I’ve been thinking lately about how to love where you live. It’s by far one of the skills I most appreciate having learned. For almost eight years, we lived in Dublin and I think often about how much I struggled to enjoy Dublin when I first moved there. That might even be an understatement. For the first full year, I think I cried more than I didn’t. I was so homesick as a brand new ex-pat, especially because I hadn’t really ever lived very far from my family or where I grew up.
But I actually remember the moment my attitude toward Dublin shifted. It was such an ah-ha moment that I wrote it on a piece of paper and I think it’s still saved with our belongings somewhere back in Dublin. I remember realizing that my unhappiness wasn’t something I wanted to tell our kids decades down the line. What a silly story that one day we’d tell our kids, “Well, we moved to Dublin but your mom hated it and cried all the time.” I realized we’d have to make the story we’d want to tell our kids and our grandkids one day.
That first year in Dublin wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. Skype was brand new, email was still pretty spotty, and texting internationally was expensive. We were so poor, Michael was in grad school and no one would hire me in the height of the recession. We actually ended up having to move out of our first apartment and in with Michael’s parents because we just couldn’t make it work. It felt like we had failed in our first year of marriage. And to add to it all, I couldn’t help but feel that Michael’s friends were hand-me-down friends to me. I hadn’t made new friends in so long and it was hard to do without having a job or any hobbies to do without him. It was all a bit dire!
But changing my attitude toward living there made an enormous difference and quickly. And what I learned in that first year was that despite the challenges, I got to make a choice to love where I lived, and that made me see the place in a new light. Heck, we ended up buying a house over there, so my attitude certainly changed! Eight years later, when we moved to Houston, we weren’t technically expats anymore, but we might as well have been. Michael and I both have American passports, but we’d only ever really lived in Maine. Michael spent a few months in Houston in college, but Houston was still a little shocking for us when we first arrived. And while we did have the exciting purpose of trying to adopt when we were settling in, I think consciously enjoying the place where we were was the key to settling in to Houston quickly and happily.
We aren’t staying in Houston forever (more on that soon!), but I’m pretty sure we could now that I’ve learned that priceless art of loving where you live. Half of it is deciding to love it, and the other half is finding people and places that make you feel like you’re home. We had a total of two friends and one family member in Houston that we knew when we arrived, and they all lived 45 minutes away. Since we are sort of fussy coffee people, we ended up going to the same coffee spot often in our neighborhood (with our Brother Hubbard KeepCups that are still going strong several years later!) and it wasn’t long before they knew us (well, Michael at least) by name.
So I suppose that’s my advice. Decide to love the place you’re in, explore it, and frequent places you love often. Strike up conversations, be friendly, ask for recommendations. Having someone know your face and your name goes such a long way in feeling like you belong somewhere. I was recently approached by the Allianz Care team, a health care company with Expat Health Insurance plans that include an Expat Assistance Program. Isn’t that an awesome idea? And get this, they offer a 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and their kids (presuming they’re a bit older than ours) deal with cross-cultural transitions, cultural shock, coping with loneliness, relationships and workplace challenges. I can tell you that having lived in America, where health care is a less holistic or preventative or mental health oriented than ever, I think this is an incredible offering from an international health plan, and if we were staying longer we’d fully take advantage of it.
From time to time, I get emails from people who are moving to Ireland and other places, and I’m always happy to chat about what that transition was like for us.
This post was written in partnership with Allianz. Thanks for supporting the posts that make this blog possible!