Expats Abroad

When You’re Born To Be An Expat

Today’s post comes from Maricel. A Costa Rican expat living in the Netherlands.

Please introduce yourself! Who is Maricel?

I am Maricel, my friends call me Mari. Born in Costa Rica, living in The Netherlands, previously lived in Germany.  I am a creative mind, a dreamer and a doer. I am in love with the expat life and always looking forward to new adventures in different corners of the world. Currently, I work for DHL as a Creative Communications Advisor.


Expat Maricel Enjoying Amsterdam

Tell us a bit about how your abroad story started.

My life as an expat started in “Liebe Deutschland” when I moved to Bonn, Germany. I applied and got accepted in a one-year program with Deutsche Post DHL. The program was welcoming recent graduates from all over the world.

But, this was just the beginning… I will happily celebrate 4 years living in Europe this year!  

What inspired you to go abroad?

I believe I was born to be an expat. My inspiration: the world, planes and big dreams!

Ever since I can remember I would play a movie in my head where I was living in a different country, flying to amazing new places and exploring the world.

The most epic holiday I could picture when I was 6 years old wasn’t a visit to Disneyworld, instead I will see myself on a two weeks holiday wandering the streets of Italy (remember 2 weeks for a 6 year-old is an eternity!).

My father has worked for an airline his whole life, and I was always in love with planes and what it really means to get on a plane and go anywhere.

How was the journey of actually getting abroad?

I tried a couple of times to find my way abroad. Right after graduating high school I was supposed to go to the US as an Au Pair, but the planning end up not working.

Then, while in college, I was going to take a semester abroad and do an internship, and that didn’t work either!

Next, when I was 21, I applied to be a Flight Attendant with Emirates Airlines in Dubai, although I made it to the final round, this end up not working as well.

Finally, after graduation I secured a job I loved in Costa Rica. I was enjoying developing my career in the travel industry, but deep of my heart; I felt something was missing… I knew exactly what it was: I wanted to live abroad and I couldn’t wait any longer!

What action steps did you take to get there?

Get information and discover what is out there!

I started with a very basic tactic: Google. I found a few resources like collaborations between governments for young talents, travel programs, study opportunities, and masters abroad.  Whenever possible I made appointments to meet program coordinators and learn more about the options.

I also signed up for newsletters, set alerts for upcoming opportunities, and I kept an eye on events near my location.

This is where I found my job abroad!

Tell us more!

Well, a last minute attendance at a Study Abroad fair changed everything!

While on the search, I signed up to attend the World Grad School Tour (study abroad fair) where various universities from different locations around the world will come to present their programs.

I went there, and everything sounded amazing, but I just didn’t have the resources to afford paying for the expenses of these programs.

I was just about to leave the fair, somewhat disappointed, but then I heard one guy telling a story of what he did, then I saw a banner saying exactly what I needed to hear: Would you like to live abroad and develop your career internationally? We have opportunities in more than 200 countries!

I took a brochure, contacted AIESEC, and started to prepare everything I could to show them I wanted to be part of their program.

What is AIESEC?

AIESEC is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization that provides young people with leadership development and cross-cultural global internship experiences across the globe.

Before this fair, I’ve never really heard of them! But this organization opened the doors for me to the world. It’s an amazing opportunity available for young talents in many countries.

How did you secure the role?

I went through the application and selection process with them first. Once I was in the AIESEC platform I had to start applying to opportunities and go through a normal selection process with the companies that work with AIESEC worldwide.

The whole process took between 6 and 8 months, including the visa, which AIESEC handled. But I must say my process was very fast.

That was 4 years ago.

Tell us a bit about your international life in The Netherlands.

There is no typical day, you will constantly meet new people, learn new things and challenge yourself.

The simple things become a new opportunity to reinvent yourself. You’re like 5 year-old all over again, learning a new language, new ways of communicating, new streets, new behaviors, etc.

After a few years here, I did develop sort of a routine that includes riding my bike to work, eating bread & cheese for lunch, being prepared for rain (yes, The Netherlands!). So basically, adjusting to my new country/culture but keeping that sense of surprise and wonder all the time.

What surprised you most about living abroad?

Figuring out how many stereotypes and preconceived beliefs one can build without any given evidence (and mostly based on assumptions, mass media or tourist experiences.)

Living and embracing the difference in cultures, ways of thinking, behaviors and lifestyles, is – in my opinion – one of the best learning experiences you can ever get in the school of life!

What’s been the hardest part about life abroad?

Leaving the fear and stability of whatever your life back home looked like before.

When I left, I was sure I’d be out for a year only. But life goes on very quickly. It’s amazing how much things can change, and more importantly, how much you change. There is a before and after.

Interesting. How has it changed you personally?

Today, I am a different person, I have overcome challenges and fears, and I’ve put myself out there over and over again. I have become more aware, humble, open and strong.

Living abroad is not always easy. It challenges you and your views, and it could deeply change your grounds as a person, professional, human being.

What have you learned?

Truly appreciate and nurture relationships with your family and friends back home. When you are so far and have the chance to enjoy them only once or twice a year, you don’t take it for granted anymore.

What do you think of returning to Costa Rica?

This might be one of the trickiest parts of moving abroad. When you come back to the place you “belong” something will always feel off, at least that’s my case.  The thrill of new adventures and all the things you have experienced while living abroad stays in your memory forever, sometimes so alive that you cannot stop.

So you will continue to live abroad?

Yes, yes and yes.

Best decision I ever made!  The best years of my life, the best adventures and experiences that I keep in my memory I have lived them while exploring this world.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to move to the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is becoming a hub of business and innovation, and Amsterdam is one of the most diverse cities in the world. I cannot recommend this country enough! I am in love with The Netherlands.

Depending on where you are in your career/studies, I suggest you read, research, find out first what is out there and how it fits your possibilities.

Here are some ideas:

  • Look to network in Expat communities online
  • Seek out growing companies with local offices
  • Set alerts on what is going on in your industry in those cities
  • Look for opportunities within university alumni and student programs
  • Check the embassy of The Netherlands in your country
  • Check university partnerships with international programs

Furthermore, many countries in Europe and emerging markets are looking for expats these days so globalization is making this process easier.

What advice would you have for someone struggling to get abroad?

Leave your fears behind! It is possible; it’s all a matter of focusing your attention and making it happen. Start today, don’t postpone and don’t make excuses.  If you really want it, just go for it, find your way and leave…

Anything else you want to tell us?

Yes! I wrote this after celebrating my 1st anniversary as an Expat; 3 years after writing this, I think it still encloses what it really means to live abroad for me:

It’s been one year… When I decided to pack a suitcase full of expectations, fears, dreams, question marks and a bittersweet feeling of leaving friends, family and a whole life behind. Today, after exploring amazing places, living unforgettable experiences, collecting thousands of moments & memories, meeting extraordinary people from all over the world and building lifetime friendships; I can just say this was not another year in my life, it was certainly a life in a year… a second chance to discover a new meaning of living while making many of my dreams come true! Now it’s time to kick off a new chapter and keep enjoying every minute of this journey we all like to call LIFE.

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