naively presumed Australia and Italy were not that dissimilar to the UK. I soon learned that the culture of behaviours, traditions, language and even fashion are a unique product of many factors - history, climate, economy, even geography. It takes time living amongst these elements to notice the nuances of differences in culture.
At times, you feel as though you know and love the locals and at others you find yourself frustrated. I remember enjoying the Australian laid back attitude until the day I just craved the formality of an English afternoon tea. And in Italy appreciating their love of all things beautiful except the times I wanted to go out in the bright coloured loungewear that no-one in the UK would look twice at. Without being brought up somewhere it’s hard to truly understand the intricacies of another culture but it’s a privilege spending time exploring them.
Home will always be home.
I noticed that living abroad enhanced my Englishness. As long as I spent falling in love with another country, I never lost the “I’m home” feeling when I came back to the UK. Not that Sydney or Rome didn’t feel like home, in fact as an expat you create your ideal habitat. I suppose it’s more that you realise how innately comfortable where you were brought up is. You don’t have to think, it’s easy. You know the way things work and the way people react but also the reason you wanted to leave as well as the reason you may return.
Australian beach life / After a year later away / Getting to know Rome trains