Living abroad: will you adapt, lose or find yourself?

What happens when you hang out too much with people from your own country or other foreigners? Are you adapting to your new environment? Is that even necessary? And what happens when you hang out only with the natives? Will you forget where you came from? Will you lose your old habits? But in both situations, would you lose yourself while living your new life?

One thing is a certainty, people who live abroad have a different mind-set from the people who don’t. Which is also why I have met people from around the world here in Skopje. We find each other, because we have something in common. Something that our friends and family back at home will not understand. We like to discuss the lives we are having now, what’s going on in the country, the differences and why we ended up here. Besides that we are very open-minded, we invite complete strangers for a cup of coffee or a beer, to welcome them and help them out where we can.

I tried to adapt as much as I can or as I think I should adapt. I would like to think I did not lose myself in the process, I just became more me. But isn’t that what everyone likes to think? For me personally I feel more certain about things in my life now. I know who my friends are and who will always have my back, even when I haven’t spoken with them for over a year. I made the right decision to move to Macedonia, although I’m not sure if I will stay here when you see what is happening to this country (but that’s a complicated issue at the moment). And I know I have found the one who I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Different kind of Foreigners

I see all kind of foreigners in Macedonia. Foreigners who are taking over all the habits from the Macedonians, the good ones and the bad ones. Foreigners who don’t adapt at all. Foreigners who complain all the time about Macedonia and Macedonians (for those: please piss off.) Foreigners who only complain about their origin country like they are still trying to convince themselves they made the right decision to move abroad. Foreigners who do not care where they live, they can basically make a living everywhere they would like to (I’m jealous of you). Foreigners who think they discovered Macedonia and know it all – yup they are a bit weird. But which one am I?

It is clear to the people who read my blog that I like Macedonia and most of its people. At this moment I can say I am adapted here. I know a lot about history, culture, different towns and cities, mentality and politics of Macedonia. I actually am very positive about my life here, but if I would want to raise children in this country? No. Unless Macedonia starts changing dramatically, but for now: no.

I complain about the Netherlands (it’s in our blood to find the tiniest negative thing and turn it into an elephant) I complain about Macedonia, but maybe that’s just because I actually like to complain, I’m Dutch. Am I the foreigner that maybe has a love-hate-relationship with the country? Maybe.

Being an Immigrant

I never understood the immigrants who moved to my country and did not adapt. The immigrants – no matter the reason – who did not even try to speak Dutch, immigrants who did not learn our way of life, our habits and history. Immigrants who took over whole neighbourhoods. Thank goodness there are many immigrants who did adapt and did make it in the Netherlands. And because I have this view on immigrants and am now an immigrant myself, the only thing I could do is learn everything there is to learn about Macedonia. Still learning.

So did I adapt, lose or found myself in the whole process of living in another country? I definitely changed and it changed my views on the world. I believe that when you take the step of moving abroad, the first years you adapt, you lose and you find yourself again. Living abroad is challenging, but it is something I believe you should have done in your life. And if you have the chance, don’t doubt it just go.

17 thoughts on “Living abroad: will you adapt, lose or find yourself?

  1. Hi Lise,

    I am reading your blog from time to time for two reasons:
    – I am a Macedonian, so I find it interesting and more objective when a “newcomer” describes Macedonia; and besides Macedonia is not exactly the World’s most popular immigration destination, so such blogs are rare 🙂
    – Currently I am “adapting abroad” and I am comparing mine to your experiences.

    This post is particularly interesting for me, because I always think that as a foreigner coming to a new country I need to adapt to the language, habits and way of life of the host country. It is good for me, it’s good for the locals and in my opinion it is polite to try and give my best to adapt. I don’t feel that I am “losing myself”. I feel that I am enriching myself and adding another layer to my character and personality. The best way to experience a life (or even a tourist trip) abroad is to learn the local language, phrases and customs. Some common characteristics of a whole nation or a region or a city or a neighborhood or a community are woven in the language or customs. Learning the language and local customs helps me to better understand the spirit and mindset of the locals and “feel” the local way of life.
    I wrote you before ( that I find it very positive you trying to adapt to Macedonia by learning the language and local way of life.
    I, as well, do not understand people or whole communities refusing to adapt and living as enclaves. For me going to vacation to Bali and having an European breakfast doesn’t make sense, let alone moving to another country and trying to live as in your own country 🙂

    Another point in your post is very troubling for me, that you would not raise your children in Macedonia. I think it is very realistic and you have caught the essence of it. This is the reason many people with families, have moved abroad, although they made a decent living in Macedonia. They simply saw no positive future for their children. I had the similar feeling for the USA when I was there some years ago. I liked the life, the living standard, but it seemed to me not the right place for raising children.

    All in all, seems to me that you have done good job in adapting, since you start to think like a Macedonian, enjoying the positives of life in Macedonia 🙂 and unfortunately not seeing a very bright future if things do not start to change 🙁

    I wish you all the best,

    1. Hi Viktor,

      I’m happy my posts interests you, especially because you are going through the same change. Even though it has been almost 2.5 years since I came here, I still feel I am learning and adapting. Also I’m glad you have the same view as I have on the issue I have with foreigners not adapting at all. If you don’t even try to learn the way of life in another country, whats the use? You are not enriching yourself at all in that case. And most foreigners I know here are adapting or already adapted, it’s interesting how they have changed over the years.

      About the point that is troubling you, it’s troubling for me as well. Especially because I like my life here at the moment. But with the crisis Macedonia is in now… I simply can not allow my own children (in the future) to go through this and get an education here. So I do wish Macedonia can turn in the near future to be a country which is child-friendly 😉 but for that part even I’m not very positive about it.

