Laura Bronner has always wanted to be the old lady that everyone goes to for a good story. You know the one; she has crazy tales of days gone by, of encounters that make you laugh so hard you cry, and has crumbling old photo albums worn from years of page turning. She wants to be that old lady.
So, six years ago she packed her life into a backpack and hopped a one-way flight to New Zealand. She lived there for over a year, and then moved to Australia for two more. The following year was spent in Korea, followed by a string of other homes; Switzerland, England, Mexico City.
With no plans of ever moving back “home”, Laura has become an external expat. So who better, we thought, to interview on the pros and cons of living abroad.
The Pros and Cons of Living Abroad: An Interview With an Eternal Expat
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What do you love the most about travelling?
I love the freedom I get when I’m on the road. I love that all my time is my own to use however I choose. I also really love eating new food.
What inspired you to become an expat?
It sort of happened by accident. I met my boyfriend while studying abroad; he’s from the UK, I’m from the US. We moved to New Zealand so that we could be together.
It was only then that I fell in love with the idea of living in different countries around the world.
What are some of the benefits of living in another country as opposed to visiting for a few days as a tourist?
When you live somewhere you get to know it in a totally different way. You learn what the work-life situation is like, you meet people who grew up in that country, you learn about the hidden secrets.
It becomes a part of you in a way that I’ve never experienced when I simply travel through somewhere.
What are some of your best memories from your time as an expat?
My favorite memories are the ones where I feel like I’m home. I feel this amazing pride when I’m surrounded by new friends, speaking a new language, and enjoying life as though I’ve always lived in this foreign place.
How do you deal with homesickness?
I never really miss “home.” Sure, I miss my family and my friends, but I don’t often feel homesick. Anymore that is. It was a lot harder for me when I was younger.
At 23, I’d never lived more than a few hours from my family and suddenly I was on the other side of the world. I felt so far away. But now I make sure to get home at least once a year and when I miss people, I call them. The technology we have today can be a very powerful thing.
How do you keep in touch with friends and family back home?
Emails and Whatsapp texts are the best way to keep in touch with family and friends on a daily basis.
What are your tips for settling into life in a new country?
The most important thing for me is to meet people who live there. Whether that’s locals or other expats. Making friends makes a transition to a new city so much easier.
They can show you the best places to eat, explain the cultural norms, and they can keep you from feeling so lonely in those first scary few months.
What are some of the challenges of living in another country?
Sometimes there are days where you feel completely isolated. It’s hard to make friends, it’s hard to begin to understand the customs, it’s hard to learn a new language.
There are days when you come home exhausted from trying to do simple things like buy groceries or go clothes shopping.
How do you deal with the logistics? Ie visas, housing, bank accounts, jobs etc?
I’ve quite been lucky, and for the last two countries I’ve moved to, either mine or my boyfriend’s jobs have sorted out the majority of that stuff. For instance when I taught English in Korea I arrived to a job and a fully furnished apartment. My boss helped me sort out a bank account.
The hardest places I’ve moved to logistically have been New Zealand and Australia. The visas were pretty straight forward, simple online applications. On both occasions I stayed in a hostel for a few weeks until I found a place to live and a job. Bank accounts were easy to get once we had our visas – you do it just as you would in your own country.
I think it always seems like it’s going to be hard to start again, to sort our getting a job and setting up a life. But it’s actually a lot easier than you think it will be.
How do you deal with culture shock?
Having expat friends has always been a helpful way for me to handle culture shock. When you have people who have lived in the country and know what makes it different to your own culture, they are an incredible resource.
I think the biggest culture shock I experienced was the workplace in Korea. It was completely different to any workplace I’ve ever experienced before and it took a lot of time (and patience) to get used to it.
Three things you can’t travel without?
My camera, my journal, and my Kindle.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
I’ve been dreaming of traveling South America for a really long time. Now that we’re living in Mexico, I’m hoping to make some trips down that way over the next year.
Can you see yourself returning home anytime soon?
Not to live. Every time I go back to visit, it feels less and less like home.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning to move abroad?
Do your research, talk to people who have done it, then just go. You’ll never be able to plan it all, never be able to have it all under control before making the move, so do as much as you can then just do it.
Why should people leave home and become an expat?
It’s not for everyone. There are days when I wonder if I made the right choice, but I’m happiest when I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, when I’m meeting new people and seeing new places.
If you love traveling, but still want to have a home base, being an expat is the best of both worlds.
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