This is her expat story.
Tell us about your expat move.
When growing up in Russia, I was always curious about other cultures and languages. I went to a school with specialisation in French, so we had lots of classes on French language, culture and literature.
In university, I wanted to try to study abroad, and moved to the Loire Valley for a student exchange programme of 6 months. To make things short, as from this moment there was a lot of moving between and within Russia and France, I met my Belgian boyfriend on Erasmus and so I’ve been based in Antwerp, Belgium for nearly 3 years now.
What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat abroad?
If you have specific interests or hobbies, use them to find people to connect with. For example, I made some good friends with similar music taste to me and we’ve been able to go to lots of concerts together. Having lovely colleagues also helps!
What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?
As my expat story started in France, I remember the first shock of realising I do not understand the “real” French spoken on the streets, as I was only previously taught the academic version. However, I could pick it up quite quickly and now there is no way back!
Also, I got to travel a lot through couch-surfing as a student and I met some amazing people across France and Belgium (including my boyfriend). It really taught me how genuinely nice and open people can be!
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
I guess being away from the family and friends is certainly the most difficult part for most expats. Thankfully my friends are easy to lure for a visit here so I still see them fairly often.
What do you miss about your home country?
Aside from my friends and family, I miss Russia’s unpredictableness. You can never know how your day will end and what will happen next week. Although this is not always comfortable and certainly has its difficult sides, it brings some spark to your life.
More importantly, we have a highly superior sort of pickled cucumbers!
How much do you enjoy your role in Cigna?
It’s been great – people around me have a great work mentality, projects are inspiring and there’s always lots of new things I get to learn.
What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?
I would tell people to go for it! Being an expat is such an enriching experience. Try not to make any assumptions about how the destination country is, and do some research before you go. For example, try to find an online community of your compatriots in the country you’re planning to move to, and ask them some tips.
What would be the one piece of advice you wish you’d known before moving?
Before, I didn’t realise that people can be so similar – and yet so different culturally, depending on the country or even on the language barrier. I still think that in order to really fit in somewhere, one should be able to speak the language, which gives an opening to the country’s true nature.
So I would suggest trying to learn as many languages as you physically can!
Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?