      Thank you for your comment and your views. I wish you all the best,

  2. Very interesting!
    There’s an opposite to de’javu. They call it jamais vu. It’s when you meet the same people or visit places, again and again, but each time is the first. That’s how I feel about Macedonia.

    I am an Indonesian married with Macedonian man but I live in London.
    I used to live there for one year and I have visited it almost every year since 2003. There are many things I love than what I dislike about it but it’s all about compromising. I experienced being an immigrant in two very different countries but it’s all about how to learn to love where you are living, respect the people and the custom. I speak Macedonian, I love the food and last but not least I Love my man.

    Best of Luck Lise

  3. Hi Lise, its great to read this. I live in Ireland 9 years. As you know I am Dutch. It was also great to read Viktor’s view. The language in Dublin is English as Irish is only spoken by a very small percentage and in some areas. One time I was thinking of learning it but not knowing anyone who speaks it I spent more time on travelling around the country and meet people and enjoy there pub and music culture. I saw so much more than most Irish of the country and I never finish. But hanging out with foreigners and locals is important for me. Also hanging out with Dutch as it will stay your own language and culture. I never going to feel Irish but I am not dully Dutch either anymore. The foreign people understand you and you make friends so much easier with people that had an international experience. Meeting Irish is the reason maybe why I am here and I feel the Irish culture is going so well together with thr Dutch. I also suggest everyone to spend time aboard and meet the locals. It give you much different and more creativer view on everything. It doesnt matter what country.

    1. Hi Bianca!
      I agree with you, hanging out with locals is important to me as well.
      But hanging out with the Dutch and making fun of each others accents or listening to Guus Meeuwis (which normally I would never listen to) or complaining of course, makes you miss your own people, and I am very happy to have a small group of Dutch people here in Skopje.
      I wish you all the best!

  4. Thank you Lise,
    It’s very true what you say about living abroad. I think that when people move to a different country they expand their thinking. They think more about the world and less about their own lives. So they do change but I think it is a good thing. It’s finding a better version of yourself. I have lived in Ecuador for the last 5 years. Even though it has been 5 years, I feel the same as you do that I am still learning. You are also right about the different type of foreigners that there are. I think it’s important to be someone who takes the good of all cultures.
    Thank you so much for your well written article

    1. Hi Ashley,
      Thank you so much for your comment!
      When you live abroad you experience a new you, and a better you. You learn so much about yourself in a very short period.
      I do believe if you have the right approach and mind set you will take the good of all the cultures around you.
      But every person is different 😉 Have a nice day!

  5. Hey, wat leuk om nog een Nederlander in Skopje aan te treffen 🙂 (alweer, haha) Moet de rest van je blogs nog lezen, maar ik vond je verhaal over de zomers in Skopje erg herkenbaar en grappig. Wij gaan in de zomer eigenlijk bijna elke dag naar Matka om af te koelen 😉

    Ik ga snel verder lezen!

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  7. Hallo,
    Zeer interessante gebeurtenis om te emigreren. Respect hoe jij je daar aangepast hebt. Het is juist een uitdaging om met de plaatselijke bevolking te mengen; de albanezen, macedoniers en andere minderheden zonder de voorkeur te geven aan een bevolkingsgroep. Zo ontdek je de ware kant van het land.
    Bij mij is het tegenovergestelde. Ik ben geboren in Skopje en woon nu in NL. Toen, als 14 jarige jongen zijn we hier naartoe geëmigreerd. Moeilijke leeftijd.. Ben volledig ingeburgerd; getrouwd en twee kids. Heb een goed gemiddeld en rustig leven hier. Ondanks de vele bezoeken (minimaal 2x/jaar) aan MK heb ik zoiets van heimwee. Hoe ouder je wordt hoe meer je je geboorteplaats mist! Ik spreek de talen nog vloeiend, moedertaal Albanees, Macedonisch en Nederlands. Engels en Duits spreek ik ook heel goed. Heb nu nog 26 jaar tot mijn pensieon…;-)
    Als de financiële kant het zou toelaten zou ik wel terug willen keren, maar..
    Ik weet dat mijn kinderen NL niet voor MK zouden omruilen. Vakanties ja, maar niet om te wonen.
    Wat betreft de politieke situatie, zou ik zeggen dat ze steeds meer vooruitgang boeken.
    Moeilijke keus voor mij!

    1. Hi Ibrahim,
      Dankje voor je verhaal. Ik kan begrijpen waarom je Macedonië mist, in veel opzichten is het niet te vergelijken met Nederland.
      Ik ben blij om te horen dat je zo goed bent ingeburgerd in Nederland, maar nooit het gevoel met Macedonië bent verloren.
      Voorlopig zit ik hier goed en heb ik mijn leven hier opgebouwd. Hopelijk kan jij ook voor jezelf de juiste keuze maken, al kan deze nog zo lastig zijn!
      Groetjes, Lise

  8. Hi Lise,I would like to thank you fthis blog because I have received valuable information on the country when I moved here,it was a great help.I am wondering if you still live in Macedonia as there is no more post from February 2017. Best regards

    1. Hi Eva,

      Thanks for your comment!
      I do still live here in Skopje, but I haven’t had time nor inspiration to start writing again 🙁
      Best regards!

      1. Hi Lise,
        As we live in the same city with many nice places with good coffee and if you have some time please contact me.It would be a pleasure to thank you personally this blog and also to get to know you.Best regards

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