Guys, I moved to Serbia. I know that sounds a little crazy, but let me tell you my story.
My ex-psychologist recently said to me that all “expats are weirdos”. For those who don’t know, an ‘expat’ is short for ‘expatriate’, which is defined as a person who lives outside of their native country. And when I say “recently” I’m talking about a few months ago, right after I told her my plan to move to Serbia, and shortly before we stopped working together.
She wasn’t referring to ‘expats’ as the people who go to another country to study, or to work, which she considered to be legit excuses, since they would inevitably move back home. She was referring to those who chose to stay abroad, and make another country their permanent home.
“Lost souls”, she called them.
I did understand where she was coming from, though. I mean, I’m 30 years old and I’ve lived in 8 different countries, where I have definitely come across some troubled expats. In fact, I’ve definitely been that troubled expat.
I’ve met those who just one day decided to get up and leave their hometown, with no prior warning, in search of a new identity. Me. There were those who were trying to escape something traumatizing that had happened to them, and start somewhere anew, as if that thing had never happened. Also me. And I met those who clearly had unresolved issues that they thought they could leave behind, but which continued to follow them around. Me, me, me. Some of the people I met had left home for more rational reasons: high prices, unfulfilling jobs, or better yet, unfulfilling lives. And I guess it was just easier for them to make one, big change instead of small, incremental changes.
But yeah, the saying definitely holds true, “wherever you go, there you are”. And whatever it is that made you flee in hopes of a better life will be there at that better life, waiting for you.
So I thought a lot about what my psychologist said after that conversation. At the time, I was back home living in the US and I had sought her out after reading one of her books on relationships that had appealed to me. I was having a hard time gaining stability in life. I really wanted to want stability. And that damn pressure of kids and marriage was also getting to me. I really wanted to want that, too.
But, although my psychologist had a point that there are, indeed, some troubled souls clearly making a run for it- “avoiders”, as I would call them; my psychologist was (is) 70 years old. The woman is from another generation. Another time. And lady, the world ain’t like it used to be.
Suffice to say, we stopped working together- for other reasons. But looking back on it, we just weren’t a right fit.
We now live in a time where people no longer have to just accept things the way they are. You no longer have to be ‘complacent’. You no longer have to live where you were born. Or fit your gender role. Or only date the opposite sex. Or even associate as the sex you were born into. And gosh darn it, you no longer have to stay in a culture that you don’t identify with.
Here’s my story. I grew up with two different identities: The Mexican and the American. And while these two cultures may not seem to drastically differ, growing up bi-culturally was so damn difficult for me. From ages 0–18 I lived 9 years in Mexico and 9 years in the USA. My Mexican friends thought it was weird that my mom and I spoke English at home, and my California friends weren’t exactly the biggest fans of Mexicans back in the day. I just wanted to belong. And I had to constantly prove that I was just like them.
So, I fled. After high school, I bounced around a few countries. I felt comfortable not belonging to a culture, so being an expat gave me the identity I needed. My identity was not belonging. And I met other people just like me. Some of these people are still my best friends to this day. Most of them grew up bi-culturally as well.
Anyway, not belonging is all fun and games identity-wise until the actual government tells you that you “Do Not Belong”. This happened both, in France and in Hong kong. The amount of bureaucracy and hoops that I had to jump through only to land jobs that I was way over-qualified for told me that it was time to seek refuge back in a country where I was legal.
First world problems, I know, yet, I digress.
So back in California, I was 18 again. I was no longer an expat, just a troubled local. And being a troubled almost-30 year old isn’t as cute as being a troubled teen. After a series of drunken debacles, I found some solace in yoga. I became a yoga teacher. I got a Holistic Health certificate. And then I started thinking about my future.
Enter aforementioned psychologist.
Things I am certain that I love in life: dogs (specifically mine), yoga (since it helped me in my moment of turmoil), belonging, and purpose. It sounds cheesy, I know. But strip away the good body, good job and good partner in life, which are also up there, these are the most important things to me.
I’ve had all kinds of romantic relationships in my life: long term, short term, one-night-stands. And I think you learn a lot about yourself by your relationships with others. No matter how cool I try to act, the same thing creeps up in all of them: I am one needy bitch. I keep looking for the other person to fulfill me, because I haven’t been able to do that for myself.
Are ‘belonging’ and ‘fulfillment’ tied together? I think it all has something to do with feeling whole.
I’ve realized that I can’t be in a relationship unless I feel like I’m bringing something to the table. And I cannot yet even imagine having kids until I feel like I’m doing something to better society. To receive, you must also give. And to give, you must feel like what you are giving is needed. Because I refuse to have kids just for the sake of having kids. I need to provide the world with some kind of service apart from procreation. I want my kids to look at me and see that I took charge in creating my own identity.
So I moved to Serbia. Now, I’m not saying that Serbia is the answer for everyone, but it gives me what I need. And in return, I hope to give something back to this amazing country.
My reasons for moving here, in no particular order, are as follows:
- Open-mindedness: This country has suffered an immense amount of hardship, yet the people hold no grudge. Not one person has gotten upset that I don’t speak the language. They are happy to take me in. They want to learn more about me, about everything. And they are willing to put their pride aside in hopes of meaningful connections.
- Potential. Everyone is curious. Everyone wants more. There are so many untapped markets and there are people hungry for new information. There is major opportunity for positive change and influence.
- It’s the perfect mix of old school machismo and new age tendencies. There are no extremes. Is that anti feminist of me? I don’t care what it is. I appreciate the door being opened for me and a little compliment every now and then. However, I also bask in the luxury of being able to have a strong opinion that is heard and respected.
4. The weather/ location. Is there anything better than having full fledged seasons all in one place? The summer is lovely and in the winter it snows.
5. The food: No hormones or GMO’s. It turns out I’m not lactose intolerant or allergic to gluten. I just can’t digest chemicals or being over-diagnosed by my pharmaceutically-backed insurance-paid American doctor. Who woulda thought? I can eat food with no stress.
6. A personal reason dear to my heart: My maternal grandparents. My mother was born in the US of Serbian descent, but never really delved into her lineage. I want to know more. I want to discover where I came from. I want to give something back to this country which, ultimately, led to the creation of me.
To finish off my story: I’m still growing. I’m still learning. I’m out of my comfort zone- which for me, is my comfort zone. And for some inexplicable yet completely natural reason, I feel like I belong here.
And I’m here to stay.