“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
Two years ago in the middle of a July thunderstorm, I boarded an airplane in New York City with my husband and our three boys, then ages 10, 8, and 6 1/2, knowing I was in for the adventure of my life. Eight hours later, we disembarked in Berlin, Germany, toured the city and filed for Czech visas. And the next day, we crossed by Volkswagen van into Czech Republic, the country that would be our home for the next few years. That day seems like 20 years ago …
It’s interesting how travel and seeing and experiencing new things can stretch out the time, expand our minds like balloons, and render us into a different version of ourselves. We’ve seen so many sides to the Expat life (by Expat, I mean Expatriate: “somebody who has moved abroad, a citizen who has left his or her own country to live in another”) that we can now nod and understand when someone new goes through the adjustment. For me, being an expat has blessed my life in so many ways.
Here, a list I’ve made of the top 10 things I’ve learned from 2 years in Prague:
- 1. Leaving the familiar behind is hard, but what we find ahead is … even better?
I had a hard time leaving behind great friends, a comforting home, clean and well-stocked grocery stores, streets with lines on them, a church with a parking lot, and a gym that helped me and my family to grow healthier. BUT, though everything is different here in Czech, the friends and experiences I have here in Prague are priceless. I could have never dreamed of such serendipity, before. But, it’s true.
- 2. Bigger is not always best.
We CAN live with a dorm-sized fridge, no window screens, no garbage disposal, 2 closets (for 5 people), a tiny washer and dryer, a much smaller house and cars and yard and roads and food servings. Yes, I still don’t enjoy waking up with a 3-inch-long grasshopper crawling my arm as I sleep, digging the food goo out of the sink drain, or nearly swapping mirrors with passing cars and trucks on every road, but it’s doable. Flexibility is a good thing to learn at every age.
- 3. Technology makes the far away much closer.
Skype, video calls, internet, and social media. Bringing the USA close to Prague, every day.
- 4. Stepping out of the comforts of normal American life makes time go slower.
This is my number 1 (personally), even though it’s number 4 … our family of five has grown tight. We have learned so many things, together.
- 5. Patience.
European 3 hour dinners, 1 1/2 hours for one load of laundry to wash, one whole day for an oil change, one week to get a broken washing machine fixed, a post office that takes unpredictible 2 hour lunch breaks … Sometimes it’s great to learn that in a world of rush, we don’t have to cram a 4 course meal into 1 hour. There are gifts found in moving slower.
- 6. Some things never change.
We miss the comforts and ease of living in the USA.
- 7. The travel is incredible!
22 countries, including Montenegro, Sweden, Spain, Bosnia, Hungary, Poland, etc. We relish seeing the different walks of life, and taking trips West for breaks from Czech’s former Communist mentality. And lots of photos to share!
- 8. The WOW moments when we listen.
I’ve heard stories I never thought I’d hear: of first-hand accounts of Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Himalayan battles, Communist lines, Berlin Wall fall, and grandparents hauled away to Auschwitz. Wow.
- 9. Language is important but it’s not everything.
It’s important to know key phrases, but not to let the language barrier paralyze or become cavalier.
- 10. There are all kinds of expats.
Some come as if they’ve never left their home country (and travel back every chance they get). Some come and count down the days, every day (they hate it here, passionately). And some know the opportunity before them, and use it to stretch and grow.
But, the biggest thing I’ve learned from 2 years abroad, having traveled in and through 22 countries so far, is:
So much of our lives depends on where we were born. But the more time I’ve spent with people from around the globe, the more I come to understand that we are all alike in so many ways. We can become friends. We can help support each other in our flights around the sun. Together, we can become more than we can on our own. We are all One.