Editor’s Note: This should have been published on Dec. 15, 2016. I was hella sick so never published it on the actual one-year anniversary of surrendering my status as an expatriate. Better late than never, right?
I was a writer. An animal rights activist. A digital nomad. But, most importantly, I was an expat. It was all-encompassing.
It was the one word which I felt the most closely connected to. The word which summed up my story in a pretty little package.
Then, a year ago today, I hopped in a cab before the sun came up (because in Madrid in the winter, the sun doesn’t even think about rising until after 8 a.m.), Mom and cats in tow, and closed the door to my flat in the building from 1887, and on my life as an expat. Numb, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean to the town I swore I wasn’t ever going to return to. To a life I wasn’t entirely sure would work.
But, it was my new story.
A year ago today, I abandoned my identity to take on a new one. Simply put, for the first time in my life, I was going to just be Diana.
It wasn’t easy. I struggled for a bit with fitting back in. With the idea of getting in my car and driving places versus walking. With having to pay astronomical prices for a phone plan (goodbye, 30 euros a month and the notion of topping up). With the ease of which I could blend in and get lost in a crowd.
But, within two months, I found my groove. I got back into the swing of life as an American … in America. I started working. I started writing more. I launched my new business, Vegans, Baby. I made new friends.
I practiced all the gratitude, because I swear, that shit will change your life.
And now, a year later … there isn’t a nanosecond that passes where I don’t count my lucky stars that everything happened exactly as it did. Because where I am now? A resident of Las Vegas with expired visas pasted to the pages of my decaying passport, is the happiest I have ever been.
To be … or not to be an expat
I don’t know how many times I can say that becoming an expat, or adopting a life of a digital nomad, doesn’t fix you. I read so many posts from angst-ridden people swearing what they need most in their lives is understanding from their families and friends that the world needs to be their playground. That happiness awaits … it’s only a plane ride/a passport stamp/a change of scenery away.
As a recovering expat, I’m going to level with all of you who pin this hope of a wildly happy life to stamping out of your home country: that shit doesn’t solve anything.
In fact, when you become an expat, not only are you forced to deal with your own stuff, you have an entire new lengthy list of things which you have to now deal with:
- Visas and visa runs, depending on the country
- Finding a place to live
- Staying on budget
- Making money so you can stay in a country
- Leases and the logistics like having a visa in order to get a lease, but needing a lease in order to get a visa
- Meeting people
- Making friends
- New cultures
- New languages
- Airplane tickets to home should you want to go
Exciting? Sure, it can be. But, if you don’t have the mental space to clearly attack these things, you’re not going to make it.
I know plenty of people who are thriving as expats. They are thriving because they don’t look to being an expat to make them happy, though. They are thriving because they are happy in their lives. There’s a difference.
What’s my life like as a Recovering Expat?
I have reminders in my daily life which instantly pull me back into my old world, whether it’s Chiang Mai, London or Madrid. souvenirs. Cats. You name it. I always honor my time abroad and how it lefts its permanent mark on my life.
There are also days where it seems like those four years were a dream. I step back into memories of the jungle, of the overcast London sky, of the lonely days and nights in Madrid, and there’s a haze. I can recall the streets in detail. The little nuances of my life. I can feel the heat. I can smell the smells. And then, it’s gone.
Only when people engage me about those days to I dig down into my soul and relive them.
Most days, I am focused on being present. On living in that very moment and only that moment, that I don’t let my brain linger on the past. In fact, each day, one of the affirmations I write in my manifest journal is: I let go of the past.
Yes. Because the past, as beautiful and inspiring and incredible as it was, is just that. It’s the past. It is no longer what defines me.
It’s always weird to not call myself an expat since such a chunk of my adult life was just that. But, it’s also nice to be defined as simply Diana.
As a recovering expat, I still have that passport burning a hole in my pocket. I get wanderlust-y. Often. So, I book trips. I haven’t traveled as much as I did when I was living abroad (largely because the cost of living as an expat was significantly less money than living and working in the States), but I still go.
I took two weeks and worked remotely from Puerto Vallarta as a birthday present to myself. I took another two weeks and celebrated the holidays in London and Lisbon. I get in my car and journey to the beauty in my backyard of the Southwest United States.
There’s always that love of adventure pulsing through me. Always the yearning to be somewhere different and experience new places. But, for the first time, there are these glorious things I haven’t had for a long time … and something I value more than anything else as a recovering expat: roots.