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How to Live in Another Country (Without Losing Yourself)

Learning a new language, leaving my career, having to calculate time differences and coordinate Skype calls... that's what I signed up for when I moved to another country. What I did not realize about moving to another country was just how much it would make me question things in my life.
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Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium

Learning a new language, leaving my career, having to calculate time differences and coordinate Skype calls... that's what I signed up for when I moved to another country. I knew those things would change, and I tried my best to be prepared for those changes.

What I did not realize about moving to another country was just how much it would make me question things in my life.

I will be honest: I have both under and over compromised when it comes to assimilating into a new country in the past, and I can tell you; neither is the solution to your problems. In fact, doing either could have detrimental affects on your stay there.

Am I compromising too much of myself to be here?

That is the BIG question.

Am I letting these new cultures, traditions and expectations cut me off from my own heritage, my own culture and the way I usually do things?

Moving to another country (whether it be for love or just simply because you wanted to) is an adventure, to say the least. You will undoubtedly feel every emotion from surreal happiness to pure confusion. However, despite what some travel bloggers lead you to believe; it's not always fun and it's certainly not always easy.

When the idea to move to another country pops into your head, you slowly start to figure out what you should be prepared for; you know you will most likely have to deal with some sort of immigration process, filing taxes in two countries may be difficult, and finding health insurance is a must. Those are all practical things, and you can do your best to prepare for those.

However, there are other, more personal barriers that you cannot possibly be prepared for; and barriers are usually the start of you questioning everything.

Political questions, practical questions, religious questions... even something as simple as what languages to learn seemed to be a giant, scary question mark floating around in my mind.

What do I think about my future child celebrating Christmas on December 6th?
How do I feel about the amount of Catholic holidays in Belgium?

There were so many different culture shocks, I felt like I was drowning in the "new-ness" of it all.
Not to be dramatic; but at that point, even a simple question seemed like some crazy math problem (you know, those ones with numbers, letters and words you've never ever heard of before?).

The REAL test of moving to another country is finding a balance that makes you feel like you embody both cultures and both countries; because both places can be equally important to you.

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Finding that balance between you as a person of your nationality and you as a resident of your new country can be really difficult. And it's not usually something one thinks about when they are exploring the new country by day and ordering Ikea furniture for your new apartment by night... but it should be.

The best advice I would give to someone moving abroad is this; if you go through your life feeling like you have "given up" important family/cultural traditions to live there... it will end badly. You will end up creating so many barriers for yourself that you will forget that moving to another country is supposed to be fun! Not to mention (for those who are moving for love, like I did) bringing those kinds of accusations into your relationship is just a recipe for disaster.

After a long discussion one night, my boyfriend and I devised a list of "to do's" for whenever I started to feel like the new country was taking over my life (which, I assure you, is a fairly common feeling.)

• Make time to re-connect with people in your country.
If you completely submerge yourself in your new home, you are bound to feel overwhelmed.

• Find people in similar situations and talk to them.
There are most likely a lot of people who are in exactly the same situation as you. All I had to do was type "Expats in Belgium" into my Facebook search bar and I eventually met a woman who is now my best friend (and plays a crucial part in my happiness with living in this country). I even found some familiarity in the "Canadians in Belgium" group. (These groups get pretty specific!)

• Be bold enough to make new friends in your new country.
Being too closed off to new experiences and/or meeting new people is a sure-fire way to feel isolated, which will obviously make you question your choices to move there.

• Actually learning about the new country traditions and where they came from.
The more you understand, the easier it will be to decide if these cultures/traditions have a place in your life.

• Reminding yourself of your own heritage.
You don't have to lose where you have come from to be proud of where you are now.

• Making it your own.
This could mean selling your possessions or even moving your pets to the new country with you! I know Belgium never really felt like home until my cat made the journey with me.

Moving to a new country is so much more than booking your flight, signing your immigration papers and the adventures you will have there.

Making the choice to live in another country gives us a unique opportunity to find a balance between where we have come from and where we are right now. It opens our minds to new cultures and ways of life... and today's world needs more people with that kind of knowledge and respect.