Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Expat Experience

Just over seven months ago, I moved from Austin to London....joining the global fraternity known as 'expat'.  When you live abroad, dealing with life's everyday errands frequently becomes an experience accompanied by a story. Especially at the beginning. You ask a lot of questions, you're always lost, and trying to get the simplest of tasks accomplished seems to take an inordinate amount of time.

You have a palpable awareness of who you are and where you're from because you don't sound like anyone else.  You know that the moment you speak to a local, they will assess you based on your accent.  You know that you will always be 'different'.

I've always known I would live abroad. And I also always knew I'd marry foreigner (I know, Canadian is barely foreign, but still...he has a different passport.  That counts right?).  These were never a question of 'if', simply 'when'.

            "You gotta have a little crazy...."               

Moving to a foreign country, even one who shares a language, is not for the timid.  And it's not for those who love a comfort zone. And it's not for those who resist change.  And it's not for the unadventurous...you gotta have a little bit of crazy in you to leave friends, family, comfort food, familiar streets, easy access, and pretty much everything in the world that feels 'normal'.

When I first stepped off the Queen Mary 2 (yes, we took the boat...that's another experience), I thought, "Woman, you have lost your mind."

I'd left Texas where it was warm, and sunny, and summer, and moved to London where, the day I arrived, it was 55 degrees and pouring rain with wind gusts in the 40 mph range.  It took more than a little courage not to turn around, commandeer the ship, and sail to Galveston.

But I didn't.

And here's what I learned.

I thought that moving abroad would change me - and in some ways it has - but really what it's done is expose me *to* me. More of me.

It's like when you start lifting weights and you've never it done it before - the next day your muscles feel like you were in a bar fight.  You didn't even know they existed and now they're screaming at you.  That's how it feels to be an expat.  You experience yourself differently.  You see yourself reflected in people who have preconceived notions about your home country.  You hear yourself say things that are clearly out of place.  Your belief systems are challenged. You are more *you* and you are less *you* than you've ever been before.

And let me tell you, it's extraordinary.  

I've laughed a lot more, I've cried a lot more, I've been in awe a lot more.  You don't realize, that when you're in your comfort zone, you can numb yourself to the human experience. This is, by no means true of everyone, but it was certainly true of me. I knew I was too comfortable and the feeling of 'wonder' just didn't show up in my daily life.  And I was in danger of becoming someone who constantly re-modeled their perfectly adequate house, or needed to keep upgrading their 'things', because I almost wasn't checked in enough realize that wasn't the problem....that it wasn't the house or the things. It was me.

So I left (with 1 Canadian and 1 dog). And moved to London.

Today, making life more extraordinary,

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