A joke about moving abroad turns into reality for Alex and Tom...plus their two cats. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard accidental expat stories like this, but we sure do love this one! Get inspired by their spontaneity and then make your own expat dream a reality.
I never expected to live outside the United States. Ever. Now I’m almost a year into living in Reykjavik, the most northern capital of the world. This is the story of how a joke about moving abroad turns into reality...
As background, my husband, Tom, and I were happily living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States. I was working for the University of Pittsburgh in clinical research and he was a teacher at a local charter high school.
We were both happy with our jobs, two adorable cats, great friends and family around, and looking at redoing our third bedroom into a library/guest room.
When a Joke About Moving Abroad Turns Into Reality
In April 2018, on a Tuesday morning, Tom gets an email that changes everything.
Tom belonged to a professional Mathematics teacher association (NCTM) and, in their monthly e-newsletter, there was a job posting for a Maths teacher at an international school in Casablanca, Morocco.
Instead of deleting it offhand, as it was little more than personalized junk email, Tom emailed me the job posting and said he applied to the job. No further information.
I’m sitting at my desk at work and a million thoughts go through my mind, the biggest being: NO WAY! This is NOT the Tom I know.
Then the wheels start turning.
Why not apply?!
Wait, can we bring the cats?!
Is Morocco safe? …for Americans? …for women? …in general?
Then the Googling started.
Finally, I reply back and say, “But, seriously, you should apply.” (Note that at this point, 5 hours after the initial email was sent, Tom had already deleted the message and forgotten about it.)
This leads to a whirlwind of job applications and Skype interviews for Tom across the globe. Then, at the beginning of June, he gets a job offer to teach Maths and Science in Reykjavik, Iceland. Not only is his salary a livable wage, but they offer me a job as a teaching assistant at the school!
(Unfortunately, most places offered great benefits, housing accommodations, and food stipends, but not a real wage. Financially speaking, this was a job opportunity, compared to an internship.)
We accept, and a month and a half later, we are on a plane with twelve suitcases and two cats!
It was a crazy month and a half. We had to pack up our whole house, figure out what we wanted to bring with us, get a property management company, fill out our visa paperwork, and get the cats’ paperwork in order so they could enter Iceland.
And that’s how we became accidental expats!
Lessons Learned Moving Overseas
1. Purging Stuff is Liberating
You don’t need the amount of stuff you think you do (except for shoes, you always need more!). It was liberating to purge a lot of our clothes, kitchen items, and random items stored in forgotten closets and shelves, waiting to get old enough and be discarded.
Marie Kondo has nothing on moving to another country.
Bringing a few important sentimental pieces with you will make your new home feel like home. I made sure to pack a few pictures, anniversary artwork Tom gave me, and mugs that meant a lot to me to have in our home. That being said, home is where the heart is. Apparently, my heart is where the cats and Tom are.
2. Expats Learn a LOT
Learning a new culture is fun. Learning a new language is hard...especially Icelandic.
I thought it would be easy when surrounded by Icelanders to pick up Icelandic. HA! I’ve taken one official class and will be taking more again this fall.
However slow progress is, it is there! I can tell whenever I am in a store or see an ad and I can translate words that I couldn’t when we first moved! Slow and steady wins the race…right?!
3. Balance is Vital
Balance keeping in touch with friends from home and living your new life. Both are important and will take effort on your side. Making new friends and assimilating to your new home will make the transition easier and give you that settled feeling, but keeping in touch with the people who have shaped you as an individual is also essential.
4. Allow the Joke About Moving Abroad to Become Reality
Say yes to that opportunity! Don’t be afraid of the challenge, the unknown, the less taken path. My favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. The main point of the book is that everything that happens in your life (good, bad) is part of your personal journey.
Take the opportunity, learn from a bad situation, but know it is part of your life journey. If this post doesn’t inspire you, read the book. It will.
Moving to a new country isn’t all rainbows (though there are a LOT in Iceland), but it has expanded me as a person. It has brought my husband and me closer together and changed our marriage in a way we would never have experienced staying in our comfortable Pittsburgh bubble. These past 10 months have been the craziest, most challenging, and most mind-blowing adventure.
I am so glad that Tom’s joke about moving abroad turned into reality.
Pick your joke, and make it your reality. Especially if it makes you an accidental expat.