For me, expat life is a continuous cycle of excitement, challenges, and rewards.
My expat life started when I was hired to work in Paris after graduating from university. I expected the transition to be relatively easy because I had lived in Lyon two years before and was already fluent in French. Living with a French family during that time allowed me to immerse myself in the language, adapt to the lifestyle, and learn about the culture.
It was only when I returned to France again that I realized the extent of the new challenge that lay ahead. The initial excitement of expat life dissipated a little; living alone in Paris proved very different to living with a family which I felt a part of. Not only was I adjusting to a new job and adapting to life abroad, I also had to find an apartment and figure out how to open a bank account, deal with taxes, and pay my bills. Learning meant making a lot of mistakes.
Living alone in Paris proved very different to living with a family which I felt a part of.
These tasks were more difficult than I expected and I sometimes wondered how I would succeed at being an expat. However, the satisfaction from achieving something simple, like providing the real estate agency with all the proper documentation and a check for the deposit, made all the difference. No one was there to congratulate me but I knew that every little victory was significant towards my feeling settled in Paris.
After many years of living in Paris, I reached a plateau where there were fewer challenges. I missed the excitement I initially experienced so much that I decided to move again, and this time to Italy. I felt as though I was ready for the move until I got off the train in Florence. Standing on the platform with just a suitcase and my laptop computer, I realized I suddenly felt incredibly alone: I knew no one in the city, had left my friends and stable life behind, and couldn’t understand a word of what was being said around me.
I knew no one in the city, had left my friends and stable life behind, and couldn’t understand a word of what was being said around me.
When I hopped in a taxi, I gave the driver a piece of paper and said “grazie.” I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t communicate properly with him and that only made me feel more alone and separate.
Moving to Florence was an ever bigger change than when I arrived in Paris because I knew nothing about the city, the culture, the lifestyle, or the language. Initially, it felt like jumping off a cliff without looking over the edge first to see how high I was. But whenever it felt as if I were flailing in the air, all I could do was remind myself that I’d always land eventually - even if I didn’t know how or when. One thing I had learned from my previous expat experiences was that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I had learned from my previous expat experiences that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The first few months were intense; a whirlwind of learning everything simultaneously. There were many ups and downs, but after finding an apartment and a job in Florence, I focused on adapting to the rhythm of the city, meeting new people, and discovering more about Florence’s culture and vernacular.
Now, twelve years later, I have a slightly different view of expat life. When I feel a desire for a greater challenge, I don’t move to another location but instead dive deeper into my life in Florence. The cycle of excitement, challenges, and rewards in my expat life is ongoing. Even though there might be fewer highs and lows, the rewards continue to stack up. The greatest and most rewarding aspect of expat life for me is not just discovering more about my expat home, but also more about myself. I haven’t just become more independent and self-sufficient; I feel as though I am more open to and more understanding of the world around me.
The greatest and most rewarding aspect of expat life for me is not just discovering more about my expat home, but also more about myself.
Expat life is like a journey along a mountain range - I am continually choosing the next peak to climb. I might stop to rest when I reach a plateau, but I keep pushing myself to move forward. I realize now that there is no end to improving my knowledge of my home. Every experience I have had has allowed me to learn more about the city of Florence, its people and, most of all, myself.
About this post
This post is inspired by data from the HSBC Expat Explorer survey, which interviewed expats about their experiences of life abroad.
From the survey, 16,000 verbatim responses were collected in answer to the question ‘Expat Life Is….?’ These responses were analysed to produce a list of the words most commonly used by expats to describe their life abroad. The top 8 words were ‘great’, ‘challenging’, ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘rewarding’, ‘different’, ‘better’ and ‘difficult’. Melinda chose from this list the words that most resonated with her own experience of being an expat.
Melinda Gallo is a blogger and writer living in Florence, Italy. She has been an expat for most of her adult life in France, England, and Italy. Currently, she is working on an expat book as well as a novel. You can read more about her expat life in Florence at www.melindagallo.com/blog. You can also follow Melinda on Twitter at @melindagallo.
Expat life brings new experiences, challenges and opportunities. HSBC could help you navigate them.
How HSBC can help
Our other expat contributors
British, living in Spain
"The Art of Adapting to Expat Life"
American, living in England
The Expat Explorer survey, is the world's largest independent global expat survey. Commissioned by HSBC Expat and conducted by a third party research company YouGov. In order to be included, each country had to reach a minimum sample size of 100 expat respondents.
This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are not the views of HSBC and are subject to change.