Expat Life: What’s changed?

Expat Life: What’s changed?

There is at least one general truth that applies to all new expatriates: you never quite know what you have until it is gone. Whatever perception you had of your own home country, and of the new country you are/have been moving to, the good and bad are not quite what you had anticipated on.

Do you remember those things you expected not to miss, those things you were glad to be leaving behind? The neighbours’ dog, your old car, your old job and some annoying colleagues. You were excited about a fresh start. The same goes to things you left behind with big regrets, your friends of course, dear members of your family, your favourite little restaurant, the slow summer evenings by the pool. You took photos and vivid memories of those with you, you wished not to forget. And you certainly did not expect that after 3 months of a life abroad, you would start missing things that you never expected one could miss…. such as hearing a dog bark in your neighbourhood, this would be so much nicer than those car horns that go day and night in your Chinese new megapolis home town.

Being an expat in Asia, the middle East or South America will bring a large diversity of challenges

Being an expat in Asia, the middle East or South America will bring a large diversity of challenges

 

Generally speaking, the first few weeks are a shock. Exhilarating for some, scary for others, but unsettling for most people. You learn, do you best to adjust: food, weather, social codes, language, even small things like kitchen utensils, clothes sized differently and different power plugs. The sounds, the smells, the light, it all feels different. And there is little to no way round it, it is not a holiday, you are not going back home next week!

Once you have adjusted to the essentials, you slowly become aware of more subtle differences, things that used to make your daily life, and that do not exist in the new one. You get to miss the less likely things, those things you were not aware you liked, until you moved to a place where those things are rare, non existent or impossible: Ordering pizza after midnight, having a kids sleep over in the garden, sleeping with the windows open. You miss small and big nothings, although you have replaced a lots of comfortable habits by others just as interesting, possibly more memorable. In my new life, I take a taxi like some light up a cigarette, easily, casually, frequently. I never had that before and I love it. But in my new life I have realised how much I like nature. My new home is an ultra urban environment and I had never experienced living with so little trees, and no bird singing in the morning. I miss the bird that used to annoy me by starting to sing at 5am on Sundays.

City lights and modernity, forget breakfast in the garden.

City lights and modernity, forget breakfast in the garden.

Some things take longer to realise. A new life in a new country can bring more than surprises and letdowns, melancholy or excitement. Expats in Dubai refer to it as the Dubai Stone (i.e. 1 stone = 6,35 kg).Weight gain is not just a myth within the expat community. And it is not only linked with a richer social life with more meals in restaurants and drinks on evenings out. Adjusting to a very different country also includes your body adjusting to very different food, calories ratio, eating patterns. The change does not only affect weight. Food changes, no matter how eager you are to embrace them, can induce vitamin imbalance. Not because the food in the host country is inadequate, but because your body has lived many years with regular intakes of specific minerals and vitamins through eating food that may not exist or may be used differently in your host country. In short, while you are busy integrating new ingredients, new flavours, your slowly acquired experience of what to eat weekly to keep your health balanced (citrus fruit, dairy products or vegetable with high fibre content) has suddenly been reduced to almost nothing.

So what’s the way around this?

The solutions are as numerous as the differences in lifestyles, and there is not one particular solution. It all starts with awareness, and evolves with the length of our experience abroad. After some weeks or months, and a more accurate knowledge of the lifestyle and ways of the new country, most expats slowly readjust their eating patterns. The body has identified friends and foes, items that the body reacts to in positive or negative ways. The choices become easier when ordering in a restaurant, or buying groceries. And, once your mind has got rid of the slight guilt of buying imported products from your home country, you will slowly, and very happily, reintroduce chocolate, or balsamic vinegar, imported fresh pineapple or honey in your daily food experience. Because there is nothing wrong with a little comfort food.

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