Moving On is Hard to Do – My Expat Love Affairs

MOVING ON

Like so many of you, we are moving on to a new country in a few months’ time. The hardest thing with any move is the people you have to leave behind. And, while my keyboard could do with clean, I don’t want to be washing it with tears. So this post is about the places rather than the people.

When you move to a new country, you embark on a relationship with that place. You may be moving already in a mindset to be seduced, anticipating the charms and the benefits of your new locale. Or you may be entering the relationship dragging your heels, having heard nothing but bad things.

Falling in love with a new country

I had a lot of misgivings about moving to Thailand, but Bangkok…you had me at Sawadee Ka. The food, the smiles, the chaos, the warmth – of both the people and the place. The ease of living that comes with being an expat in the Far East. The incredible beaches nearby. Never having to wear socks…

Germany was more of a slow burn, but now I will forever hold a candle for Wiesbaden. If Thailand was love at first sight (or rather sight, taste, smell, touch – to be in Bangkok is to have all your senses assailed at the same time) Germany was, well, ‘not so bad’ at first sight. But then I noticed that it was way better looking than I had first thought – seriously, this country is gorgeous. And behind the stern exterior was kindness. And despite initial impressions it wasn’t boring, after all – there was so much going on, you just needed to know where to look.

So I sit here now writing this in my lovely German garden, on this sunny spring morning. The beautiful magnolia tree has blossomed magnificently, and now the petals are falling to the ground. And next year I won’t be here to see it bloom. It is an odd feeling of displacement to miss a place while you are still living there. It feels like the end of an affair, one which I knew was going to have a time limit but, still, it’s painful to think of it being over. I am stuck in ‘this might be the last time’ mentality. The last time I see this tree in all its flowering glory. The last time we visit this park. The last time I get my favourite bread from the bakery…wait, no, I’ve become practically German in my routine of buying bread every single day so there’ll be plenty more bakery visits…

Finally feeling at home…and then having to leave

But it’s strange. I feel homesick for a place before I have even left it.

I remember having this same feeling in Bangkok. I was walking down our street and I had a sudden feeling of being right there, in the moment. That this was home. That I knew every street food vendor, every building. The frangipani trees, the jasmine. I knew which part of the street to cross because it smelled of the worst stinky drains ever. And which paving slabs to avoid stepping on – step on a wonky street slab and you risk getting smelly ‘pavement juice’ slopped up the back of your legs.

Getting to that point – of walking around and feeling like I belonged rather than having a panic attack – felt SO good. It’s not an easy place to arrive at…it takes time and effort and adjustment before a strange place starts to feel like home. And I’m at that point here now. First I got used to things and then I grew to love them. I love the fact that when I walk our dog it always takes me longer than planned because I stop and chat to the people I have got to know. (Chat in the loosest sense of the word given the extent – or lack of extent – of my German). I love the fact that the shops close on Sunday and people take the time to relax and enjoy themselves. I love the fact that when you go for a walk along the river you can stop every hundred metres or so and stop for a glass of wine. Which never costs more than 3 euros….

Moving from Bangkok – a huge, humid and hectic city – to the ordered calm of West Germany was a huge change. Our next move, to Paris, is ostensibly easier. The distance is less; the shipment will take days rather than months. But I often think the smaller cultural shifts can be harder to manage than the big ones. I’ve got used to the German way of doing things…and, while they may share the same continent and currency, the French certainly don’t share the same attitude.

But if these countries were actual people, who would they be? Bangkok would be someone crazy, funny, exhilarating and exhausting. Someone who would be so much fun to be around, but you would never be able to keep up with them, or pin them down. Germany would be one of those types in films…you know, the geek who takes off their glasses and suddenly you realise that they are really quite hot actually. They would also be very organised. But prone to stripping down just to their underpants in public parks whenever the mercury rises over 20 degrees. But Paris? What will Paris be like? All Breton tops and peeing in public? (Sorry, first impressions of Paris is that it really smells of wee…).

Moving on is hard

As the song goes, breaking up is never easy (gotta love Abba). You leave a place and you realise that it carries on without you…like a love sick teenager you find yourself on social media, looking at friends’ posts and seeing all the places that used to be ‘your’ places. And when you leave the tropics and move to a country with a long winter…well, it might not be bad advice to just stay off facebook altogether. There’s only so many pool and beach and rooftop bar pics you can take when the temperature doesn’t rise past zero and the sun never manages to penetrate the blanket of grey.

