It’s Not All Sunshine & Rainbows

Torre de Belem

If you’ve already made the leap then I’m sure you’ll relate to a lot of my experiences during my transition to living in another country.

Many people who have never moved to another country, seem to only think about the positive aspects of living in another country. In their minds it must all be sunshine and rainbows, but those of us who have experienced this know better. It’s a lovely, exciting, fun adventure, sure it is… At times. But it can also be very hard, I know first hand.

The first 12 months as an expat were by far the most difficult for me for various reasons. I’ve lived on my own since I graduated high school but had never lived far from my family, I was always 5 minutes away. I left my parents, and two younger brothers who were just 12 and 13 when I moved to Lisbon and now are 18 and 19. Being away from my family was something I was not used to and something that affected me tremendously in the beginning, I missed them so much it brought me to tears many days. And I wasn’t present for many of my brothers milestones. When I went home to visit, many times I felt like I was gone for years and I didn’t even recognize them any more. They were just kids when I left and now they are young men, that was hard for me. My boyfriend consoled and comforted me as much as he could but those feelings were always there, for a while.

After a few years though, it was something that I had gotten used to, something I came to naturally accept and now it doesn’t affect me too much. Don´t get me wrong, it DOES still affect me, just not nearly as much or as intensely as it did in the beginning.

Another MAJOR hurdle I had was leaving all of my friends behind and starting over in another country where I didn’t speak a lick of the language. Not having friends is really hard and depressing. Especially if you don’t work, go to school or speak the language, which I didn’t do for 10 months. Thankfully my boyfriend´s friends were very nice and friendly with me and made an effort to make me feel like I belonged in their group. Of course this still didn’t fill the void  in my life from not having my childhood girlfriends. But they made things a little easier on me and I’m forever grateful for them.

Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows that we can´t always get along, and with the stress of all of the above, arguing was unavoidable at times. Which made me miss my family and friends even more. I had noone to talk to or complain about my problems to;  of course I could talk online, skype or phone, but it’s not the same. Sometimes we just need to hang out with our friends, drink some wine (or beer) and laugh or complain about our problems. It always makes it better, and I didn’t have that therapeutic outlet. I also don’t drive here (because I’m too nervous about it) so I couldn’t just leave and go somewhere, I had nowhere to go and no way to get there.

I married my husband in 2010 in a private ceremony at the local Registo Civil, which was a really quick, easy and simple process.

After I learned Portuguese and started college I did find my own friends, my own age who had the same interests as me and things got A LOT better for me. I’d say that was the turning point for me. When I had a purpose and a schedule everyday, met new people, went on class trips to really amazing places in Lisbon, studied something I loved and just had my own life, living here got easy. Now I have a few really close friends here!

School was really hard here since I only speak basic conversational Portuguese. I don’t know about all of you but reading and writing in Portuguese is WAY easier for me than listening and speaking it. All of my classes were taught in Portuguese, but my Professors were extremely understanding with me and most allowed me to do my works in English since they all spoke and understood it. For that I am eternally grateful!! I took public transportation to and from school which was an hour each way, which seems like a lot and it is, but I got used to it. It turned out to be sort of a meditative time of day, where I could listen to my Ipod, be by myself and reflect on things. I enjoyed it.

I graduated on time, after 3 years of studying with 8 subject semesters and we welcomed our son into the world one week before my graduation.

Now I’ve been a stay at home mom for the last 21 months and get to hang out with my super awesome son all day and blog in my freetime, which is mostly during naptime. I now feel Portuguese, I’m used to life here, I feel 100% integrated in the community and I really love it here. I’ve been to countless Castles, Palaces, Monasteries, Gardens and Beaches. I´ve been to the North, to Porto, Aveiro, Braga and the beautiful Parque Nacional da Peneda Gerês (which is my favorite place on the whole earth), I´ve seen Alentejo in the center, Evora and Monsaraz and I´ve been to the South, in Faro, Tavira, Albufeira and many, many more places. I´ve seen so many beautiful things here. Life couldn’t get much better than this. How lucky are we to live in Lisbon?? In Portugal?? For me it’s the most gorgeous country in the world, I’m so proud to call this place my home.

This year, since my husband and I have been married for over 3 years, I will be taking steps to become an official Portuguese CITIZEN! So I will be American AND Portuguese 🙂

I always love hearing about other expat’s stories and experiences so if you want to, feel free to tell me yours 🙂