Erin and Erin Zipperle / Contributors

For two years, we’ve been living abroad in Austria. It’s something we have to say over and over again because it seems so surreal.

Time flew by, yet time also slowed down. We’ve seen so much, learned so much and grown so much at a pace we’ve never experienced before now. We are the same, yet we are totally different. We’re wiser, yet also humbled. Still that young and eager married couple but matured in our relationship, beyond our years. We have a new perspective and appreciation for the beautiful diversity in this world. And we’re more curious than ever to see, do and learn more.

Living abroad has forced us to take on obstacles that we would have never faced at home in ourcomfort zone. There were moments that seemed impossible to get through. But we reminded each other why we did this, kept our blinders on and continued to persevere until we made it.

First one year, and then TWO. The feeling is indescribable!


Of course, there were tears, moments of frustration and sadness but then there was the pure joy that made all the hard days seem like nothing. It’s completely true that nothing worth having is easily achieved, and we are living proof. Successfully moving and living abroad in Austria for two years is our greatest life accomplishment to date.

We know our grocery stores, can read menus, communicate (well enough!). We have strong new friendships. We can adapt quickly to new environments while traveling. The unfamiliar is A-okay with us and not remotely scary.

I guess you can say we are completely comfortable in an environment that was never even close to comfortable before. And that was our goal and one of the main reasons we did this in the first place. And while accomplishing this goal is an amazing feeling, it’s also confusing at the same time.

We moved to Austria to purposely get uncomfortable. To grow and develop constantly and be in situations that force our development. year one was exactly that. Between the language, getting our visas, applying for residence permits, finding an apartment, starting a business, traveling, meeting new people, understanding a new culture  – our first year living abroad consisted of moments of development that we didn’t have to create ourselves.

Then as year two progressed, the development was no longer external. It had to come from us.


It took over an entire year to find our new normal and our new "routine" in Austria.

Our daily life for the first 365+ days was dedicated to building a solid foundation on a rocky and unfamiliar terrain. Life lessons and obstacles came to us constantly, without us having to look for them. And then during year one, we found ourselves standing on that foundation wondering what to do next.

What would our next challenges be? We became so used to constantly facing them, without a choice really. We were on this high of constantly growing and developing because we had to, but in the second year, we didn’t really have to anymore. Everything kind of reversed during our second year in Austria.

"Instead of seeking comfort in a challenging environment, we were now looking to create challenges in a comfortable environment."

We had to look for moments and opportunities for growth because adapting to change and overcoming obstacles was something we wanted to keep practicing. So how did we do that?

Well, first things first. We had to recognize this MAJOR mission we accomplished. And the fact that we were addicted to developing ourselves, which was pretty badass. The sheer determination it took for us to get to this point is something to be celebrated in itself. So after our two large steins of Steigl were finished and we’d properly Prost’ed to our accomplishments, we had to figure out how to approach year two with that same eager expat mindset.

How would we keep challenging ourselves in this next living abroad stage?

1. Analyze your mindset and develop it.

Because the external forces for development are no longer coming at you constantly, it’s time to look internally. Of course, you’ve already achieved a lot and changed in countless ways but there is always room for more personal improvement. Developing yourself is not a process that you can just check off a to-do list and move on from. You can always be a better you. So use this new thirst for growth developed in year one to do exactly that. Personally, I knew I needed to work on my confidence and ability to express emotions openly without hesitation. In our first year of living abroad, I felt I achieved that. But as I looked more at my thought patterns in year two, I realized I did have a way to go before I reached a level that I was happy with. So I started talking about what I could do to improve my confidence. I started acknowledging moments where I displayed confidence and the result was positive. And moments where I wasn’t confident enough to express myself and how I could improve. I became my own mentor and I used people around me, including my amazing husband, to help too.

Now we’re in year two, and I know I’ve improved immensely. I noticed it first during our trip to Italy in May 2017. My confidence shined throughout this trip and for the first time, I recognized it and how it can impact others. Now I can’t stop exuding happiness and confidence. It’s pretty awesome! Whether it’s patience, listening skills, general mindset or, in my case, confidence, there is always something to work on from within. No one is perfect. Find that quality in yourself and pursue it.

2. Keep up the momentum. Use it or lose it. 

Proactively put yourself in new situations. All the time!

As soon as the initial living abroad madness settles and becomes part of your daily life, you have to find other new situations – big and small. The learning should never end and the easiest way to do that is to seek out the unfamiliar. It can be something as simple as looking for new restaurants. Sure, in the first year or so, you found the good ones. Your go-to spots where you know the server or bartender. But don’t stop there. Continue to explore.

Maybe order something new on the menu. We were getting so used to just ordering what we could translate, that we didn’t look beyond the schnitzel and goulash. Once we did, it was a whole new world of Austrian cuisine that we hadn’t experienced before.

Or try something different or ‘weird’ from the grocery store instead of writing the same grocery list every week. You’d be surprised at how much you’re overlooking, just because you don’t understand it. Some things you will love and buy or order again, others you won’t. But that’s the beauty of discovery.

