In our wedding speech, my dad said that I like to do things that terrify me, and he was right. Moving countries, travelling around India alone in my 20’s, getting married, having kids, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, they are all a little terrifying. As is starting this.
Anyway, here goes….
My name is Emma, I am 48 years old and I’m British, but currently live in the Costa del Sol, Spain. I’m married to a Brit and we have two kids aged 12 and 11, who have actually never lived in the UK.
How did I end up living abroad?
To rewind back quite a bit, I was incredibly shy (extremely socially anxious, I now realise) as a child and teenager, something that some find hard to believe (but I am still quite shy!). When I was 18 I somehow ended up moving to Nice, France and lived there for 7 months as an au pair – my adventure before going to university. This experience helped transform me into a more confident and outgoing person. From that point onwards I pretty much found myself seeking experiences to travel and live overseas whether at university or beyond.
That said, despite lots of travel experiences (particularly to visit my boyfriend, now husband, whilst he worked all over the place), I didn’t move abroad until much later. After working several years with charities and then in politics, I found myself in a bit of a hole in my mid-30’s, I was very depressed and anxious. I quit my job, and my husband, his. With all the money we had saved from our full-on work lives, we left for a trip around the world for a year. I was simultaneously excited and terrified about it. I nearly pulled the plug on it the morning we left, I felt physically sick – a year away from family felt like far too long. But we left. Sometimes I found it hard to be away from family and friends during that time, but we had a great experience.
Then the strangest thing happened whilst in Australia. This was a country we had visited as part of our honeymoon, a country that I liked, but actually had no desire to return to as part of our world trip, but conceded to as ‘it was on the route’. One day whilst sitting in the Sunrise Beach Surf Club in Noosa (Queensland), we were perched on bar stools watching the ocean crashing onto the sand, a glass of chilled Aussie white wine in hand, sun shining, both so relaxed and I recall one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live somewhere like this?” And then we both looked at each other and said, “Why couldn’t we?”
Guess what? One year and a half later, we were. Well not quite Noosa, we moved to Brisbane a bit further down the coast, by which time I was nearly 6 months pregnant with our first child. A little rash I now realise, particularly without a job for either of us initially, but it felt right to us both. We spent nearly 8 years in Brisbane, became Australian citizens and we loved it – especially when the kids were young – life was easy and outdoors much of the time. But it wasn’t without its’ challenges, being so far from family and ‘home’, particularly when our kids were young (there are 20 months difference between our two) and my husband travelled fairly regularly for up to 2-3 weeks at a time. There, I started my own blog and then my own business, so I could work around, and be with, the kids (particularly as we had no family around and childcare was so expensive). But, we managed.
After about 6 years there we had a special holiday to Sumatra and Thailand where we realised we could start to be a bit braver and experience something more adventurous again. This time, my husband was working for a big international firm, so we started to explore options to move with them. Germany and the US were touted, but we hoped for something a bit different. Then Costa Rica came up. What? Costa Rica? Where is that again? How is that even somewhere that we could have a chance to live?
Leaving Australia for a new home abroad
In 2015 we left Australia, sad, but ready to start a new chapter. We very much felt that moving countries helped us make life as full and as rich as it could be. A new chapter in each place. Costa Rica, with its’ promise of a different language and culture, enticing us to it’s exotic shores. We were particularly drawn to an experience for the kids to learn Spanish (and us) and to see the world as their oyster. As you might expect, Costa Rica was a very different experience to Australia, and we also made many more international friends, as many other expats are on assignments there. I arrived with a sense of curiosity, but also fear for our safety and the unknown. Living in a developing country, I was particularly shocked by the disparate living standards and high cost of living. I ended up volunteering with an organisation and later on a friend and I started our own NGO there, Esperanza Urbana, which still works today in San Jose and has helped support many to be rehabilitated and reintegrated.
Meanwhile, my husband continued to travel and the kids were getting older and we started to think of secondary/high school and long term plans. With that in mind and Brexit on the horizon, we decided to look into moving to Spain – much closer to ‘home’ and family, somewhere where we could continue the language (still learning – check out my post on Spanish lessons and resources for free), the adventure, the sunshine, but also could settle for some time, on our terms. So, my husband left his safe, comfy job and extremely fortunately he found one that he could do from home in Spain. In December 2018 we left Costa Rica and took our kids on a 6 month trip visiting friends across the globe, whilst my husband worked part time and we ‘world schooled’. August 2019 we moved to the Costa del Sol, not quite where we thought we would end up in Spain, but we haven’t looked back. We plan to be here for some time to come. We have even adopted a dog.
So, why am I sharing all this? Good question. Firstly, to share how and why we have ended up living in several countries across the globe, both with, and without company support. Secondly, that it might help show that whilst we have been incredibly fortunate to have these experiences, it has not been without challenges. I, particularly have struggled, with a variety of things including anxiety and depression over many years. I share this not for any other reason, than to (hopefully) help normalise it and show that we all have our stories behind the facade.
Why start a blog?
So why this and why now? For some time I have been searching for my next role in life and toying with lots of different random ideas. Eventually this one popped up – a chance to share my, our, experiences of being an expat and draw on that of others too – the ups and downs that this life can bring. I am very grateful for all the opportunities and choices we have made, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I also know that sometimes it is hard.
Whilst many sites and blogs share packing lists and resources to help with the practicalities of moving to a new country and starting again, I wanted to share something more personal. This Expat Life will share stories about the realities of being an expat, not to be self-indulgent or to seek pity, but, I hope, to help create a sense of connection whether an expat or not, to see things for what they are, even if it is hard to explain or for others to understand sometimes. It can be the most life enriching experience, in so many many ways, but it also can be tough. But none of us are alone. It just can feel that way sometimes, no matter where we live. I want to go under the hood of expat living and look at what is there – a tangled web of practicalities, emotions, events, connections and talk about it all.
When I sit down and think of where we have lived and all the people we now know living all over the place (some currently through choice, others because they are ‘stuck’), we can list those that are as far flung as Nepal to New Zealand, Romania to the United States. We have all learnt to make a new family, a new village, a home away from home and still stay connected to the family and friends back wherever they are. A whole wealth of experience and experiences – births, deaths, business start ups, separations, children struggling, children flourishing.
So, my grand plan is to write (and learn!) about all this stuff, to ask you to share your experiences too. Hopefully in early 2021 I would like to start a podcast, interviewing those that are willing to share and to learn about their lives in their new home and adopted country. If you’d like to get in touch please contact me here
A reality check on being an expat.
A little look behind the masks we sometimes wear.
The real deal.
This Expat Life.
I really would love to hear about your expat life. Where are you right now? How long have you been there? It would be so great to hear a bit (or a lot!) about you and wherever you are.
Once upon a time – Photo by: Matthew Henry
Start here – Photo by Gia Oris
Map – Photo by Timo Wielink