Committing to Life Abroad

IMG_4824 (1)I was asked about a million times while we were in the US how long Adam and I plan to stay in Switzerland. It’s a tough question to answer, and even tougher to deflect politely, but the short response is we don’t know. Initially, our plan was to stay here three to five years and that still sounds reasonable, but neither of us is interested in setting an end date at the moment. We’re really happy living here and that feels sustainable for where we are right now.

That said, committing to life abroad is a mental game and it takes work to maintain a positive attitude. I recently read this blog post about making friends and finding a community in London and the writer’s final notes really struck me:

“Maybe all of this advice is obvious. I’m not sure it was to me when we first arrived. A couple of years after we got here, an older/wiser expat said something that changed the way I was looking at life… He told me to fully live here, I had to give up the 3 C’s: Comparing (“Well, back in Texas…”), Converting (Stop thinking in dollars. It’s a loosing game and I’m living in the land of GBP now. Embrace it.) Complaining (Stop complaining. Deal with the hassles or go home.)”

The 3 C’s! They are deadly, man. For a while Adam and I compared the food scene here to the dynamic explosion of restaurants in Charleston and it was constantly depressing. There were so many (affordable) choices in Charleston! And they were all within walking distance! In Bern you can find good Italian and decent Thai and Indian, but otherwise our culinary exploits have been rather tame. But, we’ve learned to counter that by cooking delicious and inspiring meals at home (and saving loads of money, to boot.)

I am always converting Swiss francs to dollars and not even thinking about it: “Lunch was twenty bucks”; “I got this such-and-such for only one hundred dollars–what a steal!”; etc., etc. It’s very easy to think in dollars and cents, but Adam is paid in Swiss francs and that’s how we should be thinking of our expenses.

Lastly, complaining: we can’t do laundry on Sunday; the Swiss aren’t very friendly, therefore we don’t have any real Swiss friends; everything is expensive; everything is gray; my family is so far away; etc., etc. It is ridiculously easy to fall into a Swiss-shaming spiral with friends or even at the dinner table. But it is catastrophic for my relationship with Switzerland.

I really liked thinking about these three deterrents for a happy life abroad and how I can shift my own thinking. I’ve given up on a lot of complaining because it is so worthless and energy-sapping. Instead, I’ve tried to find the positives within those perceived restrictions. For example, it no longer bothers me that we can’t do laundry, cleaning, or shopping on Sunday because that day has become a dedicated time to relax. We feel completely guilt-free for lounging in our pajamas all afternoon or escaping to the mountains for a hike because there is nothing we could really be doing around the house. It feels wonderful to have that time. The inflated prices of nearly everything has made me a more savvy shopper and shown me that there is so much I can live without.

We can’t fail to mention how much stress this can inevitably put on your health and relationships with others. Giving up comparing, converting, and complaining is not only good for a life abroad but it’s also good for life.

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One final thought: I went to a coffee morning last week with some women in my American women’s club and one of them asked how long I had lived here. When I told her I had been here two and a half years she laughed a little and said, “Oh, well, that is nothing.”

I understand what she meant by this–two and half years is just a blip in a lifetime. But to me it has not been nothing. A lot has happened in that time and I’ve done a lot of growing and changing over the past couple of years. I didn’t want her idea of commitment and time in a country to stifle my own experiences and sense of accomplishment, and I would encourage you, if you are an expat, not to allow others to let you feel that way either. If you’ve moved somewhere new, whether you’ve been there one year or ten, you are doing a good job and you are putting in a lot of hard work. It’s a challenge, but you’ve got this.

I’ve talked about this idea before, but it’s something I think about regularly. I think Adam and I are doing a good job of being present in our life here. It’s good to have goals and I would say one of mine is to try to keep avoiding those 3 C’s. If you’re living abroad (or even in a new place), what has helped you transition and fully commit to your life there? How do you make a new place home?

7 thoughts on “Committing to Life Abroad

  1. This is exactly what I needed this morning Kristina! I have dreaded answering that question to every well-meaning friend and family member, because I haven’t answered it myself. Merci beaucoup and can’t wait to see you back “home” soon.

    • For the most part, people aren’t really curious about the answer (immediate family excluded), they are just looking for something to ask you about. And they probably won’t hold you to whatever answer you do give. I just tried to shrug it off and genuinely answer, we don’t know! Looking forward to seeing you back here!

  2. In my early married years, when we made several major moves, I finally decided that four years in one place made a lot of difference. After four year I felt really at home in the new place and had acquired a network of friends (not just acquaintances). It definitely took a while. Your philosophy is a good one, especially when you are so far from family.

  3. Pingback: Tuesday Book Club: Maybe in Another Life | A Broad At Home

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