today is my ex-pat birthday.

it’s the scary choices that end up being the most worthwhile.    ~ melissa joy kong

two years ago today,  i boarded a plane in north carolina with 2 suitcases, 2 bags, a dog crate, a cat carrier, 2 carry-on bags, my love, & our cat. it was my last day as a us resident (at least for a little while) and my first day as an ex-pat. i was an american hungry for adventure, yearning to leave the states behind, and most certainly excited about beginning a new life – together with my love – in sweden. that’s right, folks. two years ago today, i moved to europe!  in the morning i was on north carolina soil, and the next time i went to bed, i was a swedish resident. an american girl’s dream come true.

as i think back over the past 2 years, i can’t decide if things have changed drastically, or not. in all truthfulness, it’s probably a little of both.

the biggest difference is how i feel. i am so much more comfortable in my skin, so much more sure of who i am, so much more accepting & loving to myself, and so much more confident of my dreams.( being thrust out of your comfort zone will do that to ya). well, in other words, i feel as if figured out a little bit about living from my soul.

perhaps this isn’t just because i moved to another country, but also because of my age. i’ve said to many before that turning 30 was a great thing, which seems to even get better with each year. it’s as if in your 30s, you begin to know exactly who you are… it doesn’t mean you have everything figured out – not at all; but the uncertain, restlessness, and stress of the 20s just falls away. you become more comfortable in your skin. life became more simple for me in my 30s. and after this move, life became even more simple – in a more complicated way. hee hee. how i want to live became even more clear. what is important (my love, family, time, passion, travel, creativity, being true) became obvious. dreams began to truly take shape, and recently, they have begun to manifest themselves into reality (read about that here). i feel much more inspired, much more like i live in the moment, and much more… like myself.

again, i’m not sure that the country of sweden has given me the gift of knowing me, but the time of the past 2 years have given me that gift. what i mean is, it doesn’t matter where i am; but it does matter that i made a move that changed my life, my perspective, and challenged me to figure out who i am in a new country/society/culture. and of course, it has made a difference that i now can share life with my love… everyday.

of course, that’s not the only difference – how i feel on the inside. there are plenty of other changes that have happened in the past 2 years. let’s call them “challenges” or “what the hell have i done” moments that i have had to face.

  • living in a country that has different customs… and learning those customs.
  • missing your home country’s customs & holidays.
  • discovering creative ways to celebrate all the holidays (from home & from the new country). pretty much we have at least 1 holiday every month of the year.
  • learning a new language. crazy hard when you’re in your mid-late 30s, but i made it!
  • calling 2 places home. a blessing & a curse.
  • getting a job.
  • feeling out of place.
  • accepting that you’ll always feel a little out of place.
  • realizing that feeling out of place is an awesome gift (and an excuse to be a little weird).
  • embracing my american-ness
  • embracing my swedish-ness
  • learning to plan everything with a calendar – the swedish way
  • losing spontaneity
  • gaining a different kind of spontaneity
  • accepting my coffee addiction
  • walking everywhere in snowy, 5 degree (farinheight) weather
  • realizing that spring does not come until may
  • adjusting to the fact that in december there will only be about 5 hours of daylight.
  • learning the true meaning of the word “cozy/mysig”
  • making swedish friends (i still tend to be a magnet for other ex-pats. i think it’s some kind of ex-pat radar or something you give off when you live in another country).
  • learning about the royal family
  • suffering from “sunshine stress” – the stress one feels in sweden that when it is sunny, one MUST be outside.
  • watching tv with subtitles
  • did i mention walking everywhere?
  • not being able to access stores at any time of the day or night. goodbye convenience.
  • figuring out all the swedish systems: how to do banking, insurance, etc.
  • homesickness

i could go on, but that’s enough for now. oh yes, there have been challenges and new experiences; but the hardest has been the language of course. i work now, and i do everything in swedish, so i can function totally fine. i’m comfortable. but it has been a long journey, and i have much more to learn. the hardest thing is feeling that i can’t express my personality, make jokes, and just relax when talking/in social situations. i always have to think so much, even if it’s coming much more naturally now. things still don’t just flow. so, it’s still a challenge i face, but i’m pretty satisfied & amazed that i am working and living in swedish now (unless i’m at home – where we always speak english, or with other expats, of course).

yep. two years have come & gone. so fast. i still can’t believe i live here. i still can’t believe that, after so many years or dreaming, my dream became a reality. and now, what comes next? hmmm… i have no idea. but, my love & i are settled for the moment. of course, we always have the desire to move to the states, or even to another country. i could totally do that. but, there are no plans in the works right now. for now, we are here. and here feels good. we need to be here. things are rolling along, and it’s important for us to be here & now, to live in the present.

