Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Expat Life: from Dar Es Salaam to London

Three Americans, one New Zealander, 
one French Canadian & one Israeli
All bloggers
Paris, Dar Es Salaam, 
London, Bogota, California. 
Two aspects; the good & the bad. 
One life; the expat life

Erica, American expat in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 
The good: I moved here from Honolulu, Hawaii about a year ago, and I've had a wonderful experience so far. Other than the excitement of being in a new place and seeing new things, I think the best part of expat life are the friendships I've made with people from all over the world. I've met so many people here, not only from Tanzania, but from countless different countries. These new friends will be part of my life forever, no matter where on this planet life takes me. I've learned so much from them, and I'm so grateful to have them in my life (and their couches to surf on in my future travels).

My Expat Life, A Mum in London
Credit: Erica, To the Sea

The bad: The worst part of expat life? I may have answered differently a few months ago, but now that I'm halfway through my second pregnancy I would have to say the worst part of expat life for me is not having access to the same types of foods I'm used to back home. Not only don't I have a McDonalds or Pizza Hut nearby or any American junk food at the grocery store, the food here just tastes different in general. The eggs, chicken, and meat have a bit of a fishy taste (maybe they're fed fishmeal?) and the types of produce available are very limited. As much as I love mango and banana, there is only so much I can eat of it in one day. It was really difficult for me to get used to food here, and it's even more of a struggle now that I'm pregnant.

Anne, American expat in Paris, France 

The good: Technically speaking I've had a 12 year on-and-off love affair with Paris. The reason I am able to live/stay here is because I launched my own business. It's never anything I had seriously considered before, but now I can't imagine my life any other way. I'm constantly inspired by the world around me. I love getting lost and discovering new neighborhoods. One of my favorite parts of living abroad is that understanding French culture and explaining my American culture is always a bit of a game between friends. Paris is such an international city and I love that I have met friends here that come from all over the world. Even if I'm a freelancer and do work all the time, I also appreciate the French approach to 5-9 weeks of vacation per year (in the U.S. I had 10!).

My Expat Life, A Mum in London
Credit: Anne by David Lebovitz

The bad: Too many visitors! Seriously. No one really warns you how many visitors you'll have when you move to Paris. I stopped counting, but when I moved back here in 2009 I think I had about 40 in a year. The thing that makes it hard is that everyone wants to see you and you're busy trying to actually do your job or school or whatever it may be while surviving day-to-day life, and the omnipresent French bureaucracy. Also, your friends are on vacation and ready to splurge, while you're trying to save your money so you can pay rent. And while it would be nice to have a slightly larger apartment than the shoebox I call home, it's a good excuse to not have to play hostel and hostess. Still, I can't complain that much. I'm so fortunate to have so many wonderful friends, and I'm lucky to get to see them and show them a bit of my life (even if it can be a bit stressful trying to juggle everything). I started a column on my blog called {Un}glamorous Paris to help share some of the other realities of living here – it's hard work, but it pays off!

Melanie, French Canadian expat in California, USA

The good: Discovering a new culture, a new language, new places, new activities, new friends, getting married in a winery(!), warmer weather, world-class ski resorts in Tahoe, lots of wine to taste in the oh-so-many wineries nearby, and well a lot of things are new and it's nice. We have a better quality of life over here and it always makes us smile to hear Californian complaining about their taxes and the system. Experiencing expatriation at 35 years old with two young children pushed our limits; it has helped us to know better ourselves, in a positive way. We have been through the challenges together, and I think it drew us closer than if we would have stayed home. 

A Mum in London
Credit: Melanie, Mel à la maison

The bad: not being able to have a freelance/small business work Visa in the States. When we moved from Quebec City to Toronto in Ontario, work visa was not an issue. We stayed there for two years. I ran a consulting business and opened an online shop. I thought, as a Canadian moving to the US, I could easily export my business, that I loved. That was pretty naive! Little did I know I would become a trailing spouse, loosing my financial health and freedom. Sure thing, being resilient is 'de rigueur' but I rejoice in the positive sides of this, hopefully, temporary situation. 

Claire, New Zealander expat in London, UK 

The good: Where to start? Being an expat, I relished being able to recreate my life on a fresh canvas. It's like reinventing yourself - you're not being tied to people's (or your own) preconceptions of who you are, what you like, and what your limits are. There's a great sense of freedom in that, one that really boosts your confidence. As such you learn to stand on your own two feet very quickly. Admittedly it's nice being a New Zealander abroad - it's an easy talking point when meeting new people and suddenly you have an exciting foreign accent! Being here, the career opportunities are incredible. And of course, it's so easy to travel, especially just to go to another country on a whim or on a tiny budget. In New Zealand travelling is a real investment of time and savings. Incidentally, the first place I ever travelled to abroad was London. There's always been something about it. I love British culture and have explored the UK extensively, but my heart lies in London. Not every expat clicks with this city, but I adore it. The layers of history plus the endless throng of things to see and do means its impossible to be bored... tired of London, tired of life, and all that. Over 8 years later I still walk around London with the same fascinated awe I did when I first arrived.

