My Expat Story: Lucille Abendanon
A British expat in the Netherlands
At Global Living Magazine we want to connect with our readers. We want to know what you’re all about, what you love, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. The best way to do this? Hear it straight from you!*
Lucille Abendanon is a writer and historian. She is also an expat mama and compulsive traveler. Born in England, her family moved South Africa when she was a teenager. The expat bug must have bitten then because she has suffered an incurable sense of wanderlust ever since. Lucille has lived in six countries and currently calls The Netherlands home. Here is her Expat Story.
What is your favorite part of expatriate life?
I love getting to know new cultures, customs, food, history and ways of living. It’s important to me to see our world from a perspective other than my own. So the best part of expatriate life for me is the constant learning, the discomfort, the slow gaining of familiarity. And of course the travel is something I absolutely love.
What has been the hardest part?
Everything I’ve just said above! It’s hard to start over every few years, especially now that I have children. We build a life, make friends, create a home, and then have to give it all up and start again. Being far away from family and childhood friends is hard too. It’s hard to raise children far from home without the traditional support structures of friends and family. And of course it’s hard to always be new, to exist in a near perpetual state of cluelessness, at the mercy of cultural and linguistic nuances that fly straight over your head.
Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
I was born in the U.K., then moved to South Africa as a teenager. After university my partner (now husband) and I went back to London for a while, then moved to Saigon with my husband’s company and we’ve been on the expat wheel ever since. We’ve lived in Bangkok, Istanbul, Durban in South Africa, and have just moved to The Netherlands.
It sounds corny but I’ve loved every country I’ve lived in. Saigon and Bangkok were pre-kids so we could really enjoy all the craziness Asia has to offer. That being said I’d move back to Vietnam with kids in a flash. Istanbul was incredible. Turkish people love children and in a city of legendary traffic jams I loved to walk everywhere. Durban is, in my opinion, the jackpot of expat postings. The weather is incredible, the people are laid back, there is so much to do in terms of outdoor activities: sea, beaches, mountains, rivers, safaris. The quality of life is unmatched. I am getting to know The Netherlands, and I enjoy living here. We’re in Europe, we ride our bikes everyday, the Dutch are fantastic (if direct). So far so good!
Where would you want to move to eventually?
I lie awake at night pondering that exact question. I like to think we will end up in Cape Town, maybe retire on a wine farm, and grow old in the shadow of the mountains. But that’s a good thirty years away and until then there are so many places I still want to live in: Myanmar, India, Argentina, Italy, Spain.
What’s your sense of ‘home’?
Because I grew up in two very different countries, that question is very difficult for me to answer. I think I feel more South African right now, although I do not have a family home there. I don’t have one in England either, so home for me is more of an abstract concept. My children and husband however, are very much South African (even though my eldest wasn’t born there) and that’s good enough for me. It’s rugby and a braai (BBQs) on the weekends at our house!
What advice would you give to first-time expats?
There are three big things that I believe can make or break an expat experience: Judgments, assumptions and compassion. When faced with a new and confusing culture it’s easy to make judgments about that culture. Those judgments often lead to incorrect assumptions, and before you know it you find yourself hostile to your new surroundings. It’s really hard to come back from that into a place of acceptance and feeling comfortable, so try not to get sucked in to that way of thinking in the first place. Stay away from negative people who believe their culture to be ‘better’, they’ll just ruin your experience.
Be compassionate with yourself. You will have days where you question your decision to move, days when you resent your partner, and days when you just want to give up. Give yourself time to adjust. Take the day to mope and feel frustrated, but the next day get up, show up and get back to building your new life. If you don’t do it, no-one else will.
Get social. Even if you’re swamped with errands, unpacking, school runs, work, make time to meet people. Your expat friends quickly become your family and your life will be exponentially better if you make an effort to be social.
Enjoy your experiences. Stretching your comfort zone feels scary but you are lucky to be able to do so.
What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?
When I moved to Vietnam social media hadn’t really taken off yet, FaceTime didn’t exist and we could barely even get a good Internet connection. Now, the Internet and social media have become a lifeline for millions of expats. We can research our new homes, make friends before we even begin our new lives, and of course stay in touch with loved ones across the world as if they were in our living room.
In the ‘real’ world I guess saying yes to every single invitation, or opportunity that comes my way has helped me settle and find my tribe with each move. I’ve learned that having the right attitude is vital, and putting myself out there is tiring but absolutely central to creating a new life.
Share anything else about your expat life that you’d like us to hear!
I was an uncomfortable expat in those early years. I didn’t respond well to change and uncertainty. But after twelve years and six countries, I’ve learned to embrace it all. Now, staying in one place is what scares me! If I can cope (and thrive) as an expat, anyone can!
Also, I’d say that becoming an expat is like having a baby…it’s cause for celebration, but it won’t solve any pre-existing issues in your life. In fact, it will route out each and every issue you have with yourself and your partner, so don’t assume your problems will stay behind.
Connect with Lucille by following her blog www.expitterpattica.com, where she writes about the expat experience and raising multinational and multilingual Third Culture Kids. Follow her on Twitter @expitterpattica.
[Image courtesy of Lucille Abendanon]
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