My Journey to Expat Life: When Expatriation Is Thrust Upon You
I left my native France in 1998. I didn’t do it for a desire to live in a different country or to start a journey to expat life. But once I did, I never looked back. I haven’t been back to live in France since then. Instead, I have now lived in 4 different countries outside of France. So, even if I did not choose it to begin with, I have since then embraced my expatriate life.
How did it come about then? I was studying Biology at university.
I ended up with a Ph.D. and then stayed in academia. A natural follow-up to getting a Ph.D. is to do a postdoctoral research project in a different country.
So I began investigating the places I could go to, the labs I could work at to further my studies in my subject area. The list of countries to choose from was relatively limited because you would want to go to a country where there is more money for research than there is in the country you’ve done your Ph.D. in.
My Journey to Expat Life: Time Was of Essence
It was quite a thought for me to think about going to live in a different country. Before that, I had only spent a few days at a conference in Italy and a one-day trip to Spain. That was all my international travel experience! But I knew I had to do it.
I focused on a few potential labs where I could do some valuable research. My primary candidate was a lab in Minnesota in the USA. We agreed with the head of the laboratory that yes, I would be a suitable candidate for them. I received a grant to work with them and then I had less than two months between getting the positive answer for the grant and moving to the USA. As real as it was now, fear and doubt started to creep in about this journey to expat life. Sometimes questions would come to my mind: Do I really have to do it? Is it really what I want to do? My family and friends were very supportive, although I guess my parents were even more scared about it than I was. On the other side, there was also excitement, trepidation and a sense of adventure towards this new part of my life.
In a way, I did not have a lot of time to think about it. For sure, I had all the logistics to get going, like leaving my flat, finishing everything I needed to finish in the lab to get ready for some publications. There was also, of course, the not-so-small matter of getting all the paperwork and my visa ready so I could move.
My Journey to Expat Life: Time Was of Essence: Suddenly, I Was on a Plane to a Different Continent
It really felt just like it was a few days and I was on a plane, on my own, to Minnesota, another continent.
Something I had never done before!
I arrived exhausted (slept little in the few nights before going!) and I was jet-lagged. But all the new things around just kept me awake and curious.
The first few days were positively exciting, full of newness, and getting to meet all these new people.
My Journey to Expat Life: The Culture Shock
Then, no hiding it; culture shock came in. The language barrier proved higher than I expected. I thought I knew about the culture. How wrong I was. No denying it. The next three months were the hardest in my life. But I adapted, I made changes to my life to make it easier. But most importantly, I kept my curiosity and willingness to learn, even if it meant having to reconsider a lot of my values and beliefs from my culture back home. I’ve made it through!
Let me conclude with this:
Yes, it was difficult, but take the plunge, stay curious, and go for it! Being an expat is a unique experience. Be ready to learn from it and you will grow and develop as a person.
If you are a new expat and struggling, you are in the right community. It is possible to go through it and make your expat experience successful. Where will you land?
by: Nadège Minois