Looking back at our posts I can see how a reader might think our life is turning out some degree of perfect, so its time for a bit of writing about the tough bits. Younger versions of us probably thought that sayings like “where ever you go, there you are” were either gibberish or, at best, simplistic but it turns out to be right on the money. John has an old friend from college who is one of those people who actually did transform his life and now helps other people do the same (hi, Jeff!), and he told John something not too long ago that knocked both of us on our butts. Jeff said (paraphrasing) “you have built the perfect life for maintaining the exact state you are currently in.” Changing where you live definitely qualifies as shaking things up, but you might be surprised how hard you’ll try to adapt your current systems instead of taking advantage of the moment to change it all up. More on that in a bit.
Doing everything in a different language is draining and honestly the hardest aspect of living outside the US. Every interaction can be an exercise in bewilderment. We’ve both gotten to a point where we can get through a lot of basic conversations UNDERSTANDING the local, but neither of us is very good with vocabulary. (John is much further along the learning spectrum than Lisa, while Lisa is better at inferring context, but we’re both still at the most basic level.) What really makes us sad is when a local talks to us, clearly in a friendly manner, and we just have no way of engaging. Its a lost opportunity to extend our boundaries and become more “of” the community rather than remaining just “in” the community.
Relatedly, getting things done at the bureaucratic level is wearying. Partly because of our lack of language skills, but also because they think of how to do things differently in so many ways. This includes healthcare. To get an appointment at our local hospital (where our private insurance covers us) we can theoretically send a note through their website. However, when we get no response after the auto-reply for weeks we are left to wonder whether its a language issue, a lack of staffing, or the internet ate the response. So then we have to do what everyone does: go to the hospital’s waiting room, get a ticket, and wait our turn so we can talk to a human. Not hard at all, of course, just not as simple as it had been for us in the States. And wearying. Until we get there, we have no idea how busy the room is, how many people are staffing, or how available appointment slots will be. Oh, and whether we’ll have a clerk who speaks English or if this will be conducted via translation software on our phones.
One of our plans for moving here was that we’d both develop new — healthier — habits based on getting MORE. More sleep. More veg & fruit. More exercise. And we do, but not enough. Turns out that we brought ourselves with us, and we’ve got years of being sedentary keeping us from achieving those objectives. Some days we don’t leave the apartment, despite having actual errands to run and things to do. Often, its having a date with someone that pries us out — and we are so grateful to everyone who Whatsapps us on a whim to invite for coffee or a meal. This staying in happens despite feeling safe in our neighborhood (and city) and genuinely being interested in what is around us in all directions. Moreover, our city has a lot of events going on all of the time. If we make it to the city center (a mere 15 minutes away) we are pretty much guaranteed to see something different.
In the end, and here’s what we’d label a “take-away” from this week’s post, moving to Portugal was all about having new opportunities and it has been precisely that. Next week we’ll be writing about our 10th Anniversary get away to a magical location, and next month we are making *two* trips that would have been inconceivable to us just 12 months ago. However, new opportunities aren’t the same thing as a magic wand. Some of you are thinking “well duh” right now, but as the kids say these days – “I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but”: whatever work you’re doing on yourself doesn’t go away on a new continent, and it doesn’t necessarily even get easier. Different, sure, but whoever you are right now is who’ll you be in your dream home even if the dream is everything you’d hoped and more.