Expat Life: My Dream Country Is…
A few days ago, I said something that really made me think. And then laugh. And then think again (just to make sure I can).
I was talking to a friend about where I want to settle down one day – is it in Denmark, where I currently live? Is it in Bulgaria, my home country? Zimbabwe? Nigeria? Nova Scotia? Okay, maybe not Nova Scotia. But this island right next to it has a certain appeal. Mostly because its people are doing 2 things that I love: awesome marketing and making fun of Trump.
Anyway, at one point I said: “I can’t imagine my kids being Danish. I mean, I don’t like the language that much and I don’t enjoy speaking it, so I can’t even think about my kids being native Danish speakers!”
Fair enough. But when my friend asked me if there’s a country I’d actually like to live in, I said, without even thinking twice:
“I want to live in a country where there are absolutely no language barriers – like Ireland. I love Ireland! It would be so awesome, speaking English with my kids and everyone else, watching the news in English, etc.”
And until just now, I didn’t even realize what I’d said. English is not my mother tongue – nor was I born in an English-speaking country. And yet, in my mind, settling down in an English-speaking place means no language barriers, only butterflies, hearts and birds chirping while handing me my bar of soap.
Isn’t that weird? To those who’ve lived abroad for a while and have a truly international mindset – probably not that much.
Leaving my home country
I think this also depends on the reasons why we’ve left our homes.
Maybe to some I’m a traitor for not thinking of my home country when I said this to my friend. To others, I’m probably just being fake. I mean, I’m not even a native English speaker, I’ve only lived abroad for 3 years in a country that speaks a language very different from English – and yet, I perceive English as my second language. To be fair, I have been speaking it since I was 6. Cartoon Network, anyone? Dexter and the Powerpuff Girls were my addiction for years. I learned English as fast as I could, so that I could understand everything. I went to English lessons, then to German lessons, then to French lessons… and most recently – Danish lessons. And I lived in Spain – no lessons needed to learn Spanish.
I’m great with languages, that’s a fact. If I had the time, I’d be learning a new language every 2 years. I’m guessing that’s a big part of the reason why my subconscious mind works this way. I’ve decided that I’m not going to settle down in my home country, because even one day without speaking a different language with someone drives me crazy. I have to be able to go out on the street and hear at least 2 languages I can’t speak and 2 that I can. I have to be able to organize events with people from 10 different nationalities, united by one common language. I have to be able to go to the store and feel happy when I know what each herb is, even though it’s labeled in English.
I feel this way because I didn’t leave Bulgaria out of desperation. I didn’t leave because I thought life there was a nightmare and I never wanted to come back. In fact, I wanted to be back. I left because I’m a freak.
I’m one of those people who don’t fit in their own homes. My way of thinking, my way of life, my interests – they didn’t fit there. In some way, I was different than those around me and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I could feel better somewhere else. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to learn, I wanted to explore new cultures, new places, new people, and it was a desire for exploration that wouldn’t be satisfied with traveling. It would only respond to permanently leaving. This is why people who only live abroad for a little while, make some money and go back home don’t get to experience any of this – and don’t develop this mindset, even though they live an expat life.
Living in a non-English speaking country
To me living abroad is a constant nerve-racking, exhilarating, special, scary, awesomely unpredictable challenge that I can’t live without. It’s addictive.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I need this in order to stay alive in the true sense of the word. It makes me happier than wearing this Marilyn Manson top ever would. Strangely, it’s even… therapeutic. Living abroad makes you feel like you can do anything and be anyone. Every day I wake up not knowing what’s going to happen – is someone going to ask me to organize an event for refugees? Am I going to get a new client from the US? Did someone screw up my taxes again, so now I have to spend half the day on the phone with people with horrendous English to try and fix it?
Maybe. At times, I complain, because it’s Denmark after all, so not everyone speaks English. But then I realize how lucky I am that I can just move wherever I want to.
Many people feel so homesick at one point during their life abroad, that they go back home. That’s fine – we all need to be where we belong and feel happy. To me, moving back wouldn’t mean going home – it would mean returning to a previous state, even to a different person, because wow, how much I’ve changed in the past 3 years. I’m more tolerant, more intelligent, more confident (if that’s possible), I’m so much more experienced, so much more empathetic. And this is the most essential ingredient of being an expat: I know who I am. Even though I stay updated on everything going on in Bulgaria (sometimes too much, just ask my friends), in the beginning I was disconnected from the culture and I entered some sort of a floating state – of neutrality. It’s like I put on someone else’s glasses and I started seeing everything and everyone around me differently. I saw myself differently – I was no longer just a kid who doesn’t know what to do with her life. I had goals, written down on pieces of paper and hung on the wall in my apartment. I had dreams, which would one day go in the same place.
I didn’t have a culture, I had a mindset. This mindset was whispering to me that it doesn’t matter where I’m living my expat life, as long as I’m myself. We usually disregard those words thinking they’re a cliche – so many of us don’t even know what it means to be ourselves. I’m more myself abroad than I’ve ever been back home. Being someone else is addictive, but so is being yourself, once you get the hang of it. I can feel myself growing and becoming a better version of myself every day, and that’s a huge adrenaline rush for me – a rush I’d probably never be able to feel in Bulgaria.
For me, that one permanent location is not decided yet. But I bask in the endless opportunities and uncertainties that seem to always follow me around: I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I know it will be a place that makes me truly happy. And that can put up with my insanity. I have a feeling we’ll make a good fit.