On Becoming an American Expat

I’ve just spent the last 9 months traveling. We left Denver, Colorado for the East Coast of the US, then Belgium followed by Thailand and Cambodia, and finally the south of France for the off-season. Now traveling is just that but being an expat is something altogether different. Traveling implies that you are returning to your point of origin or that you keep going to different destinations. An expat on the other hand is someone who stays somewhere else rather than to return where he began, someone who stops traveling. With that said, I now declare myself an official expat. We’re moving to Brussels and Europe is my new and perhaps permanent home.

Sure we considered staying in the US. And we toyed with the idea of staying in Thailand. We met some wonderful expats there, the living is cheap and the sun is plentiful. But at the end of the day we decided that it was time to move on from the US and in Thailand there were some Western things we didn’t want to do without. We also entertained the idea of a life in South America, the Middle East and maybe New Zealand. We even played around with the fantasy about buying an Auberge and making a permanent life in the south of France but we just aren’t ready to retire. I still have a lot of productive work years in me and an intense drive to succeed. So it just seemed a natural fit for us to make Brussels our home. See, my wife and son are both Belgian and speak French and Flemish. And most important for me, there are a large number of English speaking companies there (my language skills are not yet as good as my 8 year old’s).

To some Americans, this idea of this story may seem somewhat romantic on firstpass. In fact, I have always dreamed of living in Europe even before I met my European wife. And indeed, it is a bit romantic. The things I’ve seen and tasted so far are wonderful and we haven’t even seen 5% of what’s here.

To other Americans the idea of leaving the country they grew up in is just plain weird. My mother won’t even leave Manhattan in New York City nevertheless move to another country. Also, it is difficult to plan for and physically move yourself and your family halfway around the globe, especially with a seven year old. There are some fundamental differences that I’ll have to learn to get accustomed to, like the distinct lack of customer service in some places (but not everywhere). But I’ll go in to details on that later.

To Europeans, well I haven’t quite decided what the Europeans are going to think of me yet. I was in London and met some locals and they complained of the immigrants taking jobs away from them. I apologized for coming over to look for work and they said, “Oh, we didn’t mean, you Yanks”. I suppose the reaction will come from my ability to leave behind the worst of my Americanism yet retain the best parts that make me essentially me. I’ll just have to wait and see what they are going to say.

This story will take you through the process of leaving, traveling, thinking, trying, deciding and settling in. I’ll talk about some of the things I’ve learned that I wish someone else had taught me. I tell you to stay away from stuff like Andouillette (I thought it would be a sausage like the Cajun stuff in Louisiana but it turned out to be pig guts and stank to high heaven). And I’ll share my insights along the way.