The real cost of being an expat

The Real Cost of Being an Expat
I moved abroad for the first time just two months after my seventeenth birthday. I wanted to take a break after the 10th grade and improve my English. Becoming an Aupair in England seemed the perfect choice. It gave me independence and the opportunity to discover another culture. Back then, I never thought I would still be an expat almost ten years later.
It’s been nearly nine years, four countries and even a short stay back in Germany since I first said goodbye to family and friends.

Personal life as an expat

Being an expat is great when you are young; single and you don’t have a care in the world. Now I am slowly starting to realise what a cost expat life has to my personal life. I am nearly 26 and never had a serious relationship with someone. My friends back at home get to experience all those things. They are moving in with their partner, getting married or even having children. I don’t even know where I will be next year and making commitments in my personal life is very difficult, if not impossible.  Well, I had what you would consider a serious relationship with someone for three years, but he is constantly moving for work too. One year I actually ended up flying back and forth to New York City twice a month. However, we had an age gap of fifteen years. He wanted to get married and have children. For me it was too serious when I was 23. I dumped him and with him London shortly after.

How did my life as an expat start?

In 2007 I said goodbye to my grandfather who kindly dropped me off at the airport in Cologne with two suitcases. A very kind airline didn’t charge me for the eight kilos excess luggage I had.  Of course, my parents weren’t at the airport, after all I had fallen out with them over a year ago. Back then we were on non speaking terms. Shortly after drinking milkshakes with my grandfather and boarding the plane, I landed at Stansted Airport and was excited to start a new part of my life. At the beginning I lived in Sevenoaks, where I also went to college. In January 2009 I moved to London. I fell in love with the British culture, yes, I was young and naive and at the beginning everything looked perfect. The move to London as a just recently turned 18 year old girl seems like everyone’s dream and it was mine. Even though I worked 5-6 days a week, I would be out partying three to five times a week. Sometimes I would only have two hours of sleep. Those were the days, when I still had the energy. In 2011 I wanted a change from London and I go somewhere else. I knew that I wanted to return to London after one or two years. After a successful job interview in Brussels the moving van and I were off to Belgium’s capital in April 2011.

The expat bubble

While I never felt like an expat in England, I felt like one in Brussels from day one to the day I moved. Belgian people do not welcome foreigners with open arms, at least all my expat friends and I thought so. Being an expat is like an inner circle. You go to great events thanks to organisations like Internations and meet other expats but you never truly belong to one place or to that local group of girlfriends who see laughing and chatting in the cafe around the corner. It’s hard to break out of that circle.
Surely, I met many great people on the way, but I feel, although those friendships are great, they hardly ever go deeper than having great times together. Can I say I would ever count on one of them when my house burns down and I need a place to live? I am not sure. Also, many expats of course will move to another city or country at some stage. Some stay a year,  some a bit longer, but hardly ever someone stays for good.

My friends are all over the world

Of course, I have really great friendships with people I met when I was a young teenager, but they are still back at ‘home’.  They don’t understand what it means to leave everything behind you, to start from scratch in each new country you move to. They don’t know what it means never to know, how long you will stay in your new place and it’s hard to explain it to them.

While I am writing this, I am sitting at home – on my own, wishing someone would be here to watch the first match of the German soccer team with me tonight. I know I am moving back to London in August, where I feel home and I hope I am staying for at least two years. Including the move to London, I am moving for the fourth time in 20 months and financially I can’t afford another move anytime soon.

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