Expat life versus European holiday

Sthephany Vasilopoulos van Oordt

There is something that not everybody understands; there are huge differences between being on vacation and living somewhere.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m on vaca everything seems like a dream. The room service, shopping, sightseeing, it’s the works! Every morning brings something new and unexpected. You meet different people and you experience the new culture as an outsider. Everything seems fine and dandy, and you can’t point out a single bad thing about the country you’re in. Newsflash this is not real life!

Once the fun fades, you’re stuck as a local. Sure, lying in the grass, soaking up the sun in the Swedish way (no sunscreen) seems great at first. I might lose it if I have to eat lunch outside, sit on the grass, or tan in the sun one more time. It’s funny how at first, everything seems beautiful, fun and exciting, but after a few months, everything seems super strange.

For as long as I can remember, living in Europe was the most far-fetched dream I ever imagined.

However there is an immense number of differences between North America and Western Europe, differences we would never think about. For example the living situation is just chaotic. People in Sweden live in a cardboard-box like permanent residence. Tiny little apartments, showers with no doors or curtains (figure that one out!), old buildings that look the same everywhere (think communist blocks with a Scandinavian touch), tiny grocery stores (forget the all-in-one/one-stop grocery store), and 1 laundry room per building (sometimes even one for every two buildings). The latter is the cherry on top of the sundae, doing laundry is like entering a battlefield. If you haven’t booked 1 week in advance, you might as well wave the white flag and surrender.

These are aspects that a tourist might think of as cute or fantastic. 

However when you live here, things are no longer that cute. There are also language barriers that make everyday life a royal European mess. Yes, it is totally amazing that every country in Europe speaks a different language and has a completely different culture.  Trust me though, it can definitely take a toll on someone. While you are on vacation, you would speak English to anybody and everybody. Luckily if English is your native language, you can travel just about anywhere and get by, and we’re proud of it. But once you live somewhere in which English is not the official language, it can get quite annoying.

Moving across the world tests you daily.

There are vast cultural differences and conveniences that simply don’t exist elsewhere. Despite living in the continent of my dreams, my heart aches for everything I left behind. My family, friends, large bedroom,  private bathroom, car, highways, large shopping malls, my bunny, even the harsh Canadian winters. However, the thought of returning is a bittersweet feeling. I left because I wanted a change, I wanted something new and unexpected. Can a girl ever be happy with what she has? I think that could be a post on its own.

Even though sometimes I wake up asking myself why I’m still here, I know I would ask myself the same thing elsewhere. After all, being 23 and living the same old Ottawa routine life is not my favourite cup of tea. People say the grass is greener on the other side? I wonder which side of the world they were talking about. I would love to walk 500 miles in $500 dollar shoes to find out.