Almost Fearless

How Blogging Saved my Expat Life

Today’s guest post is from Alison at http://cheeseweb.eu, a very cool expat blogger.  I especially liked this post for the insight into expat life, but also a new twist on the “Why Blog?” debate.  Once you’re done reading this be sure to check out her excellent photography here.

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When I started blogging, I wasn’t trying to make money on-line or become famous. In fact, I never expected anyone other than my friends and family would read it. But now, I’m pretty sure that blogging saved my expat life.

I moved to Belgium five years ago as a trailing spouse. My husband and I decided together that we wanted to try living in Europe. The opportunity came up sooner than we expected, when his company offered to move us to Brussels. Legalities being what they are in Belgium, I was unable to get a work-permit as the trailing spouse, so my days were filled with getting our new life settled.

Back then, blogging wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, and I didn’t know much about it, but I got tired of writing the same things and answering the same questions in a dozen e-mails. I had learned basic web design and HTML in school so I decided to start a website to share stories and photos with my friends and family back home.

My blog posts were basically extended letters. I didn’t think much about grammar or structure. My posts didn’t have a topic other than what I had been up to since the last time I wrote. I never expected anyone that didn’t know me would bother much with my blog.

In those first few months, I wrote only about happy things – new places we travelled to, new discoveries we made, etc.

The shiny newness of expat life wore off pretty quickly though. The reality was I was mired in mountains of Belgian bureaucracy and red-tape. We had no support from my husband’s company; we didn’t speak the language; we knew no one and we lived in a small community with limited public transportation. I spent most of my days feeling isolated and depressed and wondering what the hell I had done.

I didn’t want to burden my family and friends with my woes. Honestly, I felt like a failure for being depressed in the first place. I mean, I was living in Europe after all. Something that is a dream for most people was my reality. Except most days it felt more like a nightmare.

I turned to the blogosphere for help. Although there weren’t many expat blogs based in Belgium at that time, I found some blogs written by expat women in other countries who were writing about the exact feelings I was having. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone and it gave me the courage to write about what I was really experiencing.

It was scary to put my stress, struggles and depression out there, but instead of scorn for my whining, I started to get email and comments from other women in my situation. Some were already in Belgium, some were planning an expat move and all of them had similar fears and worries as me.

I was contacted by an expat news website in Belgium and asked to do a weekly column about my experiences in Belgium. Through that column, even more trailing spouses contacted me and encouraged me to keep writing and sharing.

It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually things got better. Because of my blog, I met people, I had an outlet for my stress and worry and I had a sense of purpose. Blogging and the support of my readers gave me the courage to pursue my career as a photographer.

Five years later, my blog and my life have changed dramatically. First of all, we have both moved out of isolation – me to the centre of Brussels and my blog to its own domain.

CheeseWeb is now much less focused on my day to day life and more on expat life in general. It covers a range of topics about life and travel in Belgium. I have guest posters on different topics from art to technology and I write about many different travel destinations around Europe.

Blogging opened so many doors for me in the early months of my expat life and continues to today. I honestly believe that blogging saved my expat life.

About the author:

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a garden and travel lifestyle photographer based in Brussels.  Her website, CheeseWeb has grown into a resource for expats in Belgium as well as a guide for interesting places to visit, eat and shop, but first and foremost it remains  personal journal of one expat wife, making her way in a foreign land.

Pic: lanier67

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”

THERE ARE RARELY HAMMOCKS.

http://christinegilbert.com

43 comments

  • I agree completely – if I wouldn’t have had my blog while living in Vietnam, I doubt I would have made it. I think a lot about how my loneliness and isolation made me really turn to things like Twitter & Facebook, as well as my blog. It provided me a voice – a pseudo way to converse and not feel as lonely at first. Thanks to that I’ve made virtual friends all over the world.
    Thanks for a great post!

  • Good going Alison! As a writer/producer and 11 year expat myself, I believe writing (and other creative ventures) often saves expat sanity…and blogging seems to be a perfect way to take it out into the world. Glad to discover you and CheeseWeb, which I’ll add to my expat+HAREM blog roll of sites by global citizens like you.
    .-= Anastasia´s last blog ..Ring my bell =-.

  • Thanks Everyone! I truly admire woman who followed their husbands overseas before the internet. I honestly couldn’t have done it. It was not only my lifeline to friends and family but literally the only way I could pursue a career here. Now I try to give back to the new expat community whenever I can and I hope CheeseWeb is the helpful resource that didn’t exist for me.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Proud to be Canadian =-.

