Sometimes being an expatriate is part of your professional path. Sometimes it is a money oriented exile. Some other times, you find a new love in a country that is not yours. Or maybe you become an expat because you have dreamt about moving abroad all your life. And that was exactly what happened to me. Since I was 9 years old (yes, I was a child) I dreamt about going to live in London, and prepared all my life for when that would happen.
When the time came for me, moving abroad wasn’t an easy option. I was already “old”, I had my career, a comfortable life in Brazil, my loving parents and the best friends in the world. Nothing matched the "ideal checklist for running away". Yet, there was still something missing. I wanted to experience living abroad, alone, in a different culture, and speaking a different language. It was a burning desire (I know, very cheesy! But true.) to pursue a challenge, and for years I thought it would stay only in my dreams. Secretly I was envious of anybody who did their share of backpacking, as it was in my mind, the ultimate experience. I had to go too. It was a call inside me.
There is something very important to know that nobody ever told me: becoming an expat is a one way journey. It doesn't matter where you go, it doesn't matter how long you stay away from your home country, if you will ever return or not - you will never be the same again, and you will never see your home place with the same eyes. It doesn’t matter if your experience was good or bad, it will never leave you. Your life is what you experience, not your thoughts. Bear in mind that never, never any place will ever be “complete” or “perfect”. And the more you move, the more you will miss different pieces from your previous places. From then on the world will be your home. Even your attitudes and your experiences as a tourist change drastically.
There are not many advices that could be given to a wannabe expat. Each one has its own reasons. You can read everything about it, you can talk to as many people as possible, but unless you live this experience, you will never know what it really is. If it is good, bad, valid, traumatic, blissful, it varies from person to person, it is all down to how you perceive it.
Some people are more apt to deal with differences than others. My experience shows me that depending on the reasons for immigration, people will also react in various ways to differences. So never assume a fellow expat will be sympathetic to you. That is not always the case. Some can't understand differences and are always labelling others as wrong. Naturally someone who decides to leave their country to live abroad, in a different language and different culture, will be more willing to be kind with differences. However, don’t expect the same attitude from one who never left its place and now has to deal with an "alien". Be prepared! Even those who you knew all your life, but stayed at home and have never been anywhere, give you a hard time when you are back. They can’t understand differences either. And very few people will tell you that in advance. You will learn by experience. Always.
I can say I had a terrific time in London - 9 years with all ups and downs imaginable - and I tried to have as much information as possible about the Brits. Imagine, stereotypes made me believe they never laugh or smile... Had I read this book beforehand - Watching the English, by Kate Fox - my life would have been much easier. By the time I moved to London, it hadn't even been written yet. It is brilliant, it should be handed out at arrivals in Heathrow.