Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
Today’s interview features Rapha. Originally from New York, she moved to Europe at age 22 and has now managed to secure EU citizenship. Currently she lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, has a passion for helping Americans looking for work in Europe and has some invaluable tips to share with us today on moving, living and working abroad.
Hi Rapha! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m originally from Buffalo, New York, but I’ve been living in Copenhagen, Denmark for the past seven years and Paris for a year before that. I was working the whole time in Marketing and Brand Management, getting my first job ever based in Paris straight out of university. Adding in the years before that studying abroad and basically my whole adult life has been overseas! Since I’m finally an EU citizen as of one year ago, I’ve left the corporate world and now help two groups of people: other young American professionals who really want to find a job in Europe, and expat wives who need help to shine during their time abroad. The passion runs deep; I could go on forever about these two topics and how to make it happen! Besides that though, I’m a singer/songwriter and foreign language nerd. Something about me and words go well together.
What motivated you to move abroad?
It wasn’t a motivation as much as it was something that I just felt I was meant to do. For as long as I can remember I had this obsession with foreign countries. For me, not living where I am from meant adventure, excitement. My grandparents are from Latvia, which is not a country many people knew about, and I think that had a big part to play. Foreign was familiar, being foreign was doable. I was fascinated by the idea of speaking in a language that someone else couldn’t understand, I thought that was so cool. I bought a French dictionary at the book fair in elementary school and begged my parents to help me learn some with their decades-old French knowledge. When I finally traveled to Europe with my family at 15 I was just hooked. Abroad or bust, baby.
Between more travels and studies abroad in university, Europe felt like my home. This was my ideal lifestyle and I just HAD to keep living it. Especially since I was on the cusp of graduating and having to get a real world job. I felt like I knew too much…I just couldn’t accept the American work culture grind when Europe has this amazing work/life balance. My parents wanted me to get a job at an international American company and maybe transfer someday. That sounded awful. I set my sights on a job in Europe straight from the get go and thankfully Plan A panned out!
Where all have you lived abroad? What place was your favorite and why?
I studied abroad in Brazil, Portugal, Sweden and Poland. Then I’ve lived and worked in France and Denmark. It’s so hard for me to choose favorites. Copenhagen is definitely still one of my favorite places even after seven years, but I do get a little “grass is greener” feeling for other places I’ve lived… I’m going to go with Lisbon, Portugal as my final answer. It’s just a magical place, some of the best sights and sounds in Europe. If I close my eyes I can put myself back on the narrow cobblestone streets looking up at the laundry hanging down from all apartments, making my way to Bairro Alto for an amazing night on the town until the bakery opens the next morning. We didn’t even make plans, just showed up at Bairro Alto and everyone we knew was there already. I lived with a Portuguese family who fed me amazing Portuguese foods, and don’t even remind me about the combo of coffee+pastel de nata (a sort of egg custard pastry).
What’s the most difficult part about living abroad? What’s the best part?
The most difficult part for me is what I call “freedom pains”. One of my favorite quotes about expat living comes from an old Economist article and goes:
The dilemma of foreignness comes down to one of liberty versus fraternity—the pleasures of freedom versus the pleasures of belonging. The homebody chooses the pleasures of belonging. The foreigner chooses the pleasures of freedom, and the pains that go with them.
Everyone loves to belong, no matter how independent you are. When you live abroad, you never entirely belong in your host country…and you might find after a time you don’t totally belong anymore in your home country either. I can’t help but feel pangs when I see someone who chose a simpler, more homey path look really happy in their wedding pictures surrounded by childhood friends. Even though that’s just not me, the wiring to want that is there. Many say that they miss their family. And I do, but I see my parents more often than my brother who lives an hour’s flight away in Philadelphia due to my six weeks of vacation, and I’m at every family reunion when others couldn’t find the time. Another perk of working in Europe!
The best part about living abroad is having done something you dreamt of doing, what others only will still dream of doing. No matter what you do now, you ticked that box. You take it for granted even, you forget about the hardships you went through to make it happen. But that’s because when you live abroad, hard becomes your new easy. It’s like playing life on level hard all the time, so you’re really good at beating this level every day. Your personal growth shoots through the roof without effort, it has to.
What have you learned from living abroad?
In reality there are no rules. We all just kind of accept our own norms and customs as fact, but in another country those are totally different. Who is right? No one. In the US you’d freak out if you were still studying at 25, you’d be old. In Denmark, you’d freak out if you couldn’t study and delay working until you were 28. It’s really empowering to realize you were handed a blue print of how to lead your life that someone else designed, but you could also design something from scratch, or tweak things. You don’t need anyone’s approval. You’re your own little culture!
