I have been an expat most of my life. Before I even knew the meaning of the word “expatriate”. And serial to be more specific. For some strange reason, it only just recently dawned on me. Labels may be restrictive but when used for good, can be liberating and empowering. So…Yay! My name is Paola and I am an expat. Better late than never, right?
It all started in the late eighties when my dad -a geologist who worked for BHP at the time- was transferred from Antofagasta, a dusty coastal city in northern Chile, to Salta, a picturesque leafy city in northern Argentina. By then, as young as I was, I already knew heaps of expats, I just didn’t know that there was a term to describe them as effectively. And that flair of “different-ness” they had seemed really alluring to me.
Fast forward a few years (oh just a few, trust me!), I decided to do it again, but this time on my own and by my own decision. In 2012 I left Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, lovely city close to the Andes, to do a postgraduate degree in Sydney. I took the picture next to these lines right after arriving at the place I was going to stay while I got organised before searching for an apartment – I remember thinking: I wonder how this is going to go?
Six cities, three countries, eighteen homes, three elementary schools, two high schools, five universities, three careers, and countless friends, boyfriends, pets, classmates, cars, and neighbors in my journey, I am home. I am an Australian citizen since last year, I live and work in this fabulous city and couldn’t be happier that I took that leap of faith.
Life as an expat, whether you choose it or not is quite unique. For starters, your extended family is always far away, your former classmates, friends, neighbors, professors, basically everyone you know, is kilometers away. You will miss birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings, reunions, etc… after a while, you just get used to… and make new friends and memories where you are. Or take every single vacation back where you came from and earn lots of miles… and miss a lot of events in your new home! Choices, choices…
Whether you are thinking about moving or are just a bit curious, here’s a few facts that for me, represent quite clearly what life as an expat is like, especially if you are a serial expat like me:
- Where’s my phone!?!: your relationship with your phone is highly symbiotic. You are truly one and would never dream of leaving it behind. How else are you going to keep up with what’s happening? Your mum/dad/brother/sister may need you… You need a good mobile plan with international minutes and unlimited internet for all those FaceTime & Skype video calls.
- Quick, quick: your brain can calculate in a snap the exchange rate of your local currency and your former home’s currency (unless your original country devalued its currency and then you get confused… until you catch up!)
- Did I bring that?: Every now and then, you remember a piece of clothing/ book/ furnishing etc and after looking for a bit you remember that it didn’t make the cut (i.e. did not get to hop on your suitcase because it was not an “essential” or you just didn’t bring enough bags).
- Guaranteed: You may have friends from all over but you have at least a couple of friends from your former home. If you feel homesick a quick chat to them and you are good to go!
- Boxes: So many boxes. OK so this one could be just me but seriously, I have to keep the boxes. I may move again? Maybe? 😀
- Open mind: you can relate to different places and situation around the globe, so it takes a lot to make you go “whoa, that’s strange”
- Oh – did I mention the frequent flyer miles? So many!
- Shuffle up and deal: whether you chose it or it was imposed on you, moving to another country can be an opportunity to reinvent yourself and become an improved version of you. The sky is the limit!
As much as you lose things when you become an expat, I would not change anything. Growing up I was very aware of how big the world was and it was very exciting to think about it. Travel was always a topic, as well as history and geography; my dad even used to say he was a citizen of the world because he traveled so much. I liked the quote and started saying it myself a long time ago. He passed away in 2017 but I like knowing that we were both explorers – he looked for mineral deposits and I look for … TBD!
Are you an expat too? Do you relate to my fun facts? Would love to hear yours!
Until next time,
Paola, your friendly #expatchica