as for the future, anything is possible…

today, though, i am simply thankful. thankful for all of the crazy, wonderful people who have supported me and encouraged my wishful thinking. thankful that i can call 2 places home. true, i miss the states terribly; but i am home here in sweden. when i am able home  in the states, i miss my dear sweden. i love both places. deeply. and i am so grateful for the life that i live… the love that i have found, the family that i have (in both countries), and the opportunities i have to do that which makes my heart sing – to work, to create, to write, to laugh, to wander, to travel, to chat, to just be. it hasn’t been a perfectly easy ride these past two years. there have been plenty of days where i just wanted to pack up lina & zola and hop a plane to familiar territory. but, with all the challenges, with all the scary moments, with all of the uncomfortable-ness, have come amazing memories, beautiful moments, and experiences that have transformed me.

i am amazed. overwhelmed. blessed.

if there is any advice i have to give to anyone at this point in my life, here’s what i would say:

take risks. if you dream it, and you can’t let go of it, then it is from your soul. make that move. make that change. get out of your comfort zone.  if you hear a little voice whispering for you to “go”, then go. there is always a way. anything is truly possible, and life can change in an instant. it doesn’t have to be a move to another country. it can simply be a change in the routine of your daily life. if you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, do it. if you want to take a yoga class. find one. make it happen, friends. big or small. a dream is a dream, and it can come true. it may take 15 years (like mine did), but don’t lose hope. believe in yourself & your dreams.

and then, there’s one more thing. if you haven’t traveled, do it. if you have, keep doing it. nothing will change you life more than experiencing life in a different way, through different eyes. you don’t have to board a plane or leave your state, just open yourself to seeing  & being in places that are not where you usually are. i promise you will be changed.

you know, about 5 years ago, i imagined myself as an elderly woman, and wondered what i would be reminiscing about in my old age;  right then decided i that i would not be an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair on her porch at the age of 88, sipping iced tea, chatting with my friend, and playing “what if”, wondering what might have happened if i’d only….

nope. i decided that i would live my days right now saying, “why not?”

and that’s exactly what i’m doing.

happy “2 year ex-pat living in sweden” birthday to me!

now, get out there & live life! peace.

14 comments

  1. Happy 2 year expat birthday to you… reminded me that mine is coming up too. 4th of October. Can’t believe I’m in Ireland 2 years. But time flies when you’re having fun. And as you know I can relate to your loooong list. Would have to add: Telling your story to every single person you meet :) I think I should record it and then I can just press play whenever asked. haha. looove

    • liz

      I know, right?! Time certainly does fly! Oh, you are so right about telling your story. I need to record “how Lina & I met”. Love ya! xo

  2. Barb

    “Accepting that you’ll always feel a little out of place.’ I wonder if a person could ever reach the point where they cross that line. I have felt that out-of-placeness, despite having become comfortable with language and culture and routines. It is still “easier” at home!

    Congratulations on your anniversary! You have gone at it with gusto and have done amazingly well. I hope the next 2 years are not as challenging and traumatic. Ok, so it might hamper your blog posts to become more settled, but maybe you’ll figure that out, too.

    I am so happy you have such supportive families on both sides of the ocean!

    Oh, yes: Art’s motto. “If the only reason to say no to something is because you are afraid, say yes.” I think you have been living that motto well.

  3. Happy EPB, Liz- from your ex-pat friend in AU! :)

    Getting out of your comfort-zone is paramount to really “finding yourself”, I think. Maybe it’s because we tend to let our surroundings define us in a way? If our surroundings become commonplace, we become complacent in them? You think? So, once away from that, “we” are the only familiar thing we know- & so we look inside for something new in us to attach us to our new place. After that, listening to our inner voice gets a bit easier maybe. Hmm…?

    The kids & I celebrated our 5 year b’day here this March (after celebrating our AU citizenship on AU Day 26 Jan. 2012!). We went through all you did (except the language thing- but I will say AU has some amazing slang- lol). It’s hard to impart to anyone who hasn’t swapped countries just how much “newness” there is… Very happy for you & Lina that things are opening up & smoothing out for you both.

    Cheers!

    • liz

      Thanks, Tracy! I completely agree with your thoughts on our surroundings and finding ourselves. So true.

      Things are not perfect here in our little world, but Lina & I are fighting every day. There is so much opening up & smoothing out, but it’s a daily journey. Thanks for you well-wishes!

  4. HAPPY TWO-YEAR-ANNIVERSARY! I had mine in March, celebrated it with a handful of good friends and cupcakes!

    You’re true in saying that people in their twenties feel restless. That’s exactly what’s going on with me right now. Wasn’t this bad as a teenager (oh, sweet world). But it’s also great to hear that this eventually goes away, thanks for the insight! :-)

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