If it is not obvious by now, let me make my point even more melodramatically clear: my heart hurts at the thought of leaving this country. I am focussed on trying to enjoy everyday but, like the end of any romance, the enjoyment is tinged with sadness.

But I am aware of how lucky I am to have had these love affairs with different cities. Your heart may take some bruises when you move to a new country, but it is never made smaller.

15 Replies to “Moving On is Hard to Do – My Expat Love Affairs”

  1. I love your descriptions of these 2 love affairs. I wonder what Reading, Manchester, the UK would be described as. Your first and forever love? A parental love- loved in your youth and a love and respect again when you return like our relationships with our parents when we become parents ourselves? You suddenly understand them and love them for all they did?

    Paris will be a lasting love I reckon. Paris is one of my most favourite cities. Book me in for a visit.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      The UK…it’s my true north 💕
      And can’t wait to have you come and visit x

  2. Thank you. Great article! I’m only moving from Ireland to the UK in a few months but it’s still a little daunting. I’ve lived abroad many years ago pre kids and loved it, but it seems a much bigger thing when you are uprooting children from friends and school. Whilst I am excited about a new adventure there are also moments of anxiety and I love reading your articles as they help me realize things work out!

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Thank you so much! Part of writing these blogs is proving to myself that things always do work out… Our first move with kids stressed me out so much, but it was an amazing experience. And while the UK isn’t far from Ireland, sometimes the smaller changes are harder to get your head around. Wishing you lots of luck x

  3. ”It is an odd feeling of displacement to miss a place while you are still living there.” This. I feel this way every time we know for sure we are leaving and where we are going and when.

    Paris is one of my favorite cities and I am excited to follow you on your adventures there.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      It’s so nice when people ‘get’ these feelings! Thank you x

    2. makingherehome says: Reply

      Thank you so much Chesney! And I’m sorry for this very delayed reply x

  4. Oh, yes! That heartsick feeling when one knows one’s leaving a place one’s LOVED – that one’s felt so much part of, the people, the lifestyle, the physical side – views, trees, streets, bustle or peacefulness – the feeling of moving through it all with a terrible, nostalgic sense of loss, of mourning… yet in a tiny corner of one’s being – there’s the anticipation of the new life, the next challenge…. haven’t we all, we expats, experienced so much of this?

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Yes! Absolutely x

  5. Thank you for sharing this story. What a wonderful and honest description of your emotions and thoughts about ex-pat life. I felt like I was reading my own journal! Your story hit very close to my heart. We arrived in Frankfurt three weeks ago, after a short term in Italy- easy and fast relocation. We lived in Vietnam prior to Milan! I still long for much of what I experienced while living in Vietnam, however, I’m hopeful I will find the same here in Frankfurt. The feeling of being alone and nervous in the beginning is a hard transition and emotional for me . Your post has brightened my day and reminded me to remain positive and take the risks and initiatives necessary to get to know my new home country… because I’m sure that I’ll come to love Germany and the people here … and then it will be time to move on and I’ll miss it ever so much. Have a wonderful day and thanks again for your message.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Hi Lenna, thanks for taking the time to comment and sorry for the delayed reply! I’m so glad this resonated with you. After the Far East Germany is very different, but you have arrived at the best time of the year! I hope this settling in phase goes well for you, good luck

  6. I read this with a little tear in my eye as this was exactly how I felt when we left Singapore. I was grieving the loss of living there for months before we actually had to move. Moving countries is such a strange feeling. It takes so much energy to make a new place home that it really should be unsurprising the emotions we feel when all that hard work is in a way ‘undone’ by another international move. I have no doubt you will enjoy living in Paris, pee smells and all! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Oh thank you! And yes, I think the emotional toll moving takes often comes as a surprise- or a sucker punch!

  7. I second Chesney’s comment and that bit really resonated with me as well. Having thought that we were leaving Copenhagen several times, but still here, I’ve gotten over the idea of “this is the last time” and just enjoy each season’s turn for what it offers. Now when we really do have to go, move, move on, relocate or move back I may feel differently. Best of luck on your new adventure. Ahhhh Paris. What will she become to you? Cheers from Denmark, where I would personify this little country as the bearded and man-bunned hipster on a bicycle who at first appears cold and unwelcoming, but once you share some hygge (or a few craft beers) is happy and open and loyal and up for anything.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Oh Erin I love your description of Copenhagen, made me laugh out loud! Now I definitely want to visit 😉

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