Living abroad / A day in the life
It’s been hard for me to start writing this post. Normally the topics I choose are always quite straight to the point and have one single message but this one, on the other hand has many different aspects and it is very complex besides of the many emotions these thoughts trigger in me. I don’t know where to start and where I will end when I finish writing. I will just let the ideas flow.
If you are a reader who found this by chance I will just explain that I am from Mexico City and I had the opportunity to move to Switzerland in the global marketing team of Bayer.
What did you learn? What do you take with you after living as an expat abroad? Working and living in another country for 4 years? Do you regret? Are you happy to come back? Would you do it again?
Too much learning, too many experiences, in the following video I tried to summarize key moments, people and experiences we lived in 4 years.
4 years in 4 minutes. Have a look. You can click on the link below if you don't see it directly here.
Once you are back to your home country you are not the same person. I am not. It’s artificially and unconscious accelerated development.
Many factors get in your way and make you change, they open your eyes and challenge you, help you learn new things and unlearn what you gave for granted, this last one is the most difficult and sometimes painful process. I see it like a ball of billiards that is hit by many different balls. The original trajectory is completely changed. Everything leaves a mark.
People are the most important and the most amazing take away when you live abroad. Being away alone in a different country make people in the same situation so close that they become your family.
Daniela broke her ankle; she had to stay at home for at least 1 week. Who was there? Her friends, they went to the hospital with her, went to the super market for her, helped her cook, visited after work, etc.
My wife and me got pregnant, who organized the baby shower? Who was there all the way? Our friends.
You travel together, you cry together the death of a close person back home, you face job challenges together, you listen to each other’s personal problems, you say goodbye to the ones who are leaving home, you learn to live abroad together.
I just have to thank EVERY single person who was there with me. I made an effort to include you all in the video. I took a huge piece from you all even if you didn’t notice. I’m full of anecdotes and experiences that made this experience incredibly rich.
-Perception of Quality of life
You live in a honey moon with the new country the first 1 or 2 years and everything seems amazing.
Year 1: OMG! Snow is great! Everything looks white and cozy! WOW!! The carnival in February is so cute!!! WOW guys and girls are pretty! Pizzas taste amazing here everywhere I go!!! OMG!! The autumn fair is so beautiful! Yahooo!!! Paris is just 3 hours away with the train! We will go every weekend!
Year 2: Snow looks very pretty but it’s quite cold, should we stay home instead? Wow! The carnival is coming again! I will not drink that much this time though, last time I woke up in a stranger’s house with a mask. Girls are cute! Have not met or talked to any yet, but they are cute. Where do you feel like having dinner? Pizza? Oh! Too late, they are closed now, never mind, they are quite pricy anyway, let’s have some corn flakes instead. Hey the autumn fair is coming!! Ah! It’s quite similar to the last year! Nice! Let’s go to the wheel of fortune again! Paris for the weekend? We went 3 times last year and the hotels are quite expensive! Oh what the hell… let’s go again! It’s Paris!
Year 3: I’m sick of this stupid cold, I slipped yesterday on the ice and I think my wrist is broken. Tried to learn to snowboard and it was horrible! Let me sleep you masked freaks! Who the hell decided to start a carnival on Monday at 3 AM?!?!?! All the stupid songs with the drums sound the same and they play all night through my street! People are like manikins! They look through me! Robots! I’m sick of all these 3 restaurants in the city!! And you always have to make a reservation and they all taste the same!!! The fair again! Can’t they change something at least a little bit?!?! It’s always the same! Paris?! Are you crazy!?!? Every time we go we spend €800 just on the trains plus the hotel and those arrogant frenchs always treat us wrong. There were no fireworks in the Eiffel tower in New Year ’s Eve and I was VERY disappointed! Only drunk people saying “Bon anee”.
