Welcome to my new series ‘The Living Abroad Questionnaire’ where I interview 5 women born in 5 different countries about their experiences of living abroad for extended periods of time! Every day of this week you will get a new insight into what its like to move to a new country and how it can impact your life for the better!
Country of birth: Switzerland
Countries you’ve lived in: Switzerland, Ethiopia, Kenya, Haiti and Canada
Why did you move abroad?
Moving abroad for me wasn’t necessarily my choice, I was born into it. My parents’ jobs allows them to move to a new country every few years so my entire childhood consisted of just following them wherever they were posted to live. Moving every four or so years was my normal, and all my friends growing up were just like me, ‘Third Culture Kids’, or, kids who have spent the majority of their life living in a culture different from their passport country (Canada for me). So, my experiences of living abroad didn’t seem so unique to me back then, although I do realize now how notable of a childhood it was.
What was the process of moving to a new country?
Like I said, moving to a new country was my normal and so I never really paid attention to the actual logistical process behind it all (my parents usually handled it). The one thing I distinctively remember for each of my moves was packing all my stuff and then waiting for 6 months to get them back again. Six months living out of a suitcase while waiting for all your shipment to arrive is not so great! But now that I think of it I am quite a minimalist and I am pretty content with only my essentials, I guess I now have the answer as to way I am that way, haha!
Was there an aspect of living abroad that was different from what you expected?
Because I was born abroad I never had the time to form expectations about what it would be like to live outside my home country, but generally speaking, living abroad from an outsider’s perspective seems very alluring and glamorous but it’s not always a happy time of adventure. For me, personally, I find that because my entire childhood was spent away from where I am “from”, I never developed a national identity that makes you proud of who you are, and where you are from. And so, a lot of the time I feel very much like an outsider, especially when I am back in Canada where I am supposedly an “insider”, odd paradox right? I guess what I am trying to say is that when you live abroad the places you are in always take a piece of you and keep it forever, so you become a hybrid of a lot of places and that can often lead to confusion, especially when you are growing up, like me. You become a collection of many places and that collection does not fit perfectly together like a puzzle, so your identity becomes a jungle of contradictions and sometimes it can be hard to make sense of them. Like, who am I supposed to root for at the Olympics? Haha! Canada? Haiti? Kenya? or Ethiopia? Switzerland? Well, let me tell you, I am rooting for all five, with the same amount of passion and excitement. That’s what living abroad does to you. It completely changes your identity.
How has living abroad changed your perception of life?
Living abroad has made me realize that no place is the same and that that diversity is truly what makes the world special. Living abroad forces you to open your horizons and widen your perspective. It shoves discomfort in your face until you become comfortable with it and that’s the best experience! Because of my upbringing I consider myself super adventurous and super excited about the possibilities of life, because I have seen so many already! Living abroad has just made me stoked about life because it can be whatever you make of it. You can choose your destiny.
Any tips for someone moving abroad for the first time?
Electrical adapters, electrical adapters, electrical adapters! The amount of times I have fried my electronics due to different watt systems is embarrassing, so be ready for different electrical norms, lol.
WhatsApp is the best texting, calling, and video chatting app to use internationally, although iMessage has gotten pretty good nowadays. WhatsApp is the OG though, get it.
Explore your new city and when you do talk to people, tell them you are new to the city, they will want to take you under their wing and tell you about the best local places and even introduce you to cool people. Locals always want foreigners to enjoy their city to the max so people will be very excited if you tell them you’ve just moved there and will want to tell you about all the best places, take notes!
Try local foods, no matter how different, be open! Imagine if you lived in Bangkok and never tried their street meats, people wouldn’t believed you lived there, and frankly, that would embarrassing. Food is integral to culture, immerse yourself in it.
No matter how lonely you may feel at first, remember that it will always get easier, go out, enjoy yourself, make some memories and never forget how lucky and unique your life is, everyone is jealous of you, haha!
Thanks Alexa! Stay tuned for another interview tomorrow!