What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?
I have a couple of mantras that I like. One of them is “Where else do I have to be?” As in, where else do I have to be other than living my life, doing whatever I’m doing right now figuring out whatever I’m trying to figure out. It reminds me there are no rules. If I’m afraid or just want to stay on the couch I might think “life experience!” to push me out of the comfort zone. And, if I’m ever in a desperate, bleak looking, frustrating situation I’ll keep in mind “this will be a funny story”.
Another secret is to just start thinking about how you want to feel. Put your blah on hold and just let those great feelings that you want wash over you as if you didn’t have whatever situation was bugging you…and I find that I can continue to feel that way, because it feels better! The situation loses its hold, it just is.
What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?
Too tough!!! I’ll take a recent place, which is definitely in the top of the all-time list. Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. I don’t know why I thought this, or when exactly, but I think some years ago I heard Tasmania mentioned and I remember thinking “Wow, Tasmania. I might never get to see that place.” Something about it for me at the time represented an unattainable travel goal; how would I get there, who would want to go with? If I went to Australia, I’ll probably go to places like Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef right?
I finally went to Australia on a solo trip earlier this year for my birthday, with Melbourne as my main destination on purpose. Because then I could take a short flight to Hobart, Tasmania! When I arrived there, it really felt special. Like I was seeing something I wasn’t meant to see.
Not even talking about the personal travel significance, the landscape is just gorgeous. And to top it off my airbnb host was amazing and I got the chance to hang out with local Tassies. So not only did I make it to Tasmania, for a brief moment in time I belonged there!
Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?
I don’t have a bucket list per se, but my goal is to visit every single country in my lifetime. I have major country FOMO. We’re all organized within these arbitrary borders called countries, and I just have this urge to see what everyone is up to, even if only for a brief moment. I’m up to 51 on six continents, and will reach 56 by the end of 2015. Lots to go right, don’t remind me, but not too bad with having a full-time corporate job until recently.
Do you watch TED Talks? What’s your favorite one?
Not regularly, but entrepreneur Derek Sivers has done a bunch of them I like. His style in general really resonates with me, and his TED talks no exception! He has one called “How to start a movement”, about how the first follower will transform any lone crazy person into a leader, and from there you get the crowd, and from there you get the movement. The first follower is the real ground breaker, the leader is overrated!
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
In speaking to my clients who want to find a job and move to Europe, I’ve come to realize that the doubts come from two different sources: guilt and fear. Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and write out those guilt driven doubts on one side, and fear driven on the other. The guilt ones you’ll see will most likely have to do with missing your family, or not doing “what you’re supposed to do” in life, going off the default path. The fear ones will be more varied, like what about your salary, what about finding an apartment, speaking X language.
When you’ve mapped out every single doubt in front of you, take a moment to think. Are you ready to let go of these? If you found information, or got advice that would erase those doubts, would you be happy to let them go or would you find new ones? Will you be able to get over this guilt? Some people aren’t ready to let go. They want to ensure it wasn’t their fault they didn’t achieve their dream of moving abroad, so they’ll keep changing the list to include things they can’t control, or compare apples to oranges.
If you realize that you are willing to let it go and just are genuinely having a few doubts that are getting in your way, then there are a lot of very low-risk ways to go about researching into these. For example, one of my students was really concerned about whether or not his heart condition would mean expensive medical bills if he moved to the UK. I told him to look at the rules for foreigners on the National Health Service’s website, call them up and ask them. He got an answer in fifteen minutes and that fear was gone.
After all, where else do you have to be, other than right here right now researching into making your dream happen? J
Any advice specifically for people who want to do what you did, and get a professional job in Europe?
Tons! But one thing I really want to hit home is that your number one focus is the job. We get caught up in our doubts about how to find an apartment, already planning our weekend trips to different countries, and we forget. We forget that the key to making this dream happen is being amazing at whatever job you do, being able to communicate that, and ultimately have a boss in Europe say they want to hire you and only you. The key to your life in Europe is the job. Worried about the work visa? Again, the key is the job, who employs you, who vouches for you. Everything starts with the job offer and you go from there. Most people jump ahead of themselves, which is normal, but I try to reign them back in. If you are stressing about finding an apartment because you have a job offer, that is a GREAT problem to have. You want that problem! So banish your doubts like I suggest above, and focus exclusively on your professional self getting that job offer.
A huge thanks to Rapha for being part of the interview series! If you´re interested in knowing more about how to find a job in Europe, check out Rapha´s website You, Me, Europe where you can download a free guide or get in touch with her for personalized help.
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Are you interested in working with me? You can learn more about my 1:1 coaching services HERE.
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