What I’ve learned while being an expat

Immigration is many times a runaway train from home to Wonderland, or at least this is what we hope when we decide to make the step. Whether we look for political freedom, a higher salary or a step forward in our career, follow a lover or explore a new world, being an expat comes with huge personal lessons. We can only go through the transformative expat life school by getting out of our comfort zone and interacting with new people and new cultures. But what are these lessons?


So, one day MobileRecharge.com team sent a survey to hundreds of customers to find out what this life changing experience taught them. Many of their answers may sound familiar.

Nonetheless, we address you the same question: what did you learn in the process of adaptation to the new culture?   

#It’s never too late to learn a new language

expatThere are so many stereotypes related to the capacity of learning a language later in life. There are other excuses that expats can prove wrong: time, talent, etc. The truth is that needs motivate and the context facilitates. The ideal way to learn a language is the expat’s way: not at home in the test tube, but in a sea of people talking that foreign language.

#Communication is not only about words

Body language is 60% of our communication. But we probably become aware of its benefits only when you move abroad and and you are able to handle your hands better than the language. Many feel embarrassed at first, but this type of communication is very useful actually.

#How to return to state of wonder we had as children

Cultures may have traditional motifs or people’s struggles as a common ground, but each is different since it is a sum of ingredients that makes it unique: a certain landscape, type of society, history, economical partnerships, weather, resources, etc. So, an expat is a discoverer inevitably. Wondering is normal, even desirable, and the best offer is when you are abroad.

Even though it may not be an obvious fact, the state of wondering is a child-like trait we long for all our lives. The act of discovering, the new thing in our lives keeps us alive on all aspects of our existence.


Roland is a Diesel mechanic living in Canada. He moved from rural Manitoba because of the political background and other social and economic effects that hindered him from feeling free, having possibilities to expand. Although he misses the summer time back home, his family, the cattle and the horses, he now feels free. Canada is among the most welcoming destinations for expats also due to the freedom that is valued in all fields of life.

Eric moved from Burundi to the USA for a “better life”, only later to find out his sense of freedom got clearer and stronger.

#Comfort & easy lifestyle

“What I love about my current life? The easy lifestyle, the income, my new family and friends” (Karin H.)

#Confidence and self-reliance

Expats we’ve “talked” tell us that out of the comfort zone of home sweet home and loving parents around, you get to handle things on your own, with eagle eyes to unfamiliar dangers and surprised by unexpected pleasures. In other words, when on your own, you get to know yourself, your strengths and weakness, limits you’ve got. And since there is no one around to complain to, unless it’s an institution, you get the chance to be your best friend and know your resources.

#New needs => new technologies, new tools, new apps

expatTake for example MobileRecharge.com. There is no reason for such a tool or for MobileRecharge app before being an expat. Mainly because at home, abroad is a dictionary word alone. Nobody expects you to send mobile credit online. So, you don’t need the website for long distance top ups, since the only long distance is the between you and the president.

Of course, new technologies related to the expat way of living involves international calling services, like KeepCalling, or Google Maps until you get used to the surroundings. Many use event apps, rental apps, job search apps, nearby health facility apps for the less fortunate situations when moving to a foreign country. Duolinguo is already a very popular app to learn new languages along the Google Translate tool, just to mention a few.

#Being open-minded

How else can an expat survive a surrounding that has little things in common with his or her home culture. Being open minded is paying attention to novelty and allowing yourself to learn more. It is a condition to survive at first, later a hobby.

#Life can be more exciting in large cities

No comment. For dynamic people, villages versus large cities is the relation between being ill and feeling fresh and sporty.

“My current life is interesting.” (Kechichian V.)

#How to appreciate things from home

The great amount of top ups expats send via MobileRecharge.com is the naked truth. They support their families, they care. Most expats we’ve met talk about food, weather, friends and family back home with a lot of nostalgia. They miss the familiar places, the tastes, the smells, the neighbours, mainly everything is part of their personal history, of who they are. Everything is precious, whatever the situation was before they left their homeland. 


Once you’ve got financial independence, the rest of the independence features install automatically. :)

“I am able to care for myself financially,  the people I have met and the wonderful experiences I had.” (Jean-Claude)

#Intelligence is Adaptation

Adaptation is a chameleonic skill. The idea is simple: it’s  easier to change yourself and understand the new environment than convince the new world of who you are.

“Take everything easy and move on.” (Eric E.)

“Give up your convenience.” (Peter)

#Courage and Loneliness as an opportunity 

Being far from the family that loves you easily, and out into the world, may push you in a pool of loneliness. It’s not always easy to make new friends, or at least trustworthy ones. It’s a process, not a happening, although some are lucky.

But then those expats who found loneliness the worst thing for an expat, also see the bright side. Their advice is to be courageous and not be shy and connect to locals and other expats, go to meetings, go to parties, invite people over.

The same way, they consider it important to stay connected to the roots, to the family for moral support and a good sense of belonging.

#New skills, new pleasures, new habits

New situations challenge our identity, including self-esteem, but equally other areas we didn’t know existed before. If one moved, for example, from a sandy area to a mountain area, they may learn they enjoy hiking. Or if you lived all your life in a small crowded village, you may find great pleasure in walking in open spaces, large squares, driving on avenue. Or a cultural place give one the chance to join performances, festivals, visit museums and so on. That could be a revelatory context for personal interests.

“Entertainment, art and mountains.” (Angel C.)

“Open spaces.” (Gillian M.)

New skills develop according to the landscape and personal needs. For someone who rode horses, moving to a large city means that they have the need and opportunity to learn how to drive.

#How to find pleasure in talking to strangers

expatsIn many traditional societies, we hear so often “Don’t talk to strangers” as if everyone whose name we don’t know is representative of the evil. Pure imagination! Fear!

In reality, everyone is a stranger before we get introduced to them. And particularly, in the position of an expat, it’s inevitable not to turn strangers into friends or roommates, or colleagues.

#How to see your uniqueness among other ethnic groups

Most expats got to be proud of their origin and heritage only when the contrast of a new culture and society emphasised it. That would be the most spectacular sparkle of an expat’s identity. But the clue here is to see the great stuff about your culture, the novelty it brings, and not the weak points, that all societies share. l  

#How to cook your traditional food for others  

expatAnd once you’ve noticed what’s unique about your culture, you start to share it. This is what makes ethnic festivals happen, or dinner parties with your foreign friends. People are curious, people love food, so food becomes a great bridge for intercultural communication.

Many of those we’ve talked to, especially the highly educated ones, started cooking as expats.

#How to listen better

Observation muscle is probably the first that gets the strongest. For security reasons mainly. And that includes listening to others, in order to have the clues to make up their world. When language is not the best means to touch foreign hearts, ears get wiser.

Expats who want to fill in the language gap, listen close.

#How to be humble

In other words less vanity is the state of the learner and not the teacher. 
Most expats suffer from the inferiority complex, once they need to start all over in a new country. A new territory is a wild arena even for the most popular in their native land. A CEO in Cochabamba, a new engineer in town in Detroit, to put it in a line story. Till you build a new story and a name, the inferiority complex positive side is humbleness, and it is inevitable.