  • Well done, Alison!! We’ve been fans for a while and we have to say that your blog has helped us through many a depressing time in our expats lives. Big thanks to you from Charlie’s Tribe!

  • I completely relate to this – almost all of my friends in Belgium have been met through my blog and it’s helpful to be able to read about other people experiencing the same highs and lows.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..You’ve Arrived, How Lovely! =-.

  • such an inspiring story. it’s so reassuring to know that other bloggers are supporting you or experiencing the same upside down
    .-= marta´s last blog ..Snapshot of the week: let’s fly away =-.

  • That is a really cool story. When living aboard it can at times feel a little isolating and depressing. Thankfully for avenues like blogs/blogging you never are that far away from others that are in a similar situation. A whole community sprouts up around the words of others it is a really neat phenomenon. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Who’s Got Room´s last blog ..Hotels Near The Fargodome Fargo, ND =-.

  • Hi Alison – great post! I just recently started a blog about my expat life, too, and it has already had a significant positive effect on my outlook. It took me over three years of living abroad to get up the courage to start blogging. I live in Paris, and as you say, people think I’m living a dream. I struggled, yet felt like I couldn’t complain. Anytime I did, those at home would just say “but you live in Paris!”

    Well, it *is* challenging living abroad. But also remarkable. That’s why my blog is called “paris (im)perfect.” Because nothing is perfect – and the more openly we talk about that journey, the better. I’m happy that I started blogging and reading inspiring stories like yours gives me even more motivation to continue. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Sion
    .-= parisimperfect´s last blog ..Say What? (Say Anything) =-.

  • I completely agree. We would have way less friends in Croatia if it wasn’t for our blog. We’ve met so many great and interesting people here who have stumbled across our blog – and its definitely something I had not expected from it. Plus, my mom is just so happy when she gets to tell people about it 🙂
    .-= Pond Jumpers: Croatia´s last blog ..Celebrating Krnjeval (Carnival) in Split =-.

  • Great article. I personally have this dilema on how much of my emotional self I should put out in my post. At this stage in the game for me. I think most of my readers are still family and friends, but at the same time I don’t feel I am painting the correct picture of myself if it is always sunny and rosy, because life just isn’t that way all the time no matter where you are.
    .-= John´s last blog ..Good Intentions =-.

  • Excellent post, Alison, and so true for many expat bloggers. The world really does become our community (on and off the internet). I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through your blog and photography.

    Danielle Barkhouse
    Author of The Expat Arc

  • Wow! Thank you everyone for the kind comments! It’s been such an incredible journey. Even the horrible days taught me something. I can’t imagine all of the ways that this experience has changed me but I’m very thankful for it. I’m also thankful for the amazing expat blog community (and it looks like I have a lot more blogs to check out now!)

    @parisimperfect You are so right. Living abroad is never perfect. But then again, neither is living at ‘home’. There are some people who are always going to be convinced that life in Paris or Brussels is nothing but dining in cafes, shopping and travelling the world. It can be that but it is still also doing the laundry, paying the bills and fighting with your landlord!

    @John It’s a difficult balance. The tone/voice of my blog has changed three or four times as my audience has changed (and probably as I have changed also). In the end though I try to write for me first. It’s weird if I stop to think how much of my life is out there for public consumption but in the end if it helps someone else it’s worth it. You just have to find a balance that you can feel comfortable with.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..How Blogging (and Books) Saved my Expat Life =-.

  • What a fabulous tribute here to blogging and I’d like to second that motion please :)!
    Blogging has been an amazing therapeutic and self-assessment and self-rebuilding for me, among a million other things. One day I realized I am wasting my time writing long emails to friends who never respond (back then I was really clinging to anyone for friendship – young & stupid, what can you do!) and writing personal, inspiring stuff in my diary when I could inspire someone else and wishing I would remember all the grand things I learn from books and trying to pull together travel journals from pictures – but you need words for journals – and so there, blogging has answered all of that. It has brought me also into a community that is top of this world. The kindest, most generous, most ambitious yet compassionate people belong to the blogging community and I am thrilled to be a part of it – and by the way, great sense of humor, thanks for the chuckles!

