Mrs Day Lewis is originally from the UK, she has emigrated to Canada and Finland and is now a resident in Greece.
For most people, moving to another country is only a pipe dream, out of the millions of people who want to move only a small proportion actually do it. Emigrating is a once in a lifetime opportunity and once completed most Expats plan to stay in their new country for the long haul. Well, if emigrating once is extraordinary then Mrs Day Lewis is a one –off as she is now settled after her third emigration.
‘I have now lived in 3 countries apart from my birth country (it can become a bit of an addiction!)’ she confesses, before explaining how she happened to make her first move: ’In the late 70s as a newly wed teen, I moved to Toronto, Canada with my then husband who had family in the country, He moved out there first and a month later I joined him’.
Like many who move to a new country, their original motive was to seek new opportunity. ‘We both had interviews at Canada House in London and as soon as we had done that we were determined to make the leap and emigrate’. Being so young, the whole experience was a learning curve and with youth on their side they perhaps didn’t do the necessary research: ‘We arrived in Canada with just a few hundred dollars but the biggest shock to the system was how cold it was – we arrived in the middle of winter!’ With hindsight and the experience of a few more moves Mrs Lewis would have definitely done one or two things differently. ‘It would have been nicer to have a bit more money because we had to go without a lot of furniture and other comforts for the first few months’. The major mistake she made was breaking the cardinal rule of emigration, visiting the place before you move. But Mrs Lewis doesn’t have any regrets.
Once in Canada they got used to their new surroundings and built a life. ‘Once we had adjusted after a few months,’ she explains, ‘the best thing about our new lives was the space, we were surrounded by land and nature. The homes were bigger and there was a better attitude to life and leisure time’. Despite enjoying Canada for over twenty years and having two children whilst she was there, in 2001, she decided to move all the way to Finland. Having got one move under her belt, she had the confidence to complete another one, knowing how well she had adapted the first time.
With the children older and independent, Mrs Lewis wanted a new adventure and when a job opportunity came her way she grabbed it with both hands. For the next seven years she settled in Oulu (northern Finland), once again getting used to a new way of life and now a new language. But when her work contract ended it was time for yet another move: ‘I rented out my house, and have been in Athens Greece ever since,’ she says.
So, how is it that Mrs Lewis has done three times what some people struggle to do once? And what were the most difficult things about this process?
Having dedicated yourself to getting to know a country, it’s difficult to leave and start the entire process again, especially if this means saying goodbye to a life you enjoy. ‘The most difficult part is saying goodbye to friends and swapping one culture for another’. And by the sounds of it, emigrating has made Mrs Lewis a lot of friends. ‘In each place I found an ex-pat community, which was so helpful and important because it means that you have a good chance to find people and make friends from your own country. Even if you make friends with ex-pats from different countries you all share the same problems and feelings – trying to learn a new language, financial difficulties, being lonely or isolated, looking for work, going back to school, being far away from family’. Its all these worries that help bring Ex-pats together and make them a tight community. ‘When you are aware from home you often end up becoming a ‘family’ of various nationalities, and helping each other to find food sources, homes and jobs. You even spend holidays together’. And despite the difficulties of having to leave each country the strong relationships she made have stayed with her. ’I have dear friends who come from Brazil, Indonesia, Morocco, Iran, South Africa, UK, Ukraine, NL, Romania, Armenia and China – people who are like brothers, sisters and even daughters!’
Having so much experience in the process of moving to a different country and having done it so successfully several times, most prospective immigrants would probably jump at the chance to ask Mrs Lewis a few questions. And she certainly has a lot of advice for them. The main area of focus, is somewhat an area of expertise for her: adapting to a new country. ‘My first piece of advice would be to STAY! Many people find they get very homesick, especially in the first year. If you can stick it out, it gets much better’. She certainly has a point, after all a high proportion of Expats return in the first year, some even keeping their properties at home just in case they want to return. One of the main problems for newcomers to a country is the feeling of isolation and not being involved in the community, Mrs Lewis explains:
‘Some people are ex-pat from choice – because they wanted to move from their homeland, and others are ex-pat by need – because they couldn’t stay in their homeland or accompanied a partner to another part of the world (usually for their job). But, both can suffer the loneliness and sometimes depression of being away from their loved ones and familiar life. Unless they are quite wealthy, it will often be years before they can return to see their homeland, so it is vital to get involved in the new life as soon as possible – and finding the familiar language, food and understanding from other ex pats is a huge relief’.
