I love being an expat. I can’t imagine not living abroad for the foreseeable future. I absolutely love living in Germany. It’s safe, clean, things get done and the food is awesome. I couldn’t really ask for more (well maybe 24 hour supermarkets or a few hours’ shopping on a Sunday…) I would recommend expat life to pretty much anyone, and here is why -
1. You make your cv awesome. If you’ve lived for a few years in a different country, this makes you very tasty to employers back home. It shows that you can step outside your comfort zone, overcome difficulties, be your own boss etc etc.
2. You can pick up another language. There are lots of people I knew in Japan, and people here in Germany who do not bother to learn the local language. I think in Japan it’s a lot harder because Japanese people aren’t so forthcoming with their language skills, so learning Japanese is best. Here in Frankfurt everyone speaks English and even when you speak German to people, they reply in English. So it’s a lot more of a struggle because you feel like there’s no use in learning it. But I think it’s polite to the host country to learn it – and I’ve found my life a lot more fun now I’m really putting effort into learning German.
3. You get a deep understanding of another culture. You can acquire a smug sense of knowingness when people talk about “those crazy Japanese and their panty vending machines” when you have been there for a long time, and know that they don’t exist but you can list 10 things you’ve seen that are way crazier than a panty vending machine. You can learn to see beyond the “German people are boring and like to hog the beds beside the swimming pool” stereotype and you know what German culture is really like.
4. You can meet people from all over the world. When I was studying in Japan, there weren’t any other people from English speaking countries and my closest friends were Korean, Chinese and Thai. Our common language was Japanese so we all spoke together and me wanting to get to know them better was my motivation to speak more. I remember there was a day when I looked around the table at all the girls from other countries, sharing stories and teaching each other our languages and cultures (the poor Thai girl spent a whole day trying to get us to speak Thai once…) I just thought, you know, this is my idea of heaven. Being around all kinds of people and sharing stories and learning more about each other. On JET I got the same – even though we were from English speaking countries, I learnt what a Tootsie Roll is from my American friends, I learnt more about Canada, Singapore, The Philipines… and each person was so passionate about their home country or home state that I have a ridiculously long list of places I want to visit because they’ve sold it to me.
5. You can take advantage of exchange rates and gaps in the market. I was ridiculously lucky because when I studied in Japan, the pound was pretty strong against the yen so my student loan went quite far, and then when I worked there the yen was the strong one so when I went to send money back home to pay off those loans a little money turned into a lot of money. Another thing is the gaps in employment markets – this doesn’t affect me here nor did it in Japan, but for example, Australia needs certain professionals and you can get a job as, say, a hairdresser over there much easier than you could in the UK. If I worked as a Japanese translator in London I probably wouldn’t get such a good job over there as I do here in Frankfurt.
But it’s not an easy thing to do. There are huge sacrifices that one must make in order to live abroad. When I lived in Japan I was unable to go home for Christmas and this was really hard to do. My first Christmas in Japan was a very difficult day for me, and I got so frustrated and angry because I was not able see my own family, but the local Nagoya people were – and yet they were still suited up and going to work on Christmas day. I missed the funerals of two family members, and was not told about my budgie dying for a few weeks after the event. When you’re not there in person, it’s easy to miss out on important news.
Friends from back home also move on. Because I’m only in my hometown once or twice a year, my best friends and I grow apart faster than we would do normally. I wasn’t there when a best friend needed me, and I’m not around to share things with her as much as I’d like. This may be true of people who aren’t even expats, but it’s still an uncomfortable feeling to know you can’t be with your closest friends.
Culture shock is a nasty thing, and can turn you into a very bitter and closed minded person. I spent the better part of a year and a half being so bitter about everything to the point that I was almost racist. When things don’t go as you expect them, when people don’t act like they do back home, when you can’t get the same comforts you enjoy at home then it all piles on top of you and eats away at your soul.
It takes a lot of guts to go out of your comfort zone and live abroad. But despite all the negative sides to being an expat, like I said, I wouldn’t swap it in the world, especially now I am in Germany. Look at the world – there are so many opportunities for people. The world is your lobster!
If you have any expat pros or cons that I haven’t mentioned, be sure to leave a comment!