July 11. One year ago today we landed at Heathrow airport. The mix of emotions we were feeling at the time – fear, excitement, exhaustion (!) – were only a precursor to what we would experience over this past year. Moving to another country changes you in ways you could never anticipate.
It’s not just because things are different. Yes, even in a country where we share a language, the differences can be pronounced in good ways and bad. (For a great list of observations between the US and UK, check out this blog post – it sums it up brilliantly.) Fundamentally, though, those are just hiccups along the way. You get comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road. You expect to pay for parking everywhere you go. You bag your own groceries without even giving it a second thought.
What you don’t expect is how your world begins to shift on its axis. When you get to experience things others only read about, you can be boastful or you can be grateful. When you see family and friends struggle with your departure, you can be hurt or you can approach them with love and empathy for being in the place they are. When you see the turmoil your home country and locals ask “why”, you can be defensive or you can simply say “I don’t know”.
It’s subtle. The changes happen slowly and sometimes unexpectedly. All of a sudden, you realize how comfortable you are in your new expat skin and how joyful this journey makes you. You see your kids get amazing opportunities and you know this journey wasn’t about your job or your career move, but really was about giving them this life experience they never would have had otherwise. You feel the quick and strong embrace of new friendships that are different than others because no one takes their time for granted in the expat world.
We said “yes” to everything this first year and it was fun and exciting, and truthfully more than a bit exhausting. An experienced globe trotting friend told me before we left, the first year is exciting because everything is new; the second year is hard because the novelty wears off; and the third year it begins to feel like home. He was right about the first year and knowing the second year can be hard, I’m going to be mindful in how I approach it.
Even with that said, the gratitude I feel today one year later is immense. I am so glad I took this leap of faith to try something new. My family is fuller, emotionally richer and closer than we have ever been. I am a more complete version of me than I ever thought I could be. For that, I couldn’t be more thankful.