It is said that there are four stages of expat life: Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Acceptance. After living overseas for more than fifteen years and in several countries, I know these stages well and have come to expect them. When I first arrived in Bratislava, seven months ago already, my husband and I attended some expat meet ups. Plastered smile, death grip on a beverage. I’d rather hang out in a spider-infested outhouse in the Papua New Guinean jungle. However, we didn’t want to be totally isolated as we had been in Budapest.
It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I was stunned by the sheer amount and velocity of the chatter. The longest monologue clocked in at two hours. Yes, I was looking at my watch. Maybe they were starved for social interaction, or maybe I’ve gotten used to being a recluse. By the end of the get togethers, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Some were lifers, doing the expat circuit. Their monologues were polished to a sheen. Others had been in Slovakia for many years, and yet had no family or other obligations chaining them here.
We did achieve reciprocal conversation with a handful of people. It went a little like this:
“I like it here. I feel good here.” I shrugged, fully aware of the Honeymoon stage. I was keeping my expectations realistic this time.
Seven months is enough time for the glamour glow to begin to dissipate. The Frustration stage is an ugly hag. Over the years, I’ve definitely been guilty of ranting about the pettiest of problems and attributing them to the place. Sometimes there were legitimate problems with the country. Sometimes it was just my own negativity. Because I’d so often heard that Bratislava was boring compared to Budapest, I was unsure of how the move would turn out. Would we regret it like everyone said we would?
There’s something different this time around. A physical sensation of calm. I don’t feel that tug of restlessness or hear that where to next mantra running through my brain. I’ve managed to go directly to the Acceptance phase.
After two months, we stopped going to the meetups. I was lucky enough to find what I needed almost immediately: a hiking partner, who’s a Slovak. I’ve now got two things that I’ve wanted: interaction with locals and hiking in the mountains.
The icons of Bratislava have become familiar, but no less endearing. Much remains to be discovered in the back streets of this little city. Traces of the past mingled with enough grunge to keep it interesting. And beyond the city limits: castles and more mountains.
I refrain from using the “f” word: forever. My life is too spontaneous, and the world is too volatile. I’m just going to enjoy this contentment while I can.