My Expat Life, A Mum in London
Credit: Claire Nelson

The bad: Obviously not being able to pop home at the weekend to see family like my British cohorts is a real shame. And when I do go back the flight costs are insane – going home for Christmas is always more than £1200 so I've only had three family Christmases since I left. Which isn't enough. But I'm grateful my family have always supported me being here, and never made me feel guilty or asked me when I'm coming home. We deal with email and Skype and Facebook – it doesn't make us less close, if anything it probably means we appreciate family time more. Aside from that, living here means I will find it hard to resettle when I do return to New Zealand. I tried it after 6 years and I felt like such a fish out of water; they actually call it reverse culture shock. On the one hand it is fantastic to see my homeland through fresh eyes, but in terms of living there, the culture moved at such a different pace and I found myself slotting back into the roles of my former life. Nobody back home could relate to the life I had been living in London and that can be a really lonely feeling. So, after a good dose of cherished family time I returned to London. I guess at this stage I feel less expat, more Londoner. To be honest, I do wonder how I will ever manage when the time comes to return... but I'm sure I will know when I am really ready for it. Having two places to call home is no bad thing

Karen, American expat in Bogota, Colombia

The goodIn general, I love the people. They’re so kind! I moved to South America almost twenty years ago, and I have made wonderful friends in that time. People invite you into their lives and their homes in a way that doesn’t happen where I’m from. And hey, it’s Colombia, so people always have time to meet for a coffee.
A Mum in London
Credit: Karen, Flavors of Bogota

The badOf course, when you move abroad, not everything is easy. I’m affected by the lack of order and personal safety in Latin America. Living in Bogota, though, there are plenty of areas that are peaceful and safe and I feel that every day holds a new – and positive - adventure. 

Orli, Israeli expat in London

The goodFirst of all, I get to live in the middle of London. It doesn't get much better than that. But for me, the best part of being an expat is the sense of a new lifetime. In a sense when you move you leave behind everything you knew and were, to start over completely. So you build a new life which are very different to the ones you had before, and you get to have so much of what is deemed "unfitting for grown ups" - you get excited about silly things, you learn a whole new culture (and language), you have adventures (like going to the supermarket). Being an expat expands your horizons, it teaches you humility when you encounter problems you never knew existed, and it shows you how strong you really are. I love being an expat, and wouldn't change it for anything.
A Mum in London
Credit: Orli, Just Breathe

The badUnfortunately it doesn't come without a price. I used to think the hardest part about being an expat is the loneliness. When you are new in a country you don't know anyone - you have no family or friends, you get lonely. You get used to counting only on yourself, to being alone on holidays, to not being able to celebrate your different holidays because no one around even knows it's a holiday and all the while watching others on Facebook celebrate and enjoy. After a while I found my place and made friends and peace with the loneliness. I guess for me now the hardest thing is the understanding that we don't really belong anywhere completely anymore. I guess it's the lack of "home". We are not planning on going back to Israel, or Gibraltar, and anyway we are not really Israelis anymore in the true sense, but we will never be really British, and who knows we might want to move again. So we have only one label and that is "expats".


  1. Thank you very much Alexa for including me in this wonderful series of yours and with such lovely women :)
    I enjoyed reading all the other stories and perspectives so much!

    1. Thank you, Orli, for taking part & sharing such an honest view about expat life!

  2. I've just come across this series. I think it's great! I'm a Belgian who grew up in the UK and now lives in Italy, and I love to read about others in similar situations. Italy feels a little too homogeneous for comfort at times, but reading about the women you've included here reminds me there are plenty of others who have very mixed backgrounds.

    1. Wow, that's a great combination of nationality & countries! That's what I love about the Expat Life series too, the great variety of backgrounds and to see that some people live so far away from their native countries and manage to feel at home there :)

  3. Great to be involved in this, and in such good company. Nice to be reminded that I am not alone in feeling like I'm from two different worlds. :)

    1. Thank you, Claire, for being part of the Expat Life series!

  4. Wow, what a fabulous series! I loved reading each and every one of these! Such inspiring women sometimes sharing similar experiences!

  5. Very enjoyable post to read!

    Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

  6. So interesting (as an expat myself!), what a great post..


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