Expat – what’s that?
What were we thinking?! Our daughter was only 2 years old – surely the grandparents would never forgive us. Our friends would never understand it. We were only students, and students don’t become expats – do they? With no international experience, how could we just leave out network behind?
That first move abroad. Overseas. The Big Jump into the unknown, to another country, another culture. New beginnings, new job, new friends, new network, new everything! And learning a new word: Expat. We had made a deal, Nana and I: One semester away for my studies, one semester for hers. She’d take care of Julie while I studied, and vice versa. And so it was. Our first expat experience was taking shape.
Tenerife – Spain
My supervisor and host in Tenerife helped us find an apartment, and with his and his friends’ help we settled in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. We’ll write about the peculiarities of being expat in Spain in a future post. Here I just want to highlight what is perhaps the most important factor for expat success: People. Network. Friends.
We had “prepared”, of course, but it’s impossible to prepare fully for moving abroad. “Knowing” from having read about something is entirely different from knowing from actual experience. The new friends we made were critical to our success. They made us feel welcome. They made it possible for us to relax and enjoy the experience, which turned out to be a good one. Our first expat experience was a success – we even had the grandparents visit us!
Hirakata – Japan
Second semester and the second part of our first expat agreement. Again, new friends helped us settle in and made us feel welcome. In Japan, a gaijin (foreigner) like me, with absolutely no knowledge of the language, is lost without a network. They helped us in every way, from lending us an electric heater to assisting us in buying a rice cooker. I spent my days taking Julie to the playground at the local shinto temple and doing the grocery shopping. Again, helpful people all around, and of course they were all a little curious to see this foreign man touring the playgrounds with a little girl. Strange people these expats…
Experiences for life
We remember these first expat experiences because they’re some of the strongest and most positive we’ve had together. We settled into our new environments with help from our new friends and our networks. We learned that people are basically good, and most often both locals and experienced expats like to help newcomers. So don’t be shy: Ask for help. Most people are happy to give!
With this blog, The Expat Earth, we’re giving back. If you’re a new expat – whether single or married, with a family or not – we’re here to help you. If you have suggestions for expat topics we should cover, just leave a comment below!
— Nana & Thomas