My Journey to Expat Life: When Limits Become Your Power
The drive to go where I seemingly couldn’t go has been my hallmark for as long as I can remember. Growing up in East Germany, I wasn’t allowed to leave and to go to Switzerland, France, Scotland, or America. Getting on a plane to a county with palm trees seemed as impossible as flying to the moon. Yet, this innate drive within me would later define my perpetual journey to expat life.
Barely able to ride a bike, I would leave our concrete housing in Rostock at 4:00 am to ride around the deserted streets in search of an open bakery for family breakfast, enjoying the quiet newness of freedom. This drive has never left me.
My Journey to Expat Life: Determination – How Badly Did I Want It?
I got into trouble back then for doing things like that, testing the limits, breaking the norms. In East Germany, the limits were the East German borders, which I would eventually breach.
The price I paid was a temporary loss of freedom, but I gained permanent liberty. My determination to explore the unreachable only grew stronger the higher the wall. I was afraid, too, though. Leaving the security of a country that offered me the basic necessities, how would I fare in the big, wide world? Would I become jobless, homeless, fall victim to crime, or would I prevail, become a manager in a big corporation, or even run my business?
Sometimes, the warmth of the security living in East Germany spelled reason and sanity, and leaving the country seemed insane. I even had nightmares. Twice. But how could I be happy, knowing I denied myself the opportunity to live a dream no matter the cost?
My Journey to Expat Life: Risk and Reward versus Staying Put
I had to weigh the risk of visiting strange lands, being free, against staying put. Safety versus personal growth, learning, and fulfillment. Ultimately, I chose fulfillment. Even before the Berlin Wall fell, I traveled to Paris, Belgium, and Switzerland. I made English my first language and was now no longer limited to information in German. What an eye-opener on so many levels! Later, I would own a business in the US and work for international corporations that would fly me to exotic places as a corporate expat. Check out my posts A Corporate Expat in Mallorca and A Corporate Expat in Jersey. Dreams do come true.
Years later, when I visited the concrete satellite city where my family still lived, I answered wide-eyed questions from friends and family as I told them about lands they have not yet seen, cultures not yet experienced, horizons not yet explored. In some faces, I saw regret not to have tried. To me, their lives didn’t seem to have changed as dramatically as mine.
Security? In reality, there isn’t such a thing. Proof positive: the country East Germany does no longer exists. Things are changing constantly around us, and if we don’t take note and adapt, we have less power and say over our lives.
If you’re happy where you are and know you’re going to be satisfied with your life, that’s perfectly okay, too. But I had to go out and conquer those impenetrable frontiers. Otherwise, I would not be who I am today!
My Journey to Expat Life: No Regrets
Yes, I prefer to tackle things head-on!
Dream – Evaluate – Do, or Don’t Do!
Surely, there are some things I don’t like in my host country, Panama. But I have to accept the norms here. It is the unique culture that makes it that lovely place I now call home. And if my dislikes, or certain inconveniences, outweigh my comfort level, I can always pack up and go somewhere different. My journey to expat life has just begun.
I have gained some experience being an expat. I am a little wiser than I was 40 years ago. And I am happy to share that expat wisdom with you, too. Just sign up on TCI for free to engage with our Alliance team of seasoned expats all over the world. We are authentic because we are walking the walk. And so can you!
When you want something bad-enough, nothing is impossible. Where will you land?
by: LP Wirth