November 8, 2018 ♥♥♥
I don’t know about you but I day dream alot. I lose an embarrassingly high amount of time just staring out the window imaging my life in different scenarios. The most often imagined scenario was living abroad. This year, I happily achieved that dream when my husband and I left our home in New York City for Cape Town, South Africa.
I had several frenetic thoughts, and expectations of what life would be like in a new country. Would I be a completely new person? Would I finally be the chef I dreamed of being? What if I didn’t make any new friends? How the HELL will I drive on the opposite side of the road!?
After nearly a year of living abroad, here are a few of my expectations versus reality.
1. Expectation: Every single day of your life will be an exciting adventure!
Each day will be filled with exotic people bustling around you, colorful architecture to admire, foreign languages spoken amongst you, and a new culture to embrace. There’s so much to absorb and explore that you can’t possibly be bored for even a second!
Reality: True-ish, but it’s more like every other weekend is an adventure.
Happy to admit this expectation was true for the first 4 months-ish. During that time, I was overwhelmed with the excitement of setting up our new home, discovering African interior design stores, and popping into cute cafes for those frothy flat whites. On weekends, we sped off in our gigantic Jeep exploring nearby towns, wine tasting at stunning vineyards, and dining our way through the amazingly diverse restaurant scene. Currently, 11 months later, our day to day life is much the same as it was in NYC. We gym, work, run errands, cook dinner, and watch Netflix at night. Pretty normal. However, on weekends, we still make it a point to be adventurous and explore new areas, but in reality, it’s more like every other weekend.
2. Expectation: I will understand everyone here perfectly because everyone speaks English.
We are moving to a country where although they may have 11 official languages (which is wild), the main one is English. So duh!! Of course, we will all understand each other perfectly.
Reality: I have several miscommunications in one afternoon out.
Look, I’ll be honest with you, I have to watch Downton Abbey with subtitles because I don’t understand the accent. Pretty much anyone without an American accent, I have to focus really hard on what they’re saying to fully comprehend them (I swear it’s some sort of auditory issue!). I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have just smiled and gratefully replied “thank you so much” even though I had zero idea of what was said. The point is, there is frequently a language or accent barrier between us and locals. Obviously more so for me, but yes it exists.
3. Expectation: I’ll be cooking South African recipes, and be nearly a professional at it!
I love cooking. I actually enjoy it more than dining out. I was absolutely certain that once we settled in I would learn how to cook “South African” dishes. In fact, I imagined myself with a little chef hat on in my kitchen entertaining our many new friends and whipping up the local dishes and impressing them all.
Reality: I cook almost the same as I did in the States.
What is South African food exactly? Is it meat you can “brai” (barbeque)? Is it those long and windy sausages? Or is it that Cape Malay curry I see on special everywhere? What is it?? I’m not sure because besides the Cape Malay curry and sausages, perhaps there isn’t an abundance of “South African” specific cuisine. One of the perks of living in a melting pot of a city is that they have every type of cuisine here: Sushi, Thai, Indian, Chinese, American, etc…you name it. For the most part, they eat pretty western here. There go my chef dreams.
4. Expectation: Friends will be fairly easy to make.
I know this is a confident expectation, but I feel when moving abroad, you generally will find people in similar situations as yourself therefore bonding over a shared life experience quite quickly. My husband and I like to think of ourselves as friendly, outgoing people. We always meet people when we travel so we figured why wouldn’t we meet people abroad?
Reality: We got lucky.
We got very lucky. Through random coincidences, and Pilates classes, we have formed a small, growing lovely group of friends. That said, I’ve been spoiled my whole life with large groups of quality girlfriends. Going from that to just a few friends is still an adjustment. Trying to meet new girlfriends is always hard, and only gets harder as we mature. Typically, expats take a year or two to form good friends so we are incredibly grateful to have the few, and fantastic friends we have made. Yet again, it was pure good luck with some friends and with others, it was effort on my end consistently going to the same gym class which allowed me to get friendly with the usual classmates. Pilates got me friends and a good workout. Win, win!
