Moving to a new country is supposed to be life changing, isn’t it? Well, yes and no.
Sunset on the Tavira Canal, Ria Formosa
You are certainly plunked down in a different world. There are all sorts of adjustments to make, depending on where you end up and I’m going to say how much money you have.
A lot of people move to another country and then find a matching group of expats to pal around with, much as they did in their home country. They join fancy golf clubs, live in gated communities, live their lives much as they did before, with a little local flavor thrown in.
People naturally gravitate to people like themselves. We seek out the familiar, whether it’s someone speaking our native tongue or ordering a burger and fries for lunch. (Guilty.)
Then there are the expats who throw themselves into their new life. They become fluent in the language, involved in their communities, put down permanent roots and become those lovely people who help others make the transition. I am not there yet. I may never be. But the possibility exists.
I work for myself and my working position is feet up on the sofa, laptop in, well, my lap. I’ve worked this way for well over a decade. In my previous location, I sat at one end of the couch, propped up by the arm, I guess. I could look out the sliding glass doors at the canal and the sailboats. I’d work and from time to time look out the window when I was thinking, perhaps giving my eyes a rest from the computer screen. I sat there for 10 years. It was my spot. It was comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.
When people asked me why I was moving to Portugal I said that I didn’t want to die sitting on the end of the couch.
I am happy to inform you that I now sit nearer the middle.
Sometimes I really switch it up and move over to my recliner for a few hours. For the most part I work in the same position I always have: feet up, laptop on lap. I look out the sliding glass doors at the Ria Formosa and the Tavira Canal. It’s a wider canal with a lot more boating activity. Higher and lower tides.
Making great strides here.
In the words of one of my favorite philosophers (also rock star, brain surgeon, rocket scientist) Buckaroo Banzai, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
To me, the whole point of being an expat is to go to new places, experience new things, things you can’t really discover on a two-week vacation. But unless you’re fully retired (or have a trust fund), you have to balance that with your work life and your family life and all the responsibilities that we carry with us as adults.
So we bring ourselves with us.
Our flaws and hang-ups and biases don’t magically disappear when our passport gets stamped. Our personalities don’t change dramatically. Sadly, we don’t drop that extra 20 pounds because we’re now eating non-GMO foods. (Perhaps my greatest disappointment so far.)
I am me, just in a different country.
Evolution is slow.
But nine months in, I am seeing some changes. I walk almost every day now that I am in my permanent place. For the first two months, I couldn’t tell if all that walking was making any difference in my health, except I could walk farther than when I started. Then, in the third month, things started to shift. Just a few pounds (I don’t own a scale), but enough that my tight jeans became comfortable and now almost loose. I see progress.
My grocery shopping is no longer an Olympic-level scavenger hunt. It used to take more than an hour to find my staples. I had to scour every aisle, attempt to translate every label. Now I know where to find my usual items and I’ve gotten used to the layout of the stores, as well as their quirks. I am in and out of the store in under 30 minutes. I try to add one or two new items to find when I go now—sometimes when I hunt for one thing I find another. Finding one unfamiliar thing on the list is fun; trying to find 20 unfamiliar things on a list is vertigo-inducing. No one likes the spins. Especially when you’re sober.
Hanging out laundry is normal now. I’ve figured out how to handle drying the sheets and towels and I’m getting downright adroit at the whole process. It’s no longer a struggle and a pain in the butt. I catch myself singing more—a sign of contentment. I have figured out what all the strange symbols mean on the oven and washing machine. (Or at least the ones I need.) I am slowly finding my footing. Recreating the familiar.
So What is Life Changing?
The hardest change is adapting to the thing I love most about Portugal—the pace. It suits me perfectly but I have over 50 years of a toxic Puritan work ethic to overcome. The business of being busy. I am slowly shedding the hustle and grind pace of the States. It’s not at all comfortable to do. I do my work and feel as if I should do more, whatever more is. I feel guilty for not being pushed to my limits 24/7/365. How crazy is that?
Yet everything gets done without the stress and rush that I am so accustomed to. Could I have done that back in the States? Possibly. Probably. If I had been aware of it.
We can make changes in ourselves from anywhere. Sometimes moving to a new area where the pace is slower (or faster), where you can walk or exercise or study or go to the theatre or any of a million things you want to add to your life makes it easier. It works as a bit of a catalyst. Or maybe it opens our eyes to the realization that there might be a better way to achieve what you want. Or maybe that you don’t want what you’ve been told you should want.
Mostly it provides contrast. Not that a place is better or worse than any other; it is different. Different people want and need different things. Sometimes we don’t know what that is until we trip over it.
Everyone has their own reasons for becoming an expat. Sometimes that reason ends up being something we hadn’t even considered. We only discover it once we land where we were always supposed to be. And that discovery is life changing.