Please, don't ask me these expat-related questions again

Expat stories
  • woman on the beach
Published on 2018-09-14 at 07:00 by Maria Iotova
Expatriation started as a necessity when I was looking to progress with my academic studies of a Master's degree in England. However, it was earlier in my life, when I began travelling for leisure, that I figured out moving countries is a lifestyle I would like to revel in. Since 2007, I have lived and worked in five countries in Europe, Africa, and East Asia, and I am currently preparing for my next expatriation project. I may find it easier to board a plane and start all over again than deciding what to have for dinner, but the journey is not anxiety and sorrow-free. So, if you are interested in how a life away from everything you take for granted is, please don't ask me (or any other like-minded expat for that matter) any of the following questions — here's why.

Aren't you tired of moving?

One of the things I have learned from my serial expatriations is that moving abroad if done methodically and with some help, is easier than you think it is. For us, who feel that the world is our oyster, the process of moving and starting elsewhere from scratch is quite the opposite of tiring; it's energising. I cannot wait to start packing again and give away the things that have lost their sentimental value or won't be useful in my new host country. I am filled with enthusiasm when I do research about my destination and start imagining my everyday life there, and I appreciate the fact that online expat platforms give me the opportunity to get in touch with other expats in the country to find out more about the formalities, housing options, and job opportunities.

When are you going to settle?

It's not that I have never thought about it. However, the idea of one place for the rest of my life limits my existence and creativity. Serial expatriation is scary, yes; but I choose to go through the process of living in a new country anyway because it is interesting and helps me overcome my fears (or discover new ones). Through regular resettling, I have learned to be more persistent in life and not give up. Again, it can be daunting to follow your curiosity  continuously, but knowing the rewards (living in the now, discovering your self-confidence, learning about the history of people and places), it is all worth it. Even though I may settle one day, it will be because I feel like it, not because it's time to.

Don't you miss home?

Of course, I do. Not only that, but I also worry that the longer and further away I am, the more my role in my friends' and family's lives shrinks — no matter how hard both sides are trying, realistically speaking, I am a stranger to my best friend's children. Yet, I am happy with my choice to live abroad because I am not trying to create a safe life for myself, surrounded by familiarity. On the contrary, I am intrigued to explore countries which give people more freedom than others to examine ideas and manifest their creativity. I may not always be able to be present at important occasions, and I often find myself feeling nostalgic about my hometown, Athens. There are Friday evenings that I would give anything in the world to be able to join my friends at our favourite bar, but I have chosen expat life with its good and bad sides — the liberation it offers and the sacrifices it requires.   

Why am I not so lucky?

Expat life isn't some sort of preternatural ability or skill that I was magically gifted with; it is the result of making tough choices, overcoming difficult hurdles, and battling loneliness. Thus, I am not any luckier than you are. I am just determined to confront my fears, and go after what I want — a life on the move, which regardless of the frustrating bureaucracy, strange work ethics, endless packing and unpacking, and sometimes meaningless socialising, it is mine, and I find it charming.   

Do you speak Korean (or French, Portuguese, Swahili)?

I lived in South Korea for a little less than a year, and even though I was keen on learning the language to make my Korean friends proud, I don't speak Korean. According to the Foreign Service Institute, Korean, along with Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese, is an exceptionally difficult language for English speakers. In spite of Korean alphabet having only 24 letters (three of them being a circle, a square, and straight lines) and being phonetic, there are unique difficulties such its hierarchical nature. Adapting to a new country is already too demanding; trying to learn the language on top of that, requires time, dedication, and an inner talent, which unfortunately I am not confident I possess.

When can I visit?

Anytime you like because you will bring with you the sense of home — the inside jokes, the memories, the intimacy that I miss in my temporary host country. However, unless we are good friends, I hope you are an independent traveller, who can enjoy their time by visiting places alone and making new friends, as it's not always possible to take time off work to show you around or dine out every evening so you can try all the local flavours. I will offer you a bed (or a sofa-bed depending on my situation), towels, breakfast, and the company of my playful pooch with great pleasure. Also, please let me know in advance, as having guests always requires some preparation: cleaning, budgeting, planning some outings. My host country is my pride, and I don't want anyone to leave with a bitter taste from it.

Don't you like Greece?

I have met different types of people throughout my life — those who love their routine and find it difficult even to imagine changing a neighbourhood, and those who are just like me; they always need more space. Greece is my refuge, and it's the only place where I can overcome all problems and reconnect with myself. I love Greece for the past I have lived there, but my future is always going to be elsewhere.