Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Expat Living Has Taught Me (2nd Time Around)

Natalie & Sophia in their Fano shirts

Being an expat is not for everyone.  Our first time, in Trinidad, was a total system shock, or rather detox.  This second time around was no less a struggle, primarily because of our unique family requirements.  Yet we are better for the just-over-six-months-in-total the girls and I have been here. (Dave almost 9 months).  To quote Ben Groundwater in his recent article about expats, 

"Expats tend to be adventurous, to be risk-takers. After all, they've already left their friends, their homes, their comfort zones and probably most of their possessions in another country to begin a new life abroad. That takes guts. It's only a certain type of person who'll do that."

I never knew I was that type of person till we moved.  I don't know I can say it is a either-or situation, but you have to be at least willing to be resourceful and more than a little bit uncomfortable at times to be an expat.  I like to imagine that if we were stranded on a desert island, we'd be fine because of how we've learned to adapt.  Dave would conjure up a shelter and/or escape plan, I'd figure out some delicious meal to cook and and my kids would learn to love coconut water.  They already love the beach, so that actually sounds pretty easy, now that I think about it.  (See beach commentary below.)

We've gained a lot of knowledge about what is important to our family since this venture as strangers in a strange land.  As a final salute to Fano, Italy and expat life (for now), here are a few of the things I'd like to document for posterity, in no particular order.  (And if you are thinking about the expat life, they might be good things to know ahead of time!)
  • Family is all you've got, so you better make friends fast.  (And do your best to stay friends, especially since there are so few of us on this project!)
  • Gelato is everything about Italy to my kids.  This picture to the right, from our recent trip to Parma, sums up Sophia's whole ambition while we've been here - eat as much gelato as possible, as often as possible.  (Home is going to be tough for her!)
  • It's ok to fight.  It's going to happen when you are together nearly 24x7.  It's not ok not make up quickly.
  • I like arugula a lot better than spinach and tomatoes are way better here.
  • Kids grow up really fast and the best you can do is try to keep up.
  • Fans, cool night air and window units do not replace central air conditioning.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say, but be careful not to ramble on.
  • It's fun to have visitors and go traveling with them.  It's also fun to explore as just the five of us.
  • Be patient with those who don't speak the language as well as you do.  One day, you might be the one no one understands.
  • Walking and public transportation are awesome.  It doesn't preclude gaining weight but it can slow the creep.  We should do more of it in Texas.
  • I like scarves.  
  • I HATE MOSQUITOES!  *But they love me.*
  • Italians have opinions - most are helpful, but some are just annoyed by your existence.
  • Staring, contrary to what our mothers told us, is not rude.  It's completely acceptable here, so I've learned to do it back.  (I may have to let that one habit go when I step off the plane in Houston.)
  • Babies are the common denominator.  And no one, absolutely no one has any issue asking you very personal questions within seconds of meeting you.
  • Wine is cheaper than any other beverage, water included. 
  • Fresh is the way to go.  Salt is pretty much the only preservative, even in snack foods.  I like that a lot and hope to copy it back home.
  • I am so thankful for the beach.  Hours and hours of busy time in a very relaxing way.
    The Fano Beach on the Adriatic from my chair
  • (Beach Related) Don't worry about what you look like in a swim suit.  No one else does.
  • (Beach Related) Americans are prudes.  And I like being a prude.
The biggest thing I've come to realize I miss about America is the personal space.  Even more than showers and JIF Peanut Butter, I need my personal space.

In summary: We like being expats.  We like being home too.  Now closing our 2nd experience, we know a lot of the pros and cons.  We have our comforts at home that we don't have here, but it's good to be without those once and awhile.  It teaches you independence.  Being out of your comfort zone is good for the soul.  You learn about teamwork and that there is a much bigger world out there.  It's really been great for my kids.

And to answer the final, all encompassing question of whether or not (and when) we will be expats again?

I hope we will but maybe not too soon.

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