The Big Move: Our First Six Months

The Big Move: Our First Six Months

Today marks six months exactly since I boarded a ship with the girls – our puppers, Macy and Tillie – and started our transatlantic journey. It was our last day in America. As I kissed Mike goodbye (temporarily) and stepped through the security checkpoint at the dock, I flashed between thrilled and terrified.

What if this is all a huge mistake? What if no one in Lisbon likes us? What if spending 24 hours a day together makes us feel like *we* don’t like us?

Yes, I’m good at worrying. And no, none of those worries came true. Duh.

In fact, for every one thing that has gone wrong, at least two more have gone right. I mean, we have our residence cards, we’re enrolled in Portugal’s national healthcare system, and we’ve even switched our U.S. drivers’ licenses for Portuguese ones.

So far, the overall experience of moving overseas has been incredible. Expat life reminds me a lot of college: learning something new every day, figuring out where I fit in, and feeling like the whole world is open to us.

It’s been about personal growth and celebrating tons of small successes. Ultimately, too, it’s made me question everything I thought I knew about grown-up life.

Probably the most important lesson I’ve come away with so far is the importance of building habits.

Because I was just emerging from cubicle life, I was super-psyched to experience life beyond a tightly scheduled day. The Big Move definitely loosened things up – to pretty much no schedule at all. Non-structured time isn’t something I have much experience with.

I am, at my heart, a creature of habit. I think most people are. You’re probably nodding your head right now.

So I built habits that made our Big Move easier. These three have become the foundation of my first six months, giving me structure without confinement, if that makes sense. They’ve kept me grounded and happy during a time of tremendous change – important for anyone who’s made their own Big Move.

Make a list

This one’s a no-brainer. I use my trusty yellow legal pads (which are not easy to find in Lisbon, by the way) and my favorite pink pen to write out each day’s tasks, goals, or things we need for the new apartment.

It’s a small ritual that doesn’t seem that important – but if I don’t do it, I’m basically wandering around with my coffee, wondering where the day went.

I write down just about every goal for the day, big or small, and I always throw in a couple of super easy ones – like “make coffee” – so I always feel like I’ve accomplished something right away. It keeps me focused, and helps me chip away at the massive process of re-establishing ourselves.

Practice the language

One of the smartest things we did when we moved was sign up for intensive language classes right away.

One of the dumbest things we did was stop practicing when those classes ended.

Lesson learned. Now I practice every day, because learning Portuguese has been exactly like working out: if I don’t do it regularly, the next time I jump into it, it’s awkward and painful, and I never want to do it again. Until the next time, with the same ugly results.

Classes in Lisbon can be expensive, and not all proficiency levels are offered all the time, so I made it my mission to find a good language app. First, there aren’t a ton of them that teach European Portuguese (which is pretty different from Brazilian Portuguese), and second, my impatient nature means I have a really low tolerance for boring or confusing apps.

One app I’ve loved, however, has been Memrise. It’s like playing a game, is easy to use, and has been incredibly helpful as I try to remember all the stuff I learned in February. I actually look forward to practicing – which has made this habit much easier to build.

 Learn the city

There’s a lot happening here. Lisbon is a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity. Even though we’d visited a number of times before the Big Move, the city was still largely a mystery once we settled here.

As with any new experience, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Once we realized how much we were missing out on, Mike and I started scheduling time to explore different neighborhoods. And because he’s awesome, he’s made a list of restaurants all over the city – so we take a train or bus across town, go for a walk, learn about a new area, then have lunch or dinner in a new place.

Some of the most magical moments I’ve had since our Big Move have happened because we’ve stumbled across something amazing, completely by accident. Street art by Vhils and Banksy. An impromptu fado performance. The impossible cuteness of Lisbon’s narrow, winding streets at sunset.

They’re like mini-dates, and we do them every week. We keep them just like any other appointment. Highly, highly recommended.

Six months, three habits. I’m working on more now – like putting myself out there to meet people, creating the most productive home office, and managing the bureaucracy  that comes with being an immigrant – and I’ll write about them eventually.

It’s been an adventure and a blessing to be able to learn something new every day. I love it.

See It or Skip It: A First-Timer's Guide to Lisbon

See It or Skip It: A First-Timer's Guide to Lisbon

Five First Steps to Moving Abroad

Five First Steps to Moving Abroad