Born to be nomad: expat and local at the same time

“It struck me already at that early age what a melting pot the World really is” — Eric

On their explorations of California Eric and Vero found Half Dome in the Yosemite Park to be one of most fantastic places they ever visited.

The Expat Earth Interview Series #2

I’m interviewing my French expat friend Eric in his apartment in Potsdam, outside Berlin. Eric is a true modern nomad. He was brought up that way. His wife Vero, on the other hand, had never moved abroad before their stay in Chile, but she too is now an experienced expat.

Expat Earth: Eric, tell me about your first expat experiences?

Eric: My family lived abroad for most of my childhood because of my dad’s job. We lived in Morocco, Jordan, and Senegal, with in-between stays in France. We stopped our expat life and moved back to France for good when I was 12 years old. At that time I knew exactly what I wanted: I wanted to be an astronomer and I wanted to live abroad! Guess I was born to be a nomad!

So when I was offered a position in Chile after my PhD, I was very happy. Vero was a bit skeptical because it was her first stay abroad, but I persuaded her, and we had a wonderful experience in Chile.  After Chile we moved to California, and a few months ago back to Europe: Vero is working in Switzerland and I work in Berlin. We hope to have our jobs converge sometime soon, so we still lead a nomad life, not quite done moving yet.

EE: You’re a seasoned expat! Did your lifestyle and your habits change in the course of your moves as an adult?

Eric: Yes, our way of living has undergone big changes. In Chile I had a good job, a very good salary, and we quickly got used to not thinking about money – since we could easily afford whatever we wanted to do. So our standard of living increased, but at the same time we were losing sense of a “normal” life. That was the first time we ever had money, and we didn’t know how to handle it – we spent it without thinking. We dined at the fancy restaurants, stayed at the nice hotels, treated our parents to luxury when they came to visit us.

In California, I had a normal entry-level research salary, nothing big, but enough to live … which meant that we had to adjust. It has actually helped us better appreciate what we were able to afford, such as considering a simple walk on a beach nearby a precious treat rather than having to travel far away. We used to watch classic, American movies on TV instead of going to the cinema as often as we did in Chile … and doing so, we discovered some great, old American movies. It has also changed our eating habits: we learned to avoid the expensive, imported ingredients, but use local and fresh products instead. So this experience taught us to be more ecologically conscious, which we still continue being – even more now, being back in Europe.

EE: Living as an expat, do you seek the company of other expats or do you rather dive into the local culture?

Eric: A bit of both I suppose. In Chile, most of my colleagues were expats as well, so it was naturally where I made most of my friends – including you. But no matter where we lived, we’ve made many local friends as well. That’s true for my earliest expat experience as well: We were making local as well as expat friends, although in my memory it seems like we actually avoided other French outside of France … . I know they were there, my dad worked with them, but we never mingled with them. We stuck to other expats and locals. It struck me already at that early age what a melting pot the World really is: We met people, who – like us – were far from their native countries, and I found that we actually had more in common with them than I have with most people in France. Of course that realization came later when we returned to France.

EE: Are there any drawbacks of being an expat?

Eric: The only loss about living abroad is that it’s difficult to keep in touch with friends, it takes a lot more effort. On the other hand, it’s fantastic to know that I’ve got friends all over the World.  As with everything else, what you invest in building up your life and your relationships is bound to pay off. In some way or the other. It’s up to yourself, you just have to focus on the positives. And fortunately, that’s very easy for me.
The World is still a big, exciting melting pot to me, and as a true nomad I’m not done exploring it!

Are you a nomad? Or just an expat for now? Do you have local or expat friends, or both? And how do you keep in touch? Let us know: Leave your comments below!

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