When it comes to expatriation, being the follower is often negatively perceived. With the word “follower” often come prejudiced ideas and the word soon turns into the-one-who-is-lazy, the-one-without-a-career, or the-unemployed-one, the-house-wife or one of my worst the-one-who-has-nothing-to-do-and-has-a-beautiful-life. Basically the one every one envies for they think The One has nothing to do but also pity for not having a career and not being able to define themselves as anything else than The Wife of X, or The Partner of X. Well that is just such a limited perception of how broad and encompassing the word follower when added to expatriation can be. I chose to see the positive side of it and appreciate the green grass on my side. While I can’t say that being the follower is easy, it certainly is an opportunity for new beginnings and experiences that you wouldn’t make otherwise. And just to make a point, here is a list of things that you can do to keep busy, meet people and broaden your horizons in ways that a workaholic person with their 9 to 5 job could not.
1. Learn the language or practice it
I’ve already talked about reasons I believe you should learn the language of your adoptive country. Beyond the communication aspect of being able to speak that language, comes the social aspect. At the course you will meet people. Some might be an a similar situation than yours and you’ll therefor be able to bond over a common point. You will also meet people from different backgrounds and stories and each one can be a source of inspiration. Even if none of them becomes your best friend, it is always nice to have someone come along when you go visit a museum or go for a drink after the class. By joining Discussion circles or meet-up groups, you can practice and make new acquaintances. If you already speak the language though, every time you step out of the house is an opportunity to practice, keep busy and meet people.
So let’s say you cannot work in your new country, or maybe you’re just having a hard time finding a job. Or just maybe you really don’t want to work but you want to have something to do. Volunteering is the solution. It not only allows you to feel motivated and ready to take on your day, it also helps you stay sane. The best part is you can chose any association or company that you have the slightest interest for. I volunteered for a Film Festival for example, as a photographer, thus combining my love for movies with my need to practice photography. I felt useful, I had contact with people, I met directors and actors, had a chance to listen to them live and I had access to all the movies I fancied watching. I should add here that it was an East European movie festival, meaning under other circumstances my chances of seeing these movies would have been close to nil. Had I been working I might have went to see one of the movies (assuming I had even been aware this festival was going on), but I wouldn’t have had such a great experience. The festival wasn’t just about the movie, there were book readings for example where I got the chance to buy a Polish book translated in German which I then got signed by the author, again giving me access to new horizons. What are the chances that I would have read a Polish author’s book otherwise? See learning German also gave me a chance to discover his work, since I can’t read Polish.
3. Visit museums, go to the theater and take advantage of every event happening in town
When I first got here, every other day our mail box was full with promotional packages and flyers. They always included all kinds of free newspapers. At first, I read the newspapers to practice my German, but I quickly realized that they gave me access to a lot of cultural information. Between the district journal, the city newspaper, the region’s newspaper, I discovered events, coffee shops, new stores opening… I would clip the pages, text a friend and go, alone or accompanied. I also of course, mostly at the beginning did all the touristy things people do when discovering a city. But the most wonderful thing is I had the time to try all these things, even things I thought i might not like, I tried, just because I could. I attended music festivals, went to exhibition openings (I still do that a lot), got out of my comfort zone. I also attended DIY workshops and book binding workshops. Now some of you might say: ok but this can get very expensive. Sure, depending on where you live. I was less likely to do this in Canada where everything is expensive when it comes to culture. Vienna luckily has a LOT of free events. But most museums for instance have a free evening where they usually also open longer. Theater tickets can be purchased on promo, or hey, just buy a last minute standing ticket. Most galleries are free (everywhere I’ve been in the world) and if not, make sure you know when the openings are, then it’s definitely free entrance and you get to hear the curator or the artist talk about the work.
4. Talk to people and create something
One of my accomplishments I would say, is the day I loosened up and talked to the very friendly bookshop manager about an association I am volunteering for. I was actually looking for a book to read for the book club of that association and she suggested a very good one. But then, just like that she said “You know if you want to start a book club, I could help you out and provide you with the space to host it”. My book club was born. I love reading and sharing my impressions of certain books afterwards. I had the time and the will, so I simply said yes and launched it. She was a great help but I also learned a few things, I had to create a social media account and page, animate it, organize the event and chose the book, try to find people. The first meeting went very well and I am very excited for the second one. It’s amazing the things that can happen when you’re open to them and have the time.
I actually started thinking about all the things I did in Vienna when I started panicking about the gap on my resume. How could I justify that time, besides the fact that I lived temporarily in a foreign country? Well the list of things actually made me feel way better. Not only did I actually LIVE Vienna, discovered and still am discovering all it has to offer, but I also gained soft skills and lived experiences that are absolutely unique and from which I can extrapolate all kinds of working skills. I met people whose friendships will last way longer than the time I lived here, and I practiced my German!
How did you keep busy when you were the follower? What great experiences came out of it?