23.30. Lisbon Airport terminal 2. Flight delayed to 00.30 getting to Luton at 3.00. Suddenly, my idea of leaving as late as possible does not sound as appealing. Tomorrow is going to suck even more, if that is possible at all. When will I learn how to be an expat?
I moved to London in the summer of 2004. 15 years + 1 month ago. And no, it does not feel like it was yesterday. Yesterday I was laying by the pool watching the kids splash around and in absolute denial that today was happening.
I moved to London 15 years ago thinking I would try it out for 1 year or 2. Even though big Sis Pat was there at the time, I had no intention of prolonging the experiment for too long. In my most distant plan I would not have envisaged 15 years and counting.
The Early Years
I used the financial freedom to fly back home as much as I could so I continued to enjoy the beach and the sun amidst a challenging job. Keeping the best of both worlds really. It worked.
I enjoyed my banker life. I know, it is rare to hear that. But I did. I enjoyed the analytics and mostly I enjoyed working with clients and getting things done. Luckily I got to do that from very early on. So time did fly while I was having fun. At work and off work, I found a new self that enjoyed working as much as partying and travelling and could do all of that in London. Or between London and different parts of Europe, often home.
The Return – still an Expat
Everyone wonders how I returned. Same city, same bank, same exact role. I almost returned to the same desk.
Really Sara, why did you go to Harvard after all?
It was a calculated risk but one with many knowns. And it was also at the blow out of the financial crisis. So it all fit well.
I returned to a job that I never stopped enjoying and quickly got back as if I never left. If anything it was all ever more intense, but admittedly less fun. Finance was gloomier after 2008. Who can be surprised. Bankers were evil. I was however determined to live the opposite.
I kept flying home every month, and for the summers we (by then we were a WE) started spending every weekend in Lisbon as if we were commuters.
As much as I found my banker life exciting and interesting, my body started complaining. My mind also started complaining and I knew I wanted a change. My first option was not to exit but rather to move. I was offered a ‘management’ role and knowing very little about what it would mean I took the jump. London does that to you – moving is natural.
So I learnt a new job and found my passion – driving strategy and challenge through analytics. I think that is when I first knew I was in trouble and returning would be even harder. The exposure and ability to influence that I had at such a young age was not something I would be granted at many other places. Yes, I earned it (note to self to take some credit woman) but I was also granted the opportunity.
Life kept going at fast pace. I kept flying home often. I got married. London seemed to be a good place to be.
n 2013, I had my first child, Little Girl C. Since then, life has changed in ways that are hard to describe. Alongside it I moved jobs yet again, to a more fast paced but more manageable environment. I knew I had to keep work VERY interesting if I was to stay in the game. Lean in right?
Having kids added a whole new logistic challenge to living away from home. Being an expat flying home every month is no longer a reality. We still get to go more often than the average expat I would guess, as we make a point to be there for important friends or family events. Arguably, I have less friends there than before, but the family has grown.
We spend long holidays there, and as I am doing today, we leave the kids behind to enjoy the summer fully with the family, while we go back and forward for the weekends. Good on them, weird on us.
Undoubtedly I will enjoy a few ‘free’ nights in London over the next 2 weeks. And time will fly. But I am a bit bummed about it.
So Sara, with all this, why are you still an expat, are you always wanting to go?
Well, the truth is life in London has been good to me. I have achieved many things, made many lifelong friends and am raising 2 happy and beautiful children here. As in any story, there are goods and bads:
The good side of being an Expat
- The freedom (bf children) of finding yourself and what you want to be without immediate pressures;
- The ability to grow professionally and being financially rewarded for the risks taken;
- The enlarged new family of friends that outlast marriage and children and that become part of your every day life;
- The closeness developed as a couple as we established our life together with only us as referees;
The bad side of being an Expat
- Away from Family, which gets more challenging as parents get older and kids grow up;
- Away from Friends, who eventually will not always be there as you have been away from their daily lives for so long;
- Cultural disconnect, as you maintain and sometimes even intensify over time pride in maintaining your home culture and resist to adopting the foreign country as your own (really, I should have na English passport);
- FOMO, or fear of missing out. On either. Fear of staying too long. Fear of returning too soon
The Balance of Expat Life
All in all, there is probably a balance over time. Even different months of the year may strengthen different goods or bads. Being an expat is an ever learning process. The process of perfecting both. Maybe that is why I am still at it.
Photo by Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa @ Unsplash