Expat Life: Why I’d Rather Live A Life Of Mild Discomfort Than Become Stagnant


Leaving home is never easy. It was rough when I went to college and it was even worse when I got my first job. So why in the world would I volunteer not once, not twice, but three times to become an expat?

I remember sitting at my desk job surfing the Internet and thinking to myself, “Man, how great would it be to see all these places that I can’t stop admiring on Instagram?” But the question was, how did I get there? Who was I to be one of those unsettled souls who wander the world for the express purpose of absorbing whatever it has to offer?

I needed to know — how did I get there?

At some point I stopped looking at Instagram and found myself Googling potential jobs abroad. I still wasn’t at the point where I could imagine myself leaving my perfect little downtown studio to move into the unknown, but I did recognize that something fundamental inside me was begging for change.

Still, the thought of uprooting myself seemed like a daunting task. I was attached to my physical possessions, not to mention this guy I had just met, and I would have to give all those things up to go. Plus I had to find a job.

I continued entertaining the idea casually until one day my fantasy had the chance of becoming my reality.

Due to a happy coincidence of circumstances, my stars aligned and my wish was granted. I could leave my desk job. I could move to Germany. I could be the person posting beautiful landscapes on Instagram!

But I had to move.

While I was weighing the logistics of staying versus going, people would often remind me that moving to Germany was a choice. I didn’t have to go out of necessity. This was a true statement. However, the part that they missed is that living in a world with intentional discomfort inspired me. Sitting at a desk earning a good salary did not.

But is inspiration enough to move 3,000 miles away?

If you met me in a coffee shop and asked me what I was doing, I may tell you that I’m writing. In the States I’m often greeted with a quizzical look and then a follow up question of ,“Who are you writing for.” On the contrary, in Europe I’m generally greeted with a look of appreciation and a knowing nod of the head. They understand that sometimes you just need to express yourself.

That is not to say that I can always express myself clearly. There are days you may walk up to me and ask me a question only to be greeted by a quizzical look. Don’t be surprised. Sometimes it takes me a moment to find my tongue and avoid replying to you in a linguistic mishmash. Self-expression is not necessarily a coherent process (something I have learned through writing thousands of words). However, while this combination of language and thought would never make sense on the west side of the Atlantic, on the East side it is a common occurrence.

Essentially, I feel like I put on my favorite pair of shoes every time I step into in Europe. It gets me.

That is not to say these are the only reasons to pack up my identity and move.

As a child I had been taken care of by a Parisian. I had been yelled at, soothed, directed, and comforted in French. I knew the sounds of another language, but I had never fully grasped the meaning that they contained.

Many years later I found an old note from this woman with a drawing of a bunny, all the parts labeled, and a sentence saying “Tu est mon petit lapin.”

This note solidified my love of language at the tender age of 14, and I made it my mission to learn more.

The first time I went to Europe I went to Paris. I was overwhelmed by the winding city streets, the smell of fresh bread, and conversation. They say that conversation is an art. I never understood this until I heard French on the street with its beautiful lilting sounds rolling off tongues. Suddenly, insults sounded like declarations of love. Ordering at a restaurant became an exercise in perfectly preparing your words in order to avoid insulting a meticulously prepared dish. And terms of endearment, well, I guess that is what love sounds like.

I couldn’t get enough. I still can’t.

Would I miss America if I moved again? Of course! But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it once and awhile. After all, they say distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I even wrote in a previous article that when you come back home you find a new way to make your life there. A new way to make your mark.

Besides, every time I come back my friends will be there. I will get drinks with them and pretend that not a moment was lost between us. We will eat tacos, swim in the lake, and enjoy warm summer evenings filled with live music and deep blue skies.

Somewhere over the Atlantic my American roots and my adventurous spirit found harmony.

Someone told me long ago that if you make it though a day without learning something, then you didn’t do your day right. I kind of see his point.

Life is about learning. If I stay and choose to be happy, I would be ok. Ok, but stagnant. I need discomfort to propel me forward.

When you go forward you aren’t losing anything, in fact you are gaining. You gain memories, people, experiences, and ideas. For better or for worse, after living this way, I can never settle back into a life where I rehash the same experiences over glasses of wine with my friends. I don’t want to become a record whose grooves are worn thin from too many rotations through the same song.

I want to see new things. Even if I must leave them behind they will never be gone.

I have found that no matter where I go, there is always a little piece of it that stays with me to remind you why it was my home and I take this piece with me wherever I go.

It is this little piece of memory that helps me never feel alone.