Somehow it’s already my four week anniversary of being an expat!
In the interest of honesty let me just put it out there- the first couple weeks were rough. I thought when I got here I’d hit the ground running but I was slammed with bouts of exhaustion. Call it jet-lag or heart-lag, I don’t know. The tension of anticipation was so high in Atlanta, and saying good-bye was harder than I thought it would be. Granted I got to go to Prague and that was amazing! But my first couple weeks had definite highs and lows.
I’m only just now starting to feel some semblance of balance though I can still swing easily and quickly between emotional states! Sometimes I want to cry because I am so so happy to be here and other times I do cry because life is just sometimes really hard here.
I do remember realizing on about Day 10 that more good things had happened to me over the course of the day than bad and that felt like a huge triumph!
My first night in my apartment my electricity wasn’t turned on. The grocery store closed early inexplicably so I had no food. Instead I sat on the floor, my first name as an expat, watching the sun go down while my house got darker and darker around me, eating granola bars I’d brought from the States (travel tip: always bring snacks. You just never know).
So I quickly learned the word “bougie” and bought 50 of them the next day so I would have some light- it felt like camping! I also spent about four hours using the wifi in Starbucks trying to get everything situated and met an old French astronaut and talked to him for about an hour. So that was actually pretty cool. And truly, the founder of Starbucks deserves all the money he has. It has provided me refuge so many times here.
When I realized the switchboard was actually way high above the door and that I couldn’t reach it to turn the electricity on I piled some pillows and jumped up and down with an umbrella until EUREKA! There was light. Nothing like living in the dark to make you grateful for the things we take for granted.
Ditto hot water. That actually took more like two weeks. No one knew how to turn it on. But finally between myself, my expat guardian angel Allison and the former tenant, all on social media together, we worked it out. No more hokey-pokey style bathing where I stick one limb in at a time. True story- I washed my armpits in the sink at the climbing gym in Prague and dried off with toilet paper. It’s a glamorous life here, let me tell you.
But the feeling of accomplishment when I got those things working! Getting a European phone number and setting up wifi in my apartment, while only using French. Getting my bank account set up even though the teller laughed at me for bringing so many documents. I had read horror stories about opening a bank in France so I was prepared for anything! Everything seems to take longer here and everything requires one extra step that you didn’t foresee. I feel a bit like When you Give a Mouse a Cookie. When you Give Alessa a Task in France…..
Someone said that living in a foreign country is like being an adult and a child at the same time. And it’s really true. Everything is brand new yet you have do everything for yourself. After living with my boyfriend for 8 years we naturally fell into task-delegations based on what we were good at. He could reach the high places and deal with things like faulty hot water heaters. But he’s not here so it’s all on me to learn as I go! I even dismantled my sink with a minimum of drama when it was clogged. I am learning so many life skills here! (While reminding myself not to be dramatic). Things you think would be pretty similar- like how to flush a toilet, where to take out the trash, receiving packages- it’s actually not the same at all, and I don’t always have the language to ask. I still don’t know where a dumpster is so I carry small bags of trash and throw them out in bins along my way to work. It’s teaching me patience and some amount of healthy resignation. When I see that sink draining slowly, I just exhale, roll up my sleeves and get to work, knowing I have no one to count on but myself and that is, in fact, enough.
At the end of the day if I’ve learned a new skill and I have a sink that drains…I call that a pretty good day.