The 10 Best Things About Being An Expat
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
I have been an expat for 15 years... It's almost half my life. Being an expat has become an integral part of my identity. Although this is core to who I am, I don’t speak often about my expat experience nor all that it has brought to my life. Don’t get me wrong, being an expat is really hard work. Learning to live out of my comfort zone in a foreign country is not easy. I have had to build new relationships from scratch, learn a different culture, adjust to new society standards that didn’t make sense to me and learn a new language. Being an expat, both short-term or long-term is big commitment that requires tremendous efforts and persistence, but it can be extremely rewarding.
Lately, I have been reflecting on my 15 years experience as an expat and my journey to become a Dane. I have thought about the emotional roller-coaster I have gone through and all the gifts being an expat brought to my life. Being an expat for 15 years has not been easy, but today I want to celebrate all that it has given me. Here are my 10 top favorite things about being an expat:
1. New start and the choice to be who I am: moving abroad and starting over gives the opportunity to start a new life and be who you want to be. For me, this was a gigantic benefit. I moved to Denmark only a few months after coming out to my family and friends back home. When I moved to Denmark, one of the first decisions I made was that I would never be in the closet again and I would be who I am everyday and to everyone. Moving abroad gave me the luxury to start my new life out of the closet and be open to everyone from day 1. Might sound simple, but for my 24 years old self, this was the most generous gift I ever gave myself..
2. Broadening of horizons: for those of us who have grown up in one place, we have learned to accept ways of doing things, traditions and standards as the norm and not to question most things. Moving abroad has helped me broaden my horizon. I have learned that there are multiple ways to do things and I have gained the ability to see things from different viewpoints much more easily.
3. Learning to be close from afar: I don’t think I would talk to my family in Canada as much as I do if we all lived in the same city. Communication technology has allowed us to deepen our relationships although I live 5000 KM away. We actually text and chat EVERYDAY and have now done so for all 15 years I have been in Denmark. I know I talk more to my family than many of my friends who live in the same town as theirs and although my Canadian family and I are very far, we have become much closer after I moved away.
4. Redefine my values: although Canada and Denmark are very similar countries, there are important cultural differences between the two. Being an expat has allowed me to question my values deeply. It has also allowed me to pick and choose (best of both worlds) what I believe in and care for. Through this process I have had the chance to redefine my values and to become the adult I wanted to be.
5. Out of my comfort zone: living abroad is an intense comfort zone challenge. As the word foreign indicates, living in a foreign country means, at least for a time, to live somewhere different, unfamiliar, strange and new. For me, who had never lived more than 3km away from my parents, moving to Denmark was the ultimate comfort zone challenge and it really tested my patience, limits and ability to adapt. Now I know that although I enjoy my comfort zone, I can leave it behind and face completely new challenges and I will be ok.
6. Brain challenge: although it took me years, I did end up learning Danish… Learning a new language is a fantastic brain exercise and a gift for life. I never thought I would speak 3 languages, but now I do and I am extremely proud and grateful that I have had the opportunity, as an adult, to learn a third language.
7. Learning to live with minimal possessions: I moved to Denmark with a suitcase weighing a little less than 23kg. Everything else I owned I sold or gave away. When you move abroad and realize you can’t bring everything, you also have the great opportunity to realize that you actually don’t need most of what you possess… This gives you the opportunity to reevaluate what you value and care for and at the end of the day, very few materialistic possessions actually matter. Now, 15 years later, I live in a house and last time we moved, it required us to have a 40 feet container… So let’s just say that I have accumulated quite a bit over the last 15 years. That being said, I have not forgotten what I learned from moving with only 23 KG. If our house was to burn down tomorrow, I would only be annoyed about the fact that I’d have to go shopping for clothes (I really don’t like shopping) and I’d be extremely annoyed about all the paperwork we would have to do with the Canadian embassy to get our Canadian passport and the kids Canadian citizenship papers reissued…
8. Self-discovery and confidence building: as we age, we all learn who we are and discover ourselves a little more. Moving abroad really forces that process to kick-in and accelerates it. Being out of your comfort zone when confronted to foreign situation in a new country really forced me to discover and understand myself better. Additionally, it forced me to build self-confidence and self-reliance. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if I had stayed in Canada.
9. New food: being an expat means living in a new country and that means new food. From a gastronomy standpoint, I didn’t initially think Denmark was a great choice, but Danish food has grown on me with time and it turns out, Nordic cuisine is actually a thing… I know that if I moved abroad I would miss marinated herring and rugbrød (rye bread) for sure…
10. IKEA: As an expat, I have really learned to appreciate IKEA. No, I am not being sarcastic! There is something comforting in knowing that anywhere you live, you can buy the exact same furniture as your parents and make your new home a little more familiar...
There are many other great advantages and learnings from being an expat, but for now, I will leave it to this. That being said, I’d love to hear from my fellow expats what their expat experience has taught them, what they enjoyed and what they disliked. Anyone?