Its been eight months, as of a few days ago, since I bought my ticket to Athens. I remember it was such a high clicking the “one-way” option on the airline site. My life had taken a hard spring cleaning with the only things I owned and would ever hold familiar again, were two suitcases and a carry on. The emotional ping-pong match between anxiety and excitement had finally settled into a peace. I knew I had made the right decision. And I felt good. The moment I had anticipated for nearly a year when I would actually leave, as if by magic, was today. My love affair with Greece was taking its commitment and I was in a fuzzy, happy, little, love bubble. Being an expat I hear is like this, you have your honeymoon stages and then…
Some days. You freaking hate it.
I remember about a week ago gathering with ten of Alex and I’s friends for Easter Sunday. We were all sitting together outside eating παιδάκια (lamb chops) and everyone was at their usual high volume of conversation; all combating back and forth, talking over each other in Greek at an impossible speed. For the most part, I’m pretty used to being lost in the chatter, picking up on a few words here… there… trying to pitch in where I could with my broken Greek. But today was not one of those days. The conversations I tried to join in on were already dead and over as everyone was twenty-seven steps ahead of me. No one was understanding anything I tried to say. And though our friends have always been sensitive to help me understand what was being said or helping me say a word in Greek I didn’t know how to say… today, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being a bit of a burden. I knew that wasn’t true but that’s how I felt. I usually like to be in the centre of things. I hate not having anything to add or feeling left behind. I get insecure and anxious. Though feeling a bit lost happens fairly often when you’ve just moved to the other side of the world, I make a considerable effort not to get too overwhelmed. I knew this was going to be part of the frustration, living in a foreign country. But today, I was more frustrated than usual.
Once we were home, Alex asked me if I was okay. He’s always been extra sensitive to my every vibe. Which is something I love and hate. I can never hide anything I’m thinking from him. Though, “I’m fine” was my auto-piloted response. I was in the middle of trying to ignore how shitty I was feeling and we were having friends over any minute; they sure as hell weren’t going to think I’d been crying. But that’s exactly what I felt like doing, hiding behind the screen of my laptop, trying to distract myself.
But Alex wasn’t having it.
“Mwro mou (baby)… what is wrong??”
I knew I couldn’t protest anymore as tears started leaking out of the wall I was desperately trying to keep up.
He stopped messing with the TV and walked over to sit next to me.
“You’re frustrated today with your Greek aren’t you?”
He went on to tell me what he usually does. That despite how I feel, I’m actually learning incredibly fast and shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself to feel like I need to be fluent in the tiny span of eight months.
And I know that… but I just wanna talk with everyone too, dammit.
He sits close to me, letting me relieve some of the pressure I’ve bottled up. My wall officially toppled over as I sobbed until I could only let out tired little sighs. I was tired, frustrated and at the moment, sick of freaking Greece.
He gets it. Thank God. Because he’s been through the same thing back when he used to live a year in Portugal. He knows the struggle between the pressure of wanting to speak, as awkward as you may sound, in their language, so you can finally try and learn; and ultimately defaulting to English since just about everyone can speak it now anyways. And sometimes wanting to have a fluent conversation to build the relationships you sorely lack, feels like the more important priority.
It’s also difficult because as a natural independent, language barriers have caused me to be a bit more dependent than I like on others. When you are so used to having “your own thing” going and you move to a place where everything, the language, the area, the people, aren’t “your own”; and you’re in a constant state of adapting to the new, trying to be open minded to the cultural differences that you don’t always understand, or even agree with…
It’s on these days that guess what? You have to accept that…
THIS IS ENTIRELY HUMAN.
I told you I would be real about my experience being an expat; and this, especially as a person who tends to put quite a lot of pressure on myself has been my biggest struggle.
When you first move somewhere new, you don’t realize half the things your subconscious is processing and getting used to everyday, when everything is unfamiliar. Yes, it’s what keeps me inspired in life but as a human being you want to feel settled, have that group of friends you can grab beers with when you want to bitch about work, be fluent in the mother tongue of everyone around you to communicate anything you want, know the ins and outs of your town… feel at home in your new home. We are natural “nest-ers”. To feel exhausted sometimes when you have none of these things is part of the process of this new place slowly, slowly becoming home. It takes quite a lot of energy.
I had a moment today, when one of those “two years ago today” Facebook posts, popped up on my newsfeed. I was in Paris, hugging this girl in a unicorn costume with a
“free hugs” sign, standing underneath the Eiffel tower.
Looking at myself not so long ago… I realized how much I have grown since first escaping my little familiar bubble in Texas. How much my world has expanded. The things I’ve learned since my travel that has made me who I am. It’s all a bit emotional. In these moments you are eternally grateful you made the jumps you have in your life when you have everything to owe for them. For me, one of the biggest, bravest ones, was my choice to live the life of an expat.
Though yes, some days I freaking hate it. But it’s part of the experience. And that’s okay.