Very soon I will have been living abroad as long as I have lived in my own native country. And I would be lying if I said that that has not impacted me. There are so many advantages to living in another county, but there are also things I am dealing with that someone who has not had this experience might never really understand. My running thoughts often take me to everything that I have gained and lost by making a life across borders. They make me what I am and luckily, I do not have many regrets. Christmas is the time of thinking back and new year the time of looking forward, which makes this the perfect moment to speak about the joys and tears of being the eternal foreigner.
The random things you learn
The best thing about living abroad is continuously learning something new. Naturally, you learn a lot about yourself by having to start all over alone and in a place you do not know. It makes you stronger, better prepared, more adaptable and independent. You also learn about the culture of a new country, you might learn a new language and new (often much better) customs. But I would say that the random things you learn are the best. Before I lived in Scotland, for example, I had no idea that eating cheese in the evening would make you have bad dreams, or that carpet in the bathroom is actually an option. In Serbia I learnt that a leaking roof is no reason to freak out and that as long as everyone is healthy and alive, all is just fine.
It is not all hunky-dory
Being the eternal foreigner also has its downfalls and this time of year always makes me think about those a bit more than usual. Whilst living abroad you meet a lot of people. You have to, if you want to build up a new support network and a social life. You also meet other foreigners or ex-pats who might go back to their own countries or another country before you do. At the same time, moving to another country always means leaving friends and family behind.
The result is that you end up with a lot of dear friends who all live somewhere else. One of my greatest regrets is not seeing my friends and family in Scotland, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Canada, The Netherlands nearly half as much as I would like to. To not be able to meet them for a spontaneous coffee, catch up in the bus to work or to bring the kids together, makes me feel sad. I am poor and rich at the same time. It is like having money in the bank, but only an expired card to reach it.
To live abroad also comes with feeling in limbo. There have been periods when I was homesick, for The Netherlands when I was in Scotland and for Scotland now. But I also know that if I would go back to Scotland, there would be things about Serbia that I would really miss. As you gain experiences, you are also reminded of the things that lack. The more countries you live in, the more you have to compare your current life to. Nothing is ever good enough and no country is perfect. And as time goes on, even your own native country will start to feel like abroad. Being the eternal foreigner and permanently having that stamp only emphasises this feeling of being in limbo even more. On the one hand it makes you cool and interesting, but on the other hand you are also always the odd one out.
A better person
I genuinely believe that living abroad for a longer time would make everyone a better person. There are so many advantages to having that experience of living in a different culture and basically having to fend for yourself. I would not have it any other way, because it makes me feel that I am continuously growing as a person. I have many friends I can visit whenever I want, and that is wonderfully comforting to know. Thinking back on the person that I was 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago, makes me feel proud of what I have achieved. Scotland is the country where I would like to retire and grow old. Before that happens, I still have many adventures ahead of me.
Het gras lijkt altijd groener aan de andere kant....gevoel. Maar ben je zeker van Schotland als pensioen land? Dat weer is toch niet lekker voor de oude botten ;)