It’s been 10 years now. It doesn’t actually feel like 10 years. 10 years since I changed skin. Not in the real sense. But it kind of feels a bit like changing skin.
It’s been actually over 10 years. 10 years and 2 months to be precise, since we’ve arrived in Australia, with us our son, 3 suitcases and some carry-on. Our belongings somewhere in a container on the way to Down Under. It’s been an interesting ride.
A fellow blogger of ours once said to me that he pictures us stuffing our belongings, our son and our dog into a large suitcase, hop on a plane on one side of the planet to disembark on the other. That pretty much sums it up.
I remember the day we made the decision. Not an easy decision to make, nevertheless it felt easy for us. I remember us looking at each other and realize the importance of that decision. We kind of knew what was ahead of us and yet we had no clue how it all would turn out. The days and weeks after the decision was made were filled with organizing everything, from our visa, movers, plane tickets to a new place to live in.
It meant explaining to a just about 3 year old that we will hop on a plane to travel all the way to the other side of the world to make new friends and live close to the ocean, trying to keep him as excited about the move as possible. It meant trips to the vet that wouldn’t have been necessary normally and realizing that we missed out on having that one blood test done in time for our dog to travel at the same time with us. It meant leaving him behind with Grandma to be sent after us four weeks later, knowing that he would have to spend 30 days in quarantine once in the country and this meant separating our son with his best buddy.
On Wikipedia an expat is defined as a person who temporarily or permanently lives in another country. Short and sweet and easily done. This definition pretty much nails it. But being an expat is not just short and sweet and easily done. It’s so much more.
You have to be ready to be an expat. I truly believe it’s not for everyone. Not everyone wants to leave what they have known for all their life behind. Not everyone feels like wanting to settle down somewhere else. Both, my husband and I always felt like we belong somewhere else. Always. I guess that’s why the decision was made so easily. We finally had the chance to check living somewhere else out.
It means sorting your things out. Making decisions about what you want to take along and what you want to pass on, sell or throw away. It means making the decision about leaving some things behind in storage in case you actually do move back or just get rid of whatever you don’t take with you because you really don’t plan on coming back.
Becoming an expat means packing the belongings you feel you need to take along in boxes after boxes after boxes, labeling said boxes in order to make sure you know where what is when it arrives in 2 to 3 months time. Only to realize that you have packed way too much stuff from your old life… you will get rid of a lot of it over time. Some things just don’t fit into the new life any longer.
Becoming an expat also means telling your family and friends about your decision, probably facing many “whys” that can only be answered to a certain point. Some people simply don’t understand the urge to do something like this. They don’t understand the longing that triggered the easy decision to do it. Becoming an expat means saying goodbye to family and friends hoping that you will remain close even over the distance and realizing that some of them will simply disappear from your life, making room for new found friends.
Being an expat means arriving in a country you might have visited before but just for leisure, realizing that this will now be your new home. It means being jetlaged and excited, slightly intimidated but happy. It means arriving in your temporary accommodation, knowing that there is actually no time to recover from the trip as the following days will be about organizing bank accounts, phones, driver licenses, furniture for the place you will move in soon, electricity, gas, anything you need to live a normal life but without any history that can prove your credibility in this country. It means facing many first obstacles and overcoming them. It means moving into a new home being totally exhausted from all the running around and trying to keep your little 3 year old son happy. And then finally you sit down in your new place, on the new sofa taking a deep breath. And you can tick the first thing off. You have arrived.
But of course your belongings haven’t. They are still weeks away and every time your son spots one of the big container ship and asks you if our things are on it you secretly hope they are but know they aren’t. In your mind you already go through the boxes, wondering how you will be able to fit everything into the new home, realizing that it’s time to find a storage unit somewhere… and you realize that you basically will go through another move yet again just sorting through everything once more when it arrives. You know though, that someone’s eyes will light up when he sees his toys again and that it will feel like Christmas when you unpack them with him. It will feel like Christmas to you too when you finally get your cloths and no longer depend on the couple of things you had in your suitcase…
In a way this first couple of days and weeks in the new place, getting used to everything are exhausting. But they also feel like your on a honeymoon. A honeymoon with the new place you call home now. Everything is fresh, everything is exciting, everything is new. It’s some sort of butterfly-in-your-belly feeling you get when you wake up and see the ocean. When you hear the lorikeets and watch them fly by. When you hear the Aussie slang. When you look at your Aussie driver’s license. You’ve actually done it… You actually live here now.
You will realize that at this point there is nobody to share the excitement with. The ones at home wouldn’t understand it and here you have not met anyone just yet. You will realize that you will have to start at zero. That you will have to build up that social circle you had at home from scratch. Being an expat means making new friends. Meeting a lot of new people. People who, just like your friends back where you came from, might never actually understand how someone would be happy to take such a leap. People who have their routine and their family and friends unchanged in their lives for a long time. But you will also meet people who went through the same you have. People who have moved to Australia or people who have lived abroad. And you will realize how much this experience will connect you.
Just like a newly planted seed you will start growing in the spot you are. You will get stronger and more grounded day by day, spreading your branches until you stand strong and in all your glory.
One day you will realize how much you have settled in. They honeymoon phase has gone but you will still feel in love with the place you moved to. That’s when you realize that home is no longer what you’ve left behind but what you’ve found by taking the leap. That’s when you realize that you never want to leave again and you’re happy you never have to anymore. It’s when you realizing that in a way you have changed your skin…