This same mindset applies to traveling. Maybe hold back from visiting the same place twice. Of course, there are some places you love and want to return to (for us it was Bratislava, Rovinj, Northern Norway and Prague). But keep that list short. Put a map on your wall and expand your reach and mind. Find a place purposely that speaks an entirely different language. There are literally endless incredible places to discover, all of which will teach you something new. So don’t stop searching for them. And interact with the destination and its people in a more meaningful way than just passing through. Because every new experience and place have the opportunity to totally change you.

3. Learn – always.

It doesn’t have to be related to traveling or your new country. Learning everything you can and absorbing new information is the key to continued growth and development. Maybe it’s a new skill or a new habit. Maybe it’s just reading! Developing your brain is always a good way to keep your new desire for growth active and effective.

For example, Erin decided that he wanted to learn to build an R2-D2. Partially because he is Star Wars obsessed and partially because he has a knack for technology. Either way, he decided he would start to learn robotics and programming. For no other reason than to learn something new. Now, he takes an hour out of each a day to program or read about it.

I decided to learn new things through reading. Whether it’s a self-development book or just a fiction novel. Both have helped me in different ways. I’ve learned new writing techniques and thought processes. I’ve entered new worlds and situations that have educated me, without ever leaving my couch. The minute you shut your brain off from learning new things is the minute you stop developing yourself.

So, in year two of living abroad, finding ways to keep your brain active and open is a great way to keep the desire for development flowing.


4. Expand your new vocabulary and communication skills.

Just because you can ‘kind of’ speak your new language, doesn’t mean you should stop there. Mastering a foreign language is a continual process that really never ends. Keep expanding your knowledge. Sit with a friend and have them speak to you and correct your little mistakes. Try to listen more when people around you talk. Practice!

After living here for a year and after we had a Residence Permit, we stopped focusing on practicing German. We thought “Oh well, we can get around and that’s all that matters. Most people can speak English anyway” But that was a huge mistake. One that we recognized and regret. Now we are trying to change that. We started using language apps like Memrise and starting brushing off our German index cards to refresh our vocabulary. It feels way more fulfilling to be trying once again and only fair to those we’ve become close with too.

5. Grow up, but only in the good ways.

Advising anyone to ‘grow up’ goes against a lot of what we believe in. But growing up in the right ways is important.

No one should EVER lose their sense of imagination, desire for adventure, lightheartedness, innocence or their open mind. But becoming more responsible with yourself, your bank account or planning for your future. That is growing up in a good way. And all of which are HUGE areas of development that are necessary for life. You now have the momentum and energy to take it on abroad, so go for it.

6. Continue to meet new people and develop existing relationships further.

Every friend will provide you with something different that you can’t gain from anyone else. Use year two as a period to turn surface friendships into something deeper. Get to the core of that person.

It’s easy to say, “OK, I have friends. CHECK!” but that is not how new friendships should be treated. Especially those that you want to last a lifetime and especially friendships abroad. Sometimes, new friends abroad can be the most valuable friends of all. They were raised in a completely different environment and can bring so much into your life that you wouldn’t gain from the friends you grew up with. They can completely change your perspective.

And maybe you’ve done your job and developed a group of very tight-knit friends. Don’t stop there. Meet more people. You never know who is out there. It can be a new person that’s totally awesome and changes you because of their positivity or one you don’t like that changes you regardless. Go to more gatherings. Talk to new people. It will not only benefit you in the friend department, it will also help you understand the language and adapt to new social norms.

7. Embrace and appreciate the calmness too.

We’ve talked a lot about how the calmness can be uncomfortable when you’re used to everything being chaotic abroad. And how to bring on more chaos and opportunities for growth. But it’s also important to embrace moments of stillness too while living abroad.

Developing a new routine after moving abroad is a major accomplishment. It means you’ve turned a completely foreign world into a home. There is nothing wrong with appreciating and taking advantage of that achievement.

Sometimes, we all need a little quiet. We need moments to sit back, relax and enjoy how far we’ve come. We need familiarity and comfort. Especially after tackling such an "impossible" but exciting mission. Don’t rob yourself of that. But don’t be complacent now that you’re comfortable. That’s the key.

Final thoughts after living abroad for two years

What an insane, exhilarating, frightening, rewarding, life-changing ride it has been. Neither of us truly understood just how much living abroad would change us, until now. When we reflected on year two, it felt rewarding, but the scary and sad moments still stuck out. Now, looking back after year two, I can only see the positive. I understand why so many people only discuss the positive because all the negatives lead to it in the end.

Every emotion we felt – good and bad, every long talk we had, shaped our present and will continue to shape our future.

And most importantly, the unfamiliar and scary doesn’t seem to be either of those things. We are motivated by challenges and see them as an opportunity. A way to fill our minds and our hearts constantly, even when they feel like they’re at capacity. Deciding to move abroad was the best decision we ever made. It’s been our biggest achievement and has led to invaluable life lessons.

Now, what’s to come in the future? Who knows! But whatever it is, Bring. It. ON!


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October 2, 2017