If you are in this situation Mrs Lewis can suggest a wealth of things you can do: ‘If there is no group to suit your needs – start one. In a small town in Ontario Canada, I started up a group who met once a month called ”British Ladies”. If you have a hobby – find a local club or group, or learn a new skill from your new culture. It all helps you to blend in, find your place, and enjoy the new life’. The trick is just to be proactive enough to make a new life for yourself rather than expecting it to make itself.
‘If you can get involved with schools, work, churches, clubs and make friends you will find yourself fitting in faster. Try and turn to other immigrants who will be in the same situation. Also, don’t keep trying to compare your new life with your old – Realize that the new culture has its own gems and try them’. Mrs Lewis does have point, the old ‘grass isn’t greener,’ syndrome is probably familiar to a lot of people on the Expat Forum. But the key to survival is understanding the differences in the two cultures. ‘Keep in mind that the things you consider important or a priority might not be such in another culture and your hobbies may have to change. If you are used to getting your hair cut, taking a taxi, going to the theatre etc you may find these activities to be very expensive or rare in your new country’. However, as Mrs Lewis points out, in most countries, if you have to give one thing up there will be a wealth of new activities on hand. ‘Try enjoying nature pursuits such as camping, and finding wild foods, it’s very easy and very cheap’. With such a huge list of ideas, it’s no wonder Mrs Lewis has made so many friends within her travels but what about the different cultures? Often, little things like different cuisine are enough to make people feel alienated in their new home. ‘Different countries will have a unique culture and their own tastes in food, fashion and life style, and you will need to adapt your own tastes to what is acceptable and available’ Mrs Lewis explains. ‘But never fear – there will always be people interested to learn about your culture and try your foods!’
Apart from the emotional roller coaster, moving country can have a rather scary affect on your bank balance too. Getting used to a new currency, being unaware of the cheapest way around things and hidden costs can often creep up on the new Expat. Having lived in four different countries, Mrs Lewis has had a wealth of differences to get used to. ‘Canada was cheaper in many ways to the UK, but not so much now. My 2nd country, Finland was much more expensive for almost everything. Now in Greece, I find prices to be comparable or less than UK and Finland’ she recalls. We’re used to comparing prices but Mrs Lewis suggests this might not actual reveal the value for money you receive in each place. ‘Maybe its better to consider quality,’ she suggests, ‘because its possible to find cheap Chinese products everywhere, but their quality is usually very below that of European or North American items. Local foods will always be better quality and price’. Also, what often isn’t included in an immigrants new cost of living is the products that might not be a necessity in your new country. ‘You will likely find yourself having to make purchases that you never needed before – snow suits, air conditioners, even travel tickets,’ Mrs Lewis explains, pointing out that it’s worth researching these areas if you’re trying to calculate your monthly spending.
Despite having lived away from England, for nearly thirty years there are still things Mrs Lewis misses about her home country and it’s more than likely this we never change. As with many Ex-pats, it’s often the small things that we miss from home: ‘Apart from my family and friends, I really miss the food and English TV and magazines. But thanks to the Internet it’s easier to catch up with these things now’.
So, with all her experience of travelling and having lived in three different countries, does Mrs Lewis think she’ll ever return to good old Blighty?
‘I have considered it many times,’ she confesses, ‘but whenever I have returned for holidays I always remembered why I left and realize I could probably never be happy to be back full time. Once you have children and house and job in your new country, you feel more a part of the new life than the old’. Mrs Lewis certainly gives truth to the saying that home is where the heart is. So, if you’re about to set off on your move to a new country and are nervous about whether or not you’ll enjoy it, then take note from Mrs Lewis. After all, if she can adapt to three different countries, how hard can it be to get used to one?