5. Expectation: I’ll be the same emotional, passionate often kooky person that I am now.
Ahem….I believe I am considered a person with a “flair for the dramatic” (Eyes rolling….yolo/whatevs as I call it). I’m an easily excitable, generally happy and very passionate person. I can vary moods from happy to sad to mad to hangry all in 15 minutes. I see that as asset in life, don’t you? Don’t you???? ;)
Reality: Nope. Amp that up by about 50% for the first 6 months of living abroad.
Moving abroad is undoubtedly the most exciting thing I have done in my life. It’s also the most stressful, scariest, and loneliest thing I’ve done so far. The first 6 months of living abroad was an emotional roller-coaster. Some days you feel like you are soaring on top of the world, on a thrilling high that no one and nothing can take you down from. Conversely, some days you feel incredibly alone. You miss your friends, nothing is familiar, your husband is at work all day, and you can’t seem to get anything done easily. Now take all of that, and add my “flair for drama” and you’ve got a wildly entertaining reality show titled: “Girl Goes Crazy moving to Africa.” The good news is the show has a happy ending!
6. Expectation: People will be nice to you because you’re a newbie.
Don’t you always think people are especially kind when you’re new to something or somewhere? It’s always a nice perk of moving to get to be the new kid on the block.
Reality: True. People here treat us warmly because we’re exotic to them.
This was and is 100% true. South Africans are such kind and welcoming people. They always take the time to stop and ask us where we are from, how we are settling in, and happily suggest cool things to do in Cape Town. We find they may seem extra keen on us because it is so rare to meet Americans who have chosen to live in South Arica. There’s plenty of Brits and Germans, but finding Americans in Cape Town is pretty unusual. Similarly, we find them interesting because they are so different from us. I’ve always said opposites attract!
7. Expectation: Once I move, my old friends will forget about me.
Ready for my flair for drama? I thought all my friends would forget abut me the instant I left. They would move on happily, hang out with each other and discover that they in fact do NOT miss me at all! Vee who?
Reality: Okay, may have been a bit dramatic on that one. Thankfully, not true. But, FOMO is real.
Alright, so that didn’t happen. I find that I chat to my friends almost the same amount as I did while living in NYC. But FOMO is a REAL thing. Don’t let anyone pretend and tell you it isn’t. By living abroad (as in all the way in Africa, a full on 24 hour flight away), you will miss out on baby births, bridal showers, vacations and even weddings. It’s a really tough thing go to through especially when you are so close with your friends or family. But, I am happy to say that your true friends will not change no matter how far away you are. They will be happy for you and live all your adventures vicariously through you, and support you even if they think you’re a bit crazy.
8. Expectation: Within a year, we’ll get to know our country so well.
A year seems like a reasonable amount of time to learn everything about South Africa, and see it’s entirety. We’ll be reciting wonderful Nelson Mandela quotes and speak a little Xhosa by then too!
Reality: We’ve learned alot, but I’ve learned more about myself than of South Africa.
As an expat instead of tourist, most of our time goes towards settling into our new home, exploring on weekends, working, volunteering, and spending time with new friends. We’ve done a few museums and learn about the country from our South African friends. Yet, what I have learned most in these past 11 months here is mostly about myself, rather than the country. Spending this much time alone on a new continent is bound to make you dig a bit deeper, and think alot bigger.
9. Expectation: We’ll love living abroad, but the States will always be home, and we’ll go back soon.
Living abroad is/was meant to be a short term adventure. You know, just try out a new country, travel alot, experience a new culture, and then come right back home to America where we belong! Right?
Reality: What does home even mean? Where should we move to next?
I’m already dreaming of all the various countries we can move to next (I told you, I day dream alot). South Africa has taken us by total surprise. We have fallen in love with it, and feel immense joy from our adventures. One might think we would want to stay here forever but actually, it’s inspired us to think and wonder what else is out there? What other country could inspire us as South Africa has? What other little gemstones are yet to be discovered? Africa was not my top choice to move to, but life has a funny way of working out what is best for you. What inspires you. What will make you grow. And what will make you a better person.