What no one told me about being an expat

Expat. Immigrant. Or however it’s politically correct to call it.

I have been an expat twice in my life. The first time I was 21, I left my hometown in Colombia to live in London for one year, that would later become eight. I remember the feeling of being so free and excited about everything. I was young and curious to explore, everything was so different and exciting! I had nothing, so I had nothing to lose, I knew no one, so I had a world to meet, and meeting new friends seemed so easy, like,  if you are both young, both from different nationalities and living in the same city? done, you are friends.

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In London everything was new, so by myself I discovered my favourite parks, my favourite restaurants, pubs, I got my own new friends, and I was free to eat anything as I could almost find any ingredient to cook international dishes or restaurants of any kind of cuisine that you could imagine. And music wise I was in my dream city, as most of my favourite bands came to play while I was there. I felt the world was my oyster. London had the possibility of recreating your home country as it had communities from every part of the world, but I lived far away from the Latin community, I wanted a fresh start. I never understood what a culture shock was, maybe because London was so international that I could simply pick the best from every culture I was surrounded by. In other words, wonderland for expats.

 

I am currently on my second experience as an expat. I moved a year ago to Naples, Italy, my husband’s hometown with him. Nothing like my previous experience as an expat. Anxiety, check. Culture shock, check. Frustration, check. I would never thought I would feel like this, as I always dreamt of living in Italy, I love Italian food and I wasn’t a stranger to Italian language, plus I was moving in with my very Italian man. But when anxiety kicked in, non of these reasons mattered, because my previous experience living abroad had been so different. I was now living in a city like any other city in the world with it’s own ways.

Naples is a very touristic city, there are tourists everywhere, but immigrants here are almost none, so practically all the people I have contact with are Neapolitan, my husband, his family, his friends and people in general, which means that I am the only one who is not a native Italian speaker and the only one around talking like a five-year-old, there is little to no option of eating non-Italian food, TV is Italian and music is Italian. So even if I love their culture, food and people, at one point I felt I needed a break.

No one explained me this, the feeling of despair when you are deep into a culture different from yours and you just want to run away, also, no one around can understand the pain, specially when I feel I can’t make my own path as I’m running on my husband’s path. Plus it’s not helping at all that I can’t find a job here, what the heck? Now I can understand why so many Italians leave their country, a job plays an important role in one’s satisfaction.

Now, I needed to find a solution so, running the risk the sounding insulting, I decided to tell my husband about the nightmare that I was living in, and he was very supportive. He knows I love this city, the warmth of the people, the clear skies, the sea, the food, the streets and palaces but just needed a little space of my own. So we decided that for a while we would stick to music and movies in English. And, walking the city, I recently discovered a little shop that sells international food and it’s full of people from Ghana, China and Venezuela and so I’m like Yey! immigrants like me! so it feels very welcoming. After finding all the ingredients there, we decided to learn how to cook our international favourite dishes, so we now cook Mexican, Moroccan, Indian, Chinese and Asian, and of course, Italian and Colombian. Best thing for me, his family is amazing and his friends are now my friends too, how do they stand me? no one knows… The best part of all is that Naples is finally starting to feel like home.

So my advice for everyone planning to move abroad, is that when the explosion of excitement about the new place passes, and depression, anxiety and all the monsters in your head start coming out: hang in there! You are not alone, you just need to give yourself a little more time to adjust. And no matter what, remember: what’s important is not to stick to the local flow, but to follow your own and create your space with your favourite pieces, no matter what culture their from. Being an expat is not always going to be easy, but it will for sure be one of the best journeys of your life.

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