Don’t get me wrong friends, there are plenty of difficult things about being an expat. More specifically, there are some really tough things about living in Iceland!
But along with the bad, are the incredibly wonderful and unexpected things that happen when you live abroad.
Living in a different country means you get to know it in a totally different way. You experience cultural traditions, views on work-life balance, and learn about the wonderful people that make up a nation. You wander the streets in awe, explore new sights, and find all the hidden gems.
Living abroad becomes a part of you in a way that you would never experience from simply traveling somewhere.
I’ve always loved the excitement and freedom of traveling. I love that my time is my own to use however I choose. I love eating new food. But I didn’t expect that this passion would lead to selling everything we owned and moving to another country!
Either way, I’m so thankful for this opportunity because it has made me grow as a person and realize all the reasons I LOVE being an expat!
Life in a new country requires some major adjustments. Every day can be an adventure. Eating new foods, seeing the famous local sights, and experiencing the customs of the new culture. The list goes on!
You will want to bring your camera with you all the time – everything is so cuuuuute! “Look at that colorful house, hold on I have to take a picture of that latte, ooo let’s stop here again!” (Okay, I’ll admit it, I still do this.) It’s so fun to look at the little things that make up daily life with a twinkle in your eye.
Whew – this is a BIG category! I think the biggest thing that happens when you live abroad is your own personal growth – and it happens in many forms.
WOW does your independence skyrocket when you move abroad! Without the immediate support of family and friends around, you start to learn how to do things on your own.
No one to help you fix your foreign washing machine, no one to ask what’s appropriate behavior in a new situation. Just you and your little ol’ self figuring it all out in this big bad world.
Chances are you will be spending a lot of time by yourself in your new place. So you learn to appreciate yourself and be your own best friend. You discover the things that you really love, and then you do them! It’s an amazing and liberating feeling.
On the career side of things, you are able to see a unique perspective on the business culture in that country. For example, work-life balance is a huge deal in the Nordic countries, and one of my favorite things about living in Iceland.
Employers are also a lot more understanding about taking time during the day to go to medical appointments and leaving early to pick up kids.
Lastly, maternity leave and vacation days are so different in Europe compared to the States. Vacations are seen as an important part of your well-being, and many countries allot between 20-30 days!
Learning a new language will make you appreciate the history, values, and culture of that country. There is a deeper connection that forms when you are able to communicate with a local in their native language. Even though Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages in the world, I really feel a difference when I speak to Icelanders in their native tongue.
Not only that, but learning a new skill is sooooo good for your brain! Forming new synapses stimulates the “muscle” of your brain, making you a stronger and smarter person!
Expat pro tip: If you plan to be there more than 6 months, at least try to learn the language basics. Take classes at the local university, use apps and websites, and get a tutor to practice in person.
When we first moved to Iceland I was overwhelmed every time I went to the grocery store. Prices in a new currency, words I couldn’t understand, and Icelanders usually only buy food for a meal or two. Not to mention the checkout line! What would I talk to the cashier about? Why isn’t anyone offering to bag my groceries for me? Why is the person behind me pushing me out of the way before I’m even finished?!
But gradually these daily tasks become second nature. Now I can confidently go in and out of stores, speaking Icelandic, and fitting in like a local!
Expat pro tip: Keep and open mind and try not to get frustrated. Remember that you are the foreigner. Think about how that person would feel if they went to your hometown. Every place has its positives. For every bad thing you notice, try to see the good in it!
Moving abroad means that you have the opportunity to travel to places that you might have only dreamt of. Being able to explore new countries is one of our favorite things to do!
I’m so thankful that we’ve gotten the chance to travel more since moving to Iceland. With easy access to Scandinavia and Europe, a lot of places are just a few hours away by plane. In the past year and a half we’ve visited six new countries, with more on the calendar this year!
Living abroad gives you the chance to meet interesting people from a variety of backgrounds. Forming new friendships becomes second nature when living in a new country, and is really important for your well being.
One of the BEST things about living abroad is when you start to make lasting friendships. I am a very social person, and having a couple of good friends is really important to me, no matter where I live.
I’m unbelievably thankful for the amazing people I’ve met in Iceland. Our friends group is a good mix between locals and fellow expats. We meet for dinners, have game nights and book club, and even celebrate American holidays!
Expat pro tip: try everything! Put yourself out there and get all the experiences you can. Join international groups, attend cultural events, speak the language as much as possible. I’ve even found friends through Facebook groups!
Spreading the Love of Travel
You might even spark a little wanderlust with your family and friends!
Living abroad may inspire your family members to push their own boundaries, and travel to your new country.
Since we’ve lived in Iceland, we have been very lucky to have multiple visitors. It’s so wonderful to be able to show them our new life and help them explore all over Iceland!
>> Thinking of moving abroad?
The best way to prepare for moving to a new country is to plan ahead. Talk to people who have done it, read up on “expat life in ___” and if you have the chance, visit before you take the leap. Knowing more about what you’re getting into will help you feel more at ease and makes for a smooth transition.
Know that it will be SO worth it! When you’re planning a life decision this big, it can be tempting to doubt if you’re making the right choice.
Just ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and when you know what the answer is, you realize that it’s going to be okay.
Of course there will be days where you feel completely isolated. It’s hard to make friends, it’s hard to learn a new language, you miss your family. There are days when you are completely exhausted from simple things like buying groceries or shopping for clothes.
Just remember: you can do this! The experiences you gain from living abroad will make you a stronger person!
I feel this amazing pride when I’m surrounded by new friends, speaking a new language, and enjoying life the way I want to! I feel like my best self. The challenges I’ve faced have pushed me to grow and learn as a person, and I can’t imagine it any other way!
Question: To my fellow expat friends – what’s your favorite thing about expat life? (or your least favorite thing!)
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