Like many kids, I spent my childhood wishing to be elsewhere. I didn’t have some traumatic or unhappy childhood; in fact, it was the opposite. I grew up in rural Nottinghamshire (yes, Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood, and the rest) and my childhood was spent in a stable home, with married parents. My days were spent climbing trees, grazing my knees, having adventures, laughing a lot, and making lifelong friends. But there comes a time when even the best grows tiresome.
I now live in Dubrovnik, an astonishingly beautiful ancient city on the Adriatic coast located at the very southern tip of Croatia where I work doing various things, live comfortably, and am very happy. The shadowy, constantly aching cloud of needing to leave no longer hangs above me.
But here are a few things that I have grown bored of hearing. And for all the other expats out there: do share your stories. I’m curious if you’ve heard these as well or have any to add.
1. “You don’t know how lucky you are! I wish I could do it!”
I understand the sentiment, but no, I am not lucky and I actually (maybe wrongly, I don’t know) take a degree of personal offense when someone says this to me. I understand that you mean absolutely nothing bad by making such a statement, but please understand that it tends to “translate” badly in the process of leaving your mouth and entering my ears. I know in my case that I worked harder cutting through red tape and jumping through hoops than I ever thought possible. Expats aren’t lucky; the determination to not stay in one place just crushes the fear and we go for what we want, and where we want, in spite of the many possible hurdles.
2. “I bet you’re fluent now! I wish I could learn another language.”
I had this said to me after three weeks of living in Croatia. Luckily, I learned the language long ago and now it’s merely a case of slow and steady tweaking, but for most people this isn’t the case. Your brain is so incomprehensibly full of paperwork, documents, residence forms, and bank statements that it takes quite a long time before you start to relax enough to absorb the language. For a long time, you don’t really hear anyone.
3. “You’re living the good life. I wish I could just up and leave like that.”
Expat life isn’t a walk in the park, or a day at the beach to be more apt. For the first few months, your life is filled with a mix of emotions that all like to argue with each other in your head. The wrestling match that anxiety, fear of failure, and “don’t worry, I got this” have got going on in my head is not as entertaining as the expression on my face or the photos on my Facebook may suggest. Appearances are very deceptive and this is true for anyone. Judgement is wrong. I, too, had responsibilities back in the UK; I also did not “up and leave,” unless “upping and leaving” means spending six months scratching your head trying to find out what you actually need to do for various embassies overseas. I live the good life because my life is mine and I chose to make this happen, regardless of responsibilities.
4. “Me and my friend/spouse/family member are looking for a holiday, and…”
This is probably the “one” that does it for me most. Really. You learn who your true friends are when permanently move abroad, especially if you move to a place like Croatia. The amount of “friends” you have who are suddenly interested in you because you now live in an apartment that overlooks the crystal clear Adriatic sea is staggering. My apartment is my home, my sanctuary. It is where I live, and it is not a hotel. I sound like a bitch here, but these “friends” aren’t even the ones who you’d really consider as friends. They are usually the ones who let you borrow a pen a billion years ago in science class, and who you keep as a Facebook friend just to be polite. Lending me a pen doesn’t equal a free holiday, sorry.
5. “I wish I were you/I wish I had your life.”
You are you, and you are wonderful. Your life is there not to lead you, but for you to lead it. Many people seem to be totally oblivious to this fact. Yes, sure, I believe in fate and karma and maybe even God — I’m sure there is some sort of plan for us all — but for the most part, your life is totally in your hands. I look like I am living some fantasy dream life on Facebook or Instagram because that is what I choose to share. Nobody sees the ugly side, nor do I want to rant on about how the immigration officer didn’t sign my form, or how the lady at the tax office was a complete bitch, or how I got fined for something I still don’t fully understand.
I chose this life — the good and the bad of it — and the onus is on me and only me to make things happen.
Your life is yours, it is as beautiful as you make it, and you can board a plane just as easily as I did.