Lise Terlaak is Dutch. For well over two years, she has been living in Skopje, where she works as a support manager for a software company. Lise has been thinking and writing about Macedonia and about being an expat. In this piece of hers, she added input from her friend Mark, yet another expat, who lives in South Korea.
Every expat is different and every single expat is experiencing living abroad differently. But there are some benefits that all expats can agree on, no matter where you have moved in the world.
We most likely all have had that feeling, at a certain age, where we think we know ourselves. I thought I already knew myself pretty well when I was 20 years old… ridiculous. If I look back now it is amazing that I even survived. Anyway, by now I feel like I will never know it all. Every day I’m learning and probably continue to learn until I die. The thing is, when you move abroad, from one day to another you are physically letting go of a lot of stuff and embracing it all over again, just in a different country. This is the true challenge of being an expat: getting to know what you are capable of and what you can handle. You are getting a new perspective on life by living in another country. You will see things differently on so many levels, it opens your eyes to what you actually have been doing your whole life.
You are experiencing things most of your friends and family will never experience, and they won’t understand you. When I tell my friends or family, here or in Macedonia, about my experiences, they will nod and say: ‘Oh yes, I get you.’ Very sweet, but no, you don’t get me, you can’t possibly understand what I am going trough at that moment. And that is ok, an expat knows people back home won’t understand it.
2. How to love the simple things in life
Being apart from your family and friends makes you appreciate every form of communication you can have with them so much more. A Skype call that lasts for hours with your best friend, a 5 minute phone call with your brother, a message from your mom every morning to wish you a nice day. It seems so easy and simple, but often they don’t know how comforting those things are for you as an expat.
Furthermore, the small things that are happening around you, like a car that actually stops for you, or finding that one ingredient in the supermarket you thought they didn’t sell. Finding the proper medication for you allergies (Gosh what a relief that was). The things I took for granted in the Netherlands, I appreciate them much more after coming to Macedonia.
3. Expand your comfort zone
People asked me numerous times: ‘How can you live here? Why would you leave a country like the Netherlands?’ All I can think of, when they say that, is: ‘Why do you still live in your own country? Get out of there!’ All the expats that I have met love their life. The things that were shocking or strange in the beginning, I am used to that now. I have expanded my norm on what is ‘normal’. I love experiencing new cultures, especially the food, but also how they live, and their history.
4. Creative communication skills
I am not just talking about learning a new language here. Every country has its own habits in the way they talk and what they can talk about. When you meet someone new in my country, some subjects of conversation are taboo. You have to reach a certain level of friendship first. Meanwhile in Macedonia, it is completely normal to ask those things. And vice versa. To minimize the amount of embarrassing moments, you will surely get the hang of this very fast. It actually is fun to learn these things and to spot the differences.
To end this piece, I asked my friend Mark, who is currently working for Cityholic in South Korea, if he could put into his own words what an expat is going through, how his life is going and how moving abroad has changed his world.
“I am currently living in Seoul, South Korea. I arrived here last June on a working holiday visa. This is my 4th time living in a country that isn’t my own and I love it. I think it helped me grow up and mature faster than I would have in my own country. You can try all you want to explain this to someone who never lived abroad before, but they will never truly understand. They can’t. They can’t realize how it is to live abroad, how it changes you, how it makes you feel, how it is to be away from everything and everyone you know, to truly be out of your comfort zone. They will never know, unless they do it themselves.
This trip to Korea made me mature a lot already. I am learning a lot about myself, for instance that I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was. I made mistakes, had a ton of epiphanies and self-realizations. Sadly, some were at the cost of myself and others. Again people can prepare you all they want in the hope that you don’t make the mistakes that they did, but you never really learn until you make the mistake yourself.
Some people in the Netherlands say they will never live in another country. They will always stay in the Netherlands. Even though they have not experienced how it is to live in another country. In my eyes, that makes them look narrow-minded, ignorant and they have no idea what they are missing out on. The world is huge. There is so much out there to experience. Food, cultures, people, ways of life. How do you know that the life you are living is the best you can get, if you are not willing to try other things?
For now, I am good here in South Korea. Especially with all the horrible things going in Europe at the moment, I have no desire to go back any time soon. I know, that if I have to stay in the Netherlands for the rest of my life, that I will be ‘OK’. Who the hell strives to be ‘OK’ though? I want my life to be awesome, amazing, extraordinary, exciting and legendary. Furthermore, I don’t want to have any regrets when I am old and saggy. I want people to say: “Damn, Mark lived. He really lived.”
“Step out of your comfort zone. You won’t regret it.”
By Lise Terlaak. This article previously appeared as a blog.
The previous article by Lise.
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