Doing the Limbo as an Expat

I love to travel. I make no secret of that, and I’ve made it my mission to encourage others to travel. So I don’t think it surprised too many people when I announced my plans to move to Germany. Even before I met Andy, it had always been a dream of mine to try living in Europe. But like most things, the reality usually doesn’t match expectations, and being an expat often feels like being in a weird travel limbo.

One of the things I like most about travel is experiencing something different. Different food, different sights, different cultures, it doesn’t matter, it all feeds my addiction. Even something small like going to a grocery store in a foreign country or figuring out a few words in a different language can be exhilarating.

I do also enjoy the comforts of home. Sometimes routine can be reassuring, and other times I just need things to be easy. I need that normalcy to recharge my batteries. Plus it’s nice to not have to worry about finding things at the grocery store or trying to understand another language.

expat limbo - Martinstor, Freiburg, Germany

Living as an expat, I experience both of these things simultaneously. And it can be exhausting.

I still only speak the bare minimal amount of German, which means a simple shopping task can turn stressful quickly. Like a few weeks ago when I was in a store paying with my bank card and a number pad came up on the cashier’s screen. I didn’t understand what he was saying to me, but it was clear he wanted a number of some sort.

The only thing that came to mind was my PIN, so I freaked out because, why in the world is this guy asking me to tell him my PIN? Luckily the woman behind me realized I don’t speak much German, and she said in clear German only the number he was asking for instead of the whole sentence.

Zip code. He wanted my zip code! Happy the cashier wasn’t trying to clear out my bank account, I laughed and told him my zip code.

expat limbo - Freiburg, Germany spring

It’s all a mindset really. Because I’m home, I expect things to be easier than when I’m traveling. I expect some kind of routine, some ease from day to day.

But it doesn’t work like that. I know where things are in the grocery store now, but it doesn’t mean the thing I’m looking for will actually be there. Items will regularly run out and not get replaced for days, or sometimes even a week or two. Or even disappear altogether like our tortillas or the olives Andy likes.

I’m in German class for four hours a day, five days a week. Yes, it’s a routine, but it’s not at all comfortable, and it’s also a lightening fast pace.

A normal college class meets for two and a half hours per week for a 15 week semester. Hour for hour, it’s like squeezing a college course into two weeks. No wonder my brain can’t absorb it all, and I get frustrated enough to throw my dictionary across the living room. There are 16 versions of “the” – you’d throw things too.

expat limbo - Schwabentor, Freiburg, Germany

So right now my life is a big combination of the elements of home and travel, a constant yo-yo. My routines are filled with surprises and changes. My travel-like experiences are filled with the knowledge that this is home, I’m not on vacation. As an expat, things are familiar but at the same time not familiar. I somehow feel stuck in limbo between travel and home. Maybe the two will someday merge together. But for now I will stumble through and continue to redefine myself and redefine what home really means.