I read something in a book about expats a while back, and something stuck with me. The author talked about when her expat life became just her regular life.
I set that as a goal, and I think I'm finally there.
Your Expat Life: Shiny, Fun...and Exhausting
The early months of living in another country (the Honeymoon phase in the culture shock theory) are thrilling because everything's so different. I made so many friends! I explored so many places! I dove deep into the language!
But at a certain point, I had to slow down. This was not the pace of normal life, and I craved normalcy.
I remember when my son Max was one and I'd take him to the grocery store. The visual stimulation was overwhelming to his tiny, unformed brain, and he would crash as soon as we got home and sleep all afternoon.
That's exactly what expat life is like in the early months. Everything is new and different. The language. The culture. The food at the grocery store. Naps were a permanent part of my schedule for six months or so! (Who am I kidding? They still are!)
Phase 2: Regular, Boring Life
I imagine the thrill of living in Italy will continue for years in some ways. But I no longer get quite so many butterflies in my stomach when I see the Ionian Sea stretch out before me. I know which grocery stores carry my favorite Calabrian pesto (which I call Calabrian Crack, it's so good). I'm nurturing friendships with a few key people. Building a new romantic relationship. I'm working. Doing laundry. Running errands. Buying a newer car.
In short, life has become...normal. And I couldn't be happier.
When The Thrill is Gone, That's Where the Good Comes
I think it's easy to romanticize living abroad. I'm guilty of it. I envisioned working with my laptop at an outdoor cafe (something I've NEVER seen anyone do here). Swimming in the sea daily (when it's crowded in August, I stay away). Making pasta by hand (why bother when you can buy 1,000 types of fresh pasta?).
Once you get past these romantic illusions, that's where the good stuff lives, in my mind. After all, moving abroad isn't a vacation. It's where you choose to live your life, either for a few months or years, or in my case, for the rest of your days.
There will be drawbacks, for sure. Here, that comes in the form of slow bureaucracy. Italians giving you an answer when they really don't know the answer. A less robust train system. Gaps in my understanding of the language.
But beyond the Instagram version of where you choose to move, you'll find other gems. For me, it's the insane helpfulness and friendliness of Calabrians. The food. How alive places are in the summer. The affordability of food and housing (for Americans, anyway). What it is to settle into a relationship with someone of a different culture.
You can't discover these things when you visit a place for a few days. The deeper you root into your new home as an expat, the more it will open its magic up to you.