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Who are you?

Most people, I guess, would start answering by saying their name, place of origin, a little bit about what they love.Following this logic, my name is Minola, I am Romanian – as in by nationality, born in a mixed Romanian-Hungarian family in a wonderful border city in the North-West of Romania; my passport says I am a little bit shy of 41, but I feel like 22, and my attachment to books makes me a 2-year old watching her favorite blankie in the washing machine.

I am a wanderer, gelato and coffee addict, suitcase packing subject matter expert, currently a recovering corporate consultant.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I first left home in the summer of 1995, leaving for a scholarship at Syracuse University, in the United States. I have travelled extensively throughout my adult life, especially for work, but the first time I left as in relocated, packed my stuff, looked for a place to stay, for a new job, for a new life was in mid-November 2015 – Tallinn, Estonia welcomed me with snow and -27 degrees, and the most amazing Christmas market I had ever seen!

My job meant covering the Baltics, Nordics and Middle East, so some form of luggage was always by the door, ready to be picked up and dragged to the airport, ferry terminal, bus station…

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Luxembourg was next, in late August of 2017. One month later, I found myself packing again, for Malta, then back to Luxembourg in early June 2018.

My mom has picked up this sweet habit of first asking me ‘Where are you?’, and only then ‘How are you?’. Sometimes I ask myself the same questions, in the exact same order…

What challenges did you face during your moves?

Pretty much the same ones every time: learning the ‘language’ of rent, public services, getting used to how the shower worked, finding the good gelato and coffee places. But mostly answering the same question for myself: ‘what the sweet duck are you doing???’

How did you find somewhere to live?

Dedicated websites and agencies. What really helped was joining expat online groups a little bit before the move, and looking for tips about neighborhoods, prices, common pitfalls. Sharing is caring!

Are there many other expats in your area?

Luxembourg’s expat community is quite rich, and keeps on growing.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

In all honesty, most of the time the ‘locals’, as in true Luxembourgish, feel like urban legends to me. I have only managed to meet a few of them, and the experiences cover the entire spectrum from really great to… I don’t remember, the brain tends to shut off traumatic episodes.

There is a large group of cross-border professionals, whom I met through work, but the downside is they have their social life across the border. The expat community has been a real life saver!

If I were to build a ranking for the ‘locals’ I have met during my years of traveling, the Maltese would be right there at number 1 – incredibly warm and friendly, truly caring, open and curious without crossing into nosy, just a home away from home. A huge part of my heart stayed on my favorite island in the sun.

What do you like about life where you are?

It has come as a huge surprise to myself that I like Luxembourg for being calm and quiet. Maybe it just so happened I came here when I was ready to appreciate these qualities in a place. I also love it for being so conveniently placed close to everything. It is also a place that makes me feel safe – whether I walk on the streets at night, or I have to deal with the public administration.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

When it comes to expat life, its biggest blessing is also its biggest curse. You meet new people, but you also leave people behind. It teaches you, quite painfully sometimes, that welcoming and letting go are really two sides of the same coin.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

The answer really depends on what home is – which I have found increasingly difficult to pinpoint. The thing that shocked me most when I came to Luxembourg was shops closing at 6/ 6.30 pm, barely anything open on Sundays. That forced me to get organized, which is something my brain is not really wired for.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

I am still trying to figure out what the ‘local’ food and drink are. But, so far, so good. It was a really nice discovery to learn that there are several types of local / regional honey. Whenever there are fairs and festivals on, I always look for Gromperekichelcher (thank God this is not recorded, could not pronounce that to save my life!!!), which is a deep-fried spiced potato pancake with chopped onions and parsley.

And one of my Luxembourgish friends introduced me to Cremant quite early on, which hugely contributed to my settling in 🙂

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

The best – and most honest advice I can give is ‘make peace really quick with the fact that you only have an illusion of control’. It is good to build lists and plans, but be prepared to quickly toss them. Only build them as a mental exercise to imagine possible scenarios, and to get comfortable with what could really go terribly wrong. In both instances when it goes awfully wrong or incredibly amazing, it will end up being totally different than the picture you initially had in your head.

So just breathe, trust in yourself and in your dream, get comfortable with not knowing, and get really good at packing, really fast!

And remember: life is really like an EKG – ups and downs are great, the flatline is dangerous.

What are your plans for the future?

I have the best plan – no plan! Short of buying a Harley Davidson, I have just gone through possibly a mid-life crisis, and learned to take one day at a time.

There are things that I want to do, and places that I want to see, and experiences that I want to live, but there is no plan with milestones, or timeline, or self-imposed expectations. I have learned the hard way that your best guide is your gut feeling, that you should go after the things that make you happy, let people come in and walk out of your life, and trust the pull of the unknown. And just have a set of travel-size troiletries ready at all times.

Would you like to share your experience of life abroad with other readers? Answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

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