  • I totally agree, wonderful post! I’ve been writing a long time as a professional journalist but blogging opened up a whole new world for me. I have friends all over the world and access to different perspectives and experiences that I never would have if not for blogging.
    .-= Fly Girl´s last blog ..Taste Trippin’ Part Six (Francais) =-.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s great to know a whole community of bloggers out there who are designing their own life / career, instead of being stuck with conventions…Bravo! and more power to you!
    .-= Jen Laceda´s last blog ..It’s Literally in Reel Life! =-.

  • Interesting, Alison!
    Do you think expat is a subset of travel or a completely separate thing? We tried an expat lifestyle in Cuenca, Ecuador last year and I think it combines the best of both. Less of the hectic “where do I find the bus station/place to eat/place to sleep” with a more relaxed existence.

    My hats off on the writing!
    -terry
    .-= TerryDarc´s last blog ..Namibian Photo Gallery =-.

  • Thanks again everyone for all of the great comments! I’ve been wandering through all of your blogs and doing some vicarious travels!

    @TerryDarc That’s an interesting question and I think it varies a bit depending on the person. I know of some expats here in Brussels who have come to advance their careers and that is basically their only focus. When the assignment is over they will go home and continue their lives. Then there are those like my husband and myself who actively wanted to move abroad for the cultural and travel experiences. We take every opportunity we can to travel even if it is just here in Belgium. Life as an expat definitely has some different issues and hurdles that you don’t encounter as a tourist. On the other hand it does give you a more solid base to travel from and more time to absorb one particular culture.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Frida Kahlo at Bozar Brussels =-.

  • I can totally relate! But now that we’ve settled in Japan for good, my husband tells me that I am no longer an “expat” and should stop thinking (and writing) like one. For better or for worse, this is now my home. And as much as I love living in Japan, the finality of this decision can be a bit overwhelming at times.
    I wonder how other “permanent expats” deal with this situation.
    .-= AnnaTrouble´s last blog ..Review of 14th Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine – part 2 =-.

  • @Anna I know people who have been in Brussels for 20+ years and although it is home, they still consider themselves expats. I see what your husband is saying but I also think no matter how long you’ve been in a place you will still experience it in a different way then the locals. That’s just me though, and I’ve only been here for 5 years 🙂
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..A Weekend in Berlin, Germany =-.

  • Great post – as an expat (and also a trailing spouse on “sabbatical” from my old career), it’s very interesting to hear about others’ experiences on how their blogs came about, etc. Great post!
    .-= Lee McIntyre´s last blog ..Speaking Italian: Learning in Tandem =-.

  • Hi Alison,
    Thanks for sharing, very inspiring, thanks to give hope to lonely trailing spouses. I have similar experience I arrived in Brussels last summer 2009 after 13 years living in New York, Tokyo, and Atlanta. After the 6 month honey moon period was over, I started to feel very isolated and started to invest my time in learning social media such as Linkedin and Twitter. Then I started to see the impact of blogging with people starting conversations online and then meeting in person. I met great people and made friends and got contacts with other international people based in Brussels. So Alison I would be very excited to meet you in Brussels, the terraces are open, Great feeling.
    .-= anne egros´s last blog ..New Theme: Greyzed =-.

  • Hi Anne, thanks for your comment! Social Media is such a great tool for meeting people, especially if you’re not out-going in person, like me. It’s a great ice-breaker. By all means drop me an e-mail or stop by CheeseWeb and we can grab a seat on a terrace while the weather is nice!
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Free Postcards for Readers =-.

  • So very true. I started our blog several incarnations ago just to keep our families up-to-date and to keep an on-going journal for my kids as they grew. Now, my blog connects me to far more people than my little family.
    .-= Michele´s last blog ..Hello June 1st, Hello summer. =-.

  • It’s is so great to see people’s honesty and vulnerability online – that which makes us truly human. It is also great to see that none of us (wherever we live) are alone.

    Marie’s last blog .. Who’s in charge of your family’s glue?

  • I am absolutely blown away by the amount of response this post has generated. It’s very humbling to know that we aren’t alone on this journey. Thank you everyone for all of your comments!
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Free Postcards for Readers =-.

  • It’s the best way to give people a good picture of what your life is like in a new place. For me I’d say it gave me something to focus on besides fear and loathing.

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  • Wow, it’s amazing that this article was written in March 2010! I agree that blogging helps you to come out of isolation that exists in expat life. It was inspiring to read how the blog Cheese web developed into the current form. Thank you for sharing, Allison!