nomad to resident
Zürich, Switzerland

Walking into a bike shop today to pick up a part, I heard the owner helping a tourist who spoke English. The shop owner turned to me, continuing to speak in English, then corrected himself, asking me in German how he could help me. For simplicity’s sake and because it was just a matter of a few words, I just responded in German, and that’s what we spoke for the remainder of our interaction. Meanwhile, he (the shop owner) was intermittently turning and speaking English to the other guy. I left the shop, not having spoken a single word of English, never letting on that, for me, it would have been just as well if the shop owner hadn’t troubled himself to switch back to German.

Ten minutes later, I had walked up the street to the grocery store where I found myself being asked by a fellow shopper if I happen to speak English. I suppose he never realized it was actually my mother tongue. But that wasn’t the issue at hand. The issue was coffee creamer, and he couldn’t find it. The most traumatic moment of my day was breaking the news to him that they don’t sell Coffeemate in Germany. Traumatic for both of us really, because I deeply empathized. I listened, pained, as he continued down all the aisles asking everyone if they’d seen it. He was in denial.

The most traumatic moment was breaking the news that they don't sell Coffeemate in Germany. Click To Tweet

A little while later I found myself giving directions and train times to a Swiss person at the train station. As I waited for my train I finally stopped to reflect on how strange this whole day seemed. I sort of felt perhaps I’d wake up soon from a dream about some other person. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Who even are you anymore, Kay?” When did I become the person giving these sorts of answers instead of the one asking them? Was it even me? “I” had seemed to be watching some other girl blend in with society. There was this strange feeling I’d seen her before, but I didn’t really recognize her. She spoke in German as if it was second nature. She wasn’t the one feeling lost in the grocery store. She was the one who “just happened” to be able to speak English. You know, instead of being the one hoping someone could speak English to her and point her in the right direction.

I wish it was a sure sign of acclimating and integrating, but I’m honestly not so sure. It feels more like just another stage of it. The one where I get just that much further from the person I knew myself as, even just a couple of years ago. Or maybe it’s that some people experience culture shock, and I, instead, experience “adjustment shock”– a feeling of wonder that I actually lived somewhere long enough to know where things are located in the grocery store aisles.

adjustment shock: a feeling of wonder that I actually lived somewhere long enough to know where things are in the grocery store. #expatlife Click To Tweet

Regardless, I’ll chalk this weird feeling up to being some sort of hidden bonus to expat life, although that sounds perhaps a little too positive for what I’m feeling at the moment. It’s simply yet another stage when I have to tell myself, “just give yourself time.” But instead of giving myself time to adjust, I’ll be giving myself time to adjust to adjusting. I guess. If that’s even what this hard-to-define feeling is.

Why not share your story(ies) of adjusting to a new place or new life? Which stage of it are you at?

If you use Pinterest, please pin the image below!

nomad to resident
Expat life, nomad life, and becoming a resident. The process of settling down and adjusting

Leave a Reply

8 Comment threads
5 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
9 Comment authors
Liliane FawzyKayJeannieSarahDaphne Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Tanya Korteling

I can completely relate to this. Starting to find the same thing in Cambodia (minus being able to get hold a proper conversation in Khmer).. You almost don’t even notice the change from Nomad to resident!


Lovely post. I can relate on so many levels. When I first moved to France, I needed help with absolutely everything as I couldn’t speak a single word in french and the french are not exactly known to be comfortable speaking English (even if they understand more than you think they do). Although I still don’t feel like a local, I at least behave like one and blend in a lot more than before.


I totally feel you. I have had that experience as an ex-pat, having lived in a few different countries now. This is actually the first time I haven’t felt at home and have not been absorbed in the country. I live in Niamey, Niger, and being an expat here in a lot harder than I ever imagined. I cannot wait to move.

Olivia Thibault

I can definitely relate to the guy trying to find the coffee creamer! It’s so strange that we grow up with certain “necessities” that are unheard of in different countries.

xoxo Olivia


I feel like it takes a long, long time, at least several years to actually assimilate into a new culture. But sometimes, you just feel like you’re home after spending a few days in a new city. Perspective!

I’m about to leave Colombia, home for the past 8 months. But I’ll be finding new temporary homes in Europe for the summer and possibly settle down for a few months in Mexico afterward 🙂


I had a similar experience in Peru recently. When I arrived I could barely speak a word of Spanish and just fumbled my way around but by the time I’d settled in I was the one explaining bus timetables to locals and translating for people who were like the me of a few months before. It’s an amazing feeling!


This is seriously one of the best feelings ever! I had this when I had lived in Iceland for a few months, it feels good to be able to say even the little things to blend in with the locals!

Liliane Fawzy

I totally see how surreal this must have felt. But it’s also a really cool experience to fully blend in!