First off, I should probably give myself a break, “weird” may be a bit harsh. What I mean to say is that over these six years living in Germany and Switzerland, with intermittent summer visits home to Canada, I have realized that my social skills have become a little altered, that I have become a bit quieter, which is not the norm for me. As someone who had the adjective “bubbly” appear on (I’m not even kidding) each and every school report card growing up, it’s odd to have become this lone observer, rather than the joiner. Through reflection I have concluded that my evolution into this type of person is as a result of my time living overseas, that being an expat has in fact, made me a bit weird.
Part of living life as an expat is learning how to sit back and watch, and how to understand the ways and laws of the land through quiet observation. This is most certainly true in a country like Germany, where any deviation from those ways can and will result in a quick reprimand from any neighbor or passerby (see more on that here).
As a result, I have taken up this aspect of the expat lifestyle, being the tentative spectator, as part of my personality. The upside to this new character trait is that I have since developed a greater sense of awareness. I have slowed down. I look at a lot more. I listen and absorb more, and have come to enjoy the smaller details and subtle nuances of the people and places around me. Subsequently, I also learn more and I make fewer mistakes, and this has helped greatly in the adaptation process. On the downside, however, I have also become more cautious, less spontaneous, more rigid, at times timid. It’s difficult to “trust your gut” or “go on instinct” when living in a foreign country, particularly when dealing with a foreign language. Simple endeavors have to be planned out, studied, practiced, so as to not screw up, not to embarrass yourself or insult someone. So while I do enjoy this new level of broader consciousness, I also miss the days when going to the grocery store or walking my dogs could be the simple mindless task that it is for most others.
Another aspect of the expat life that has turned me a little odd, is alone time. I am an only-child and so I have always been cool with being on my own. But as a “trailing spouse” I think I have been left to indulge in this practice a bit too much. As my husband takes off each morning to train and socialize with his teammates, I work and study online. I know that just about every piece of literature on how to survive the expat life says that making friends with fellow expats, as well as locals, is key, and I have made some friends, but not many. The expat-hockey-life in particular makes fostering relationships difficult as each year we are either in a new city or have new teammates/spouses. I have found that becoming a homebody, spending most of my time with my husband and only a couple of pals, is a great way to avoid the sadness and awkwardness of dealing with friendships that don’t/can’t last.
Again, there is an upside to all this. All that alone time has inspired and enabled me to earn a masters degree, as well as cultivate a career, exclusively online, and in spite of living a lifestyle where finding employment is a major challenge. The downside though, is that I now find new and large social situations a bit overwhelming and uncomfortable.
Again, I should probably give myself a break. I’m not some total recluse or socialphobe. What I am however, is a great example of why, as an expat, listening to all that literature about joining expat groups and befriending locals is so important. It’s about finding comfort and developing confidence within a foreign land, which are key to adapting and coping with this lifestyle. So take my experience as a lesson and get out there, before you get all weird too.