Top Ten Reasons Why Being an Expat Makes You a Better Person

By: Marissa Bognanno

1. It makes you strong.

There will be moments, whether you’ve been living in your host country for years or just days, that you will feel the inevitable pangs of homesickness. It might be the most depressing day of the year for an expat (Thanksgiving) or an ordinary day where you’re feeling like no one but you can relate to the desire to eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon. When you keep moving forward, your emotions sink down into the deep, and your expat skin gets a little bit tougher.

2. It teaches you compromise.

In my case, most of my compromise has to do with food. When I learned Italian supermarkets were deprived of peanut butter (see Reason #1), I learned to make do with Nutella. And when Thanksgiving rolled around that first year (see again Reason #1), I found a rotisserie chicken salesman who “knew a guy” who could get me a turkey. The turkey was triple the size I was expecting and covered in feathers, but I had my feast all the same.

3. You learn to accept yourself.

When I first arrived in Barletta, it was August and about a million degrees. Even still, on Friday nights the women (and the men for that matter) would be dressed to the nines -- full makeup, hair shiny and blown out, snazzy outfits with four-inch heels, jewelry and an overall sparkliness that I had yet to experience in all my 22 years. Can you imagine where I’m going with this? Yes, I was the americana who stuck out like a sore thumb in flip-flops, a t-shirt and jean cut-offs. It was way too hot for anything else. When I felt self-conscious, I remembered that those girls were not me, and that I would have been so uncomfortable dressed like that. That thought was freeing, and I began to embrace my non-polished ways.

4. The new culture will teach you a thing or two about life.

With Reason #3 being said, there was plenty about Italians and the “Italian way” that shaped who I am today -- for the better. First, the cultural attitude of taking things slowly helped me immensely when I had bouts of anxiety. No one cares if you’re 10, 15 or even 20 minutes late in Italy. Everything is run with calma, and it’s refreshing. Less conservative than Americans, Italians are full of life and will sing or dance at the drop of a hat -- I love that. They have no scruples when it comes to having a good time, and they don’t get embarrassed easily.

5. You will get satisfaction from sharing your traditions.

You would not believe how I great I felt when I made cupcakes and classic chocolate chip cookies for a group of Italian girlfriends. Pride, joy, satisfaction, wonder.  Would I be exaggerating in saying that it was probably akin to giving birth? Maybe not. 

6. Seeing your culture in a new light.

I have never been a flag-toting type of American, but rather a fairly liberal, college-kid type. When I moved to Italy, all that changed; and when it comes up in conversation, I talk about “my country” like a proud war veteran. Being far away has that affect on you, because you understand that you will always love your country, for better or worse. 

7. The distance will bring you closer to your loved ones.

It seems like it would be the opposite, right? When you have limited Skype time or a few minutes left on a phone card, you cherish that time and make those minutes count. Sunday afternoons have become my Skype time ritual; and when I talk to my family and friends we try to cover every subject possible. If I were living at home, I would take for granted the fact that we could talk anytime.

8. You’ll learn a new language or two.

I already spoke a fair amount of scholastic Italian when I arrived, but I had no idea there was also slang, everyday expressions, proverbs and a whole dialect to learn! I had my work cut out for me, and everyday was a new discovery in terms of the language. I finally felt like I “had it” when I became obsessed with an Italian police drama. I thought to myself, “I’m watching an Italian TV show and I’m into it?! This is crazy.” 

9. You become brave.

I’ve been in Italy for five years now and I knew that one day I would inevitably get the call that someone at home had died. It’s morbid, I know, but you have to psych yourself out for things like that. In my case, it happened last week, and it was my Dad. All I could do to keep from going crazy was to take action -- buy a plane ticket and go home. Those traveling hours weren’t the easiest, but when I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home just a day later, I felt so relieved and comforted. Bravery just becomes a part of you when you’re an expat. 

10. You realize how lucky you are.  

When something really tragic happens, like Reason #9, or really great, like marrying my husband, you have two sets of families and friends to share it with. Two sets of people who love you unconditionally. Two sets of people looking out for you. That’s the best thing about being an expat.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMarissa Bognanno is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: the boot - the love song within a foreign film that is my life. recipes for the budding home cook, stories about me and my Italian (soon-to-be-husband) Manu, and snippets of life in Italy.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments

Sue Cooper wrote 10 years ago:

Well I can definitely identify with all those! I moved to ancona 7 months ago from the uk. It's nice to know other people have gone through the same thing :-) Sorry to hear about your terrible news - stay strong! Glad to have discovered your blog.

Kate Bonanno wrote 10 years ago:

Although I've never lived away from home for any length of time, I can only imagine that the experience forces an individual to grow in many ways. I think Marissa did a beautiful job describing what she feels, what she has learned and how she has become a better person -- something we all aspire to achieve. She has my vote!

Jennifer wrote 10 years ago:

I do feel lucky every day I get to wake up in Italy!

Yvette wrote 10 years ago:

You hit some excellent points that most of us expats can relate to. #9 is the worse part and we’ve already gone through that once. The turkey with the feathers part make me gigglesnort! We went out looking for ham here in Dubai last Thanksgiving and found one for a whopping $100! I decided I can go without the ham.

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