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Czech Life, Just Me

Potted Expat Wisdom

Last week was a year since I moved to Prague. I missed this anniversary entirely, but refuse to acknowledge a calender malfunction as a reason not to celebrate.  Whilst still relatively ‘green’ in Prague-expat terms, I think I have now been here long enough to (i) be ashamed of my limited Czech (ii) understand how trams work and (iii) pass on some expat-wisdom to newbies, or those considering a move overseas.

1. Plan Ahead

I don’t just mean in terms of the logistics. I was rather good at that part and had all manner of lists and spread sheets. Mine was one of the most organised emigrations of all times.

I mean plan ahead emotionally. Make time to say goodbye (or ‘see you later’) to your ‘old’ life. This is something I completely failed to do. I was unbelievably blasé about waving goodbye to London, the city I’d lived in my whole life, and to the people I shared it with. It was not until I stood at Heathrow airport saying goodbye to my Mum that the tears started to well up and I got a bit wobbly.  Emigrating, with no set date of return, suddenly started to feel a little bit huge. My first weeks and months in Prague were undoubtedly made harder by the fact that until I actually arrived, I’d refused to recognise emigrating for what it was: a pretty big deal.

2. Embrace new experiences…

It goes without saying that if you fail to embrace new experiences and cultures, your expat experience will be rather two-dimensional. In the days of Facebook, Skype, multinational retail chains, international schools and expat social groups, it’s easy to forget that you live somewhere foreign. Try local cuisine, learn about local customs and attempt (she says) to learn the language. You might find something you love (for me, this was cerny pivo and Tatranky chocolate bars), and at the very least, you’ll be less likely to offend people. Broaden your mind and try new things:  Saying yes to invitations and forcing myself to become more a ‘joiner’ has been a really liberating experience.

3. …But don’t forget the old ones

It’s the small things that have overflowed from my London life that have made me so comfortable in my new Prague one: An overpriced British magazine, a familiar brand of tea, a photograph of my best friends. Whatever it is, if there’s something that makes a bad day better, bring it with you and bring it in abundance. The distance will only make you long for it even more and in times of crisis its absence might be enough to tip you over the edge!

4.  Explore!
 
One of the joys of moving country is discovering new places at every turn.  New buildings, parks, shops and cafes all appear every time I turn a new corner. the constant journey of discovery is so exciting. Wandering about, by foot if possible, ‘absorbing’ a new town or country is fascinating. If you are anything like me, you may need to embrace the joy of getting utterly lost as well.  I initially found my lack of direction a bit of a challenge – I did not rejoice in being lost. I focused more on trying to find out where I was, rather than just enjoying it.  It was only a few months later that I realised: unless you’re in a real hurry, it doesn’t really matter if you’re completely lost. A very dear friend told me “You can’t be far from home if you walked there“, which is now my mantra whenever I find myself staring blankly at a map.  

5. Stay put…

A bit like the first term at boarding school, try not to head ‘home’ too soon. Dashing back to your native country at every opportunity will only make it harder to build your new nest. By poor planning and a lack of knowing any better, hubby and I were either away or hosting (very, very welcome) guests for the first few months of our Prague life.  Always having prior commitments makes it harder to accept spontaneous invitations, which come so readily when you first move somewhere. If people think you’re always busy, they will stop inviting you. Make time to just ‘be’ in your new home and see what comes your way.

6. …But go home if you really want to.

Your move to a new country shouldn’t be a prison sentence and there’s no need to be a martyr. Most of my favourite people live in the UK and deliberately staying away seems ridiculous. Obviously, the frequency of trips ‘home’ will depend on distance and budget. You have to draw the line somewhere. I have my developed a list of events that get me booking flights to Blighty, including weddings (friends and/or royalty), major birthdays, and biannual girly catch-ups.  I like having dates for visits in the diary, even if they are months away. 

The last twelve months have been brilliant. Sometime funny, sometimes frustrating, but always interesting. From a slightly nervous start, I’ve found my feet and made a new home. I love living in Prague but I couldn’t have done it without some key items. Here is my very own expat survival kit list:

  • Phrase book and map – for exploring new places
  • Skype – for keeping in touch with the old ones
  • Google Translate – best invention since the Babel Fish
  • Friends who write letters – you are truly lovely
  • A good companion – if you can, come with a good friend or partner. It’s double the fun and half the stress. Díky moc, hubby.
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About CzechingIn

A blog about an English lady living in Prague.

Discussion

One thought on “Potted Expat Wisdom

  1. Nice points. Those are what I love about being an expat, lots of difficulties also lots of fun!

    Posted by Quan | October 14, 2011, 3:01 am

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