Living Abroad: Before and After

Before living abroad and after—In my mind, my life thus far can be neatly divided into those two categories.

Of course, there are many other ways of segmenting. Some are internal and others are external. Places lived, people known, childhood, adulthood, work life, home life, being single, being married, having children, and on and on. However, my three years spent living as an expat in London clearly stand out as a changing point.

A Letter To The Future

Here is what I should have written to family and friends in August 2001 when I moved from America to London:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am embarking on an experience that I am not prepared for. You will be forced to listen to me carry on about my current life here in London ad nauseam. At times, you will think I am bragging. Although I expect to eventually stop rambling about this time of my life, that is unlikely to happen. The manner in which this time will change me will be difficult to explain. Just know that it will do so profoundly and that I really will not be trying to be obnoxious when I speak of these years. Additionally, at some point you will think, “Enough already!” Please realize that my time living abroad will have such an impact that I am not sure if it will ever be “enough already” for me. These years I am about to experience will become a part of me in an existential way.

Thank you for you patience and understanding!

Before London

I was fortunate to travel a bit before moving to London, England in the late summer of 2001. [Read about the move here:] There were a couple of overseas journeys, namely France and Spain. [Read about my Spain trip here] Having grown up and spent my undergraduate years in Upstate New York, I had also been to Canada a few times. My travels within the United States were extensive.

Not only was a fair amount of time spent traveling, but schooling and work led me to live in four regions of New York State, as well as Dallas, Texas and Hartford, Connecticut. [Read about my time in Dallas here]

By no means a global adventurer, I was also not a neophyte when it came to new and unique experiences. But anxiety was something that plagued me heavily and it was a battle to overcome it at times. To this day, life is challenging in that regard. There is no shame in admitting this about oneself.

Living In London

There will likely be extensive London posts on this blog in the future, so here is the short version for you to put my time living abroad in perspective.

Not only did I move to London in 2001, I moved at the end of August 2001. My first day of work as a music teacher at The American School in London was the 10th of September, one day before the tragedies that unfolded on September 11th, 2001. I was an American living overseas, teaching American children on their second day of school when terrorists weaponized airplanes and attacked my home country. On that day, we needed to immediately transform ourselves into calming forces for children who still had parents in New York City on that fatal day. There was also fear that the school would become a target because of its name, prestige, and the families whose children were students at the school.

Amazingly, despite the high density of students whose parents worked in high finance and defense sectors, no students from our school lost parents or siblings. I did, however, lose an acquaintance and he is missed to this day.

My time in London spanned from 2001 to 2004 and the friends made are now friends for a lifetime. For those of you who know the area well, I lived in Hampstead and West Hampstead and worked in St. John’s Wood. The stories that will be shared in the future will span from unlikely brushes with celebrities to the effect that my anxiety had on my life abroad. But, those tales are for another time.

After London

One might think that going home after voluntarily deciding to return from abroad would be quite simple. For me, it was not. The what ifs, should I have stayeds, and should I move backs have not fully gone away. Perhaps if my time in London had not been as enjoyable, this would not be the case. I’m simply not sure.

Life was not all rosy. My work colleagues certainly heard me complain frequently enough about the job! One of them, flabbergasted with me, literally barred work talk during a weekend trip to Amsterdam. His berating of me was well-deserved and I have since used it to remind myself (often unsuccessfully) to enjoy my times away without speaking about my professional highs and lows.

Despite frustrations, good fortune was also on my side. I made great friends, had loads of fun, and have been back over fifteen times since 2004. London is my home away from home. If the right circumstances arose, I would consider returning there. But that is not to say that I have not moved on—I have.

For Those Thinking Of Living Abroad

Living abroad is a romantic notion for many people, while others might be forced into it by employment or some other factor in the whirlwind of life. Here are some thoughts about what you will experience if you find yourself residing in a new country:

You will feel excited. You will feel scared. You will feel emboldened and powerful. You will feel homesick. You will see new sights. You will yearn for the familiar. You will try new foods. You will crave comfort food from home. You will meet wonderful people. You will meet those who drive you crazy. You will feel as if you understand the culture. You will be befuddled by it. You will travel. You will spend days at home. You will be welcomed into people’s homes. You will be met with suspicion. You will be amazed, but you will also be bored. Most likely, you will be changed in some profound way, but much about you will remain the same.

When and if you return to your home country, you will reminisce for years and maybe even decades. Sights, sounds, and scents will provide you with reminders of your time abroad. You will keep in touch with people via social media and mutual visits.

And maybe, if the timing and circumstances align in a certain way, the memories in your life will become divided into segments—before and after living abroad.

~Kevin

In My Unexpected Life, I share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and possibly inspire others to become more connected with each other in conversation, food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.

17 comments

  1. Interesting topic about the diverse emotions you feel once you move abroad. I imagine most people think it’s all positive but there would definitely be some anxiety alongside an important life event like that. I tend to segment my memories as well so I can totally see myself doing that same thing if I ever move abroad!

  2. Living abroad is wonderful– I can relate to your experience as an expat! I lived in Egypt for 3 years and while I was there, I complained, loved it, and marvelled at the privilege of the experience all at once. This kind of experience gives you a sense of having a 2nd home. And I’m definitely a different person today than I was upon my arrival there. I can’t wait to visit again. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. This resonates with me from the different places I’ve lived in around the world. You take yourself with you wherever you go and a whole spectrum of emotions come along for the ride. It’s all part of the journey 😊

  4. Reading about people’s life’s being radically changed by growing their context excites me. In a life where we feel that we are not in control of our destiny, your post stands as a testimony of the excitement in getting out there and experiencing life for what it is, wonderful. Thanks for the great read Kevin.

  5. I always like reading your writing Kevin, it flows so beautifully.
    Living abroad is something I know well, the doubts before going, the bafflement at the cultural shock, the frustration at not being understood -yes, in my case, there was also the problem of the language barrier.

    But everytime it was a wonderful experience, and one that made me grow as a person, more than I could imagine beforehand.

    So yes, let’s all live abroad. At least once in our life, at least a couple of years. Let’s all taste other cultures and bring ours to the buffet. In the end, it can only make us better individuals, and a better humanity.

    I’ll finish with a linguistic peculiarity I find beautiful. The Hungarian language has 2 words to say “home”: ‘itthon’ (here-home) and ‘otthon’ (there-home), giving the possibility to have two homes.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Your interpretation of the Hungarian words for home is spot on. It captures the essence of how it feels after being acclimated into a culture other than your home culture. Thank you again!

    1. I have many friends who would never consider doing anything but live as expats. I completely understand that viewpoint. When it was time to return, my life circumstances were such that I decided I needed to move home. I then changed my mind, but only interviewed for one job. It turns out I made the correct decision, but it was not easy to be back home for a long time.

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