So yes perception of the quality of life changes through time and while you start being negative about the new country you also start giving value to the little things you had at your home country. I believe this is human nature and happens to everyone, but… I’m sure Mexico is nicer ;)
When you have the chance to meet and live with people from around the world you acknowledge and embrace the differences that you only saw in the news or in business magazines. It is true; people are quite defined by the culture they develop in, and surprise surprise! Mexicans are the complete opposite of the Swiss: time management, we have plenty, they are tight. Relationships (including family), we are close they are distant. Party, they are rational about it and we… well… you know. The very interesting point is that before going there, I used to consider myself punctual, a good money manager, a planner and below average in party mode, but when I saw those northern guys I realized my landscape and benchmark was compared only to other Mexicans but there is a whole country which is based exactly on the other end of the balance. Where I used to be considered as radical, I became below average.
This can only broaden your criteria, make you more tolerant and think that perhaps, just perhaps there is another (better) way to live and do things. Why not try? In the end, people around you have been molded by a specific set of lessons and experiences and their judgments are based on that. It does not mean it’s the only way. Here an example:
- 4 out of 4 couples of German parents I met care VERY much about their kids nutrition. This means they do NOT eat candies, they really make an effort to balance the food they eat, take care about carbs, try to give them vegetables quite often and they make their food themselves.
- Most Mexican parents say they care VERY much about their kids nutrition, however they give them candies, cookies and/or cakes much more often (and as a prize for good behavior), use much more processed food, milk with chocolate and chips are allowed during family events (every week).
- Now that I am back I try to follow the German model but in a more relaxed (mexicanized) way and I’ve been openly “judged” as radical.
Differences are big and hard to explain, but if you ask both couples, both would say they children eat properly. Now I know Mexican benchmark of nutrition is quite bad. What you see around in Mexico is worse than what you do, but what you do is still below compared to other countries. People in Switzerland are normally fit.
- At work
Suddenly you are competing with the world and the same “culture” topics apply. I had never seen so radical cases of efficiency, intelligence, focus, huge egos, a lot of power, hard work and on the other hand high wages for people who don’t make an effort. As expected politics become extremely complex. You have to become savvy. I had the luck to report to brilliant people who challenged me as no one had ever done before, they were always a step ahead and many times I thought I would never be capable of meeting their standards (still don’t know if I did), pressure for excellence and the need to be the best of the best was always present. Hi IQ people, highly motivated and with all the needed tools and trainings to over perform. I tried to keep the pace the best I could and never quit while still enjoying this life experience.
One humble advice, it would be a mistake from my point of view to let work pressure suck you into it and not enjoy the life experience which is in many ways so much more enriching.
Work in this case does not come separated to all the other aspects, people in these offices are regularly lonely, most of them are from abroad and so personal issues are easily mixed (work-friends become your family, remember?). Work-life line becomes thinner with all the issues this can bring, then character and temperance needs to be strengthened, as said, people evolve, become stronger or just collapse. A colleague from Egypt had a tough day/week/month, she fainted at the stairs of her house and her neighbor took her to the hospital (no one else to go with her, no family, no boyfriend, had divorced 6 months ago and the husband went back to Egypt), the doctor said she had an over load because of work and she needed to stay at the hospital. It was a mix of depression and stress, she stayed there for 1 month with psychiatric treatment.
I did not know this had happened and just by chance I texted her to see how she was doing, she replied I was the first person from work to get in touch, she had been in the hospital for 1 week already and no one had asked about her. No one had visited her and she decided not to inform her family in Egypt not to worry them so she had to go through it completely alone.
Loneliness can be real.
In the end all these experiences make you stronger. Daniela is fully recovered of her ankle and is happily living another adventure working in New York, my Egyptian friend quit the job, did a master degree and now she has a better job somewhere in Europe too, as for me, the funny crazy Mexican is back home with a daughter enjoying the pleasures of this land and trying to get the most out of it, which is a LOT.
All these things and more are now tattooed in me. It is an amazing experience.
Would I do it again? Definitely yes but not in the next couple of years.
Would I recommend doing it? Absolutely.
Do I regret something? Not at all.
What do I take with me? Friends and experiences. Many of them. All amazing.
When you are back, your people at home don’t know you have been through this process. They don’t know you’ve met all these people. They just see you are just different, they don’t know the life behind. They can judge based on the surface and it can be tough.