Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories from Life Abroad featuring Andrea from Mother Tongue Notes

Welcome to my guest post series which gives expats, nomads and immigrants a space to share their stories of life abroad and offers us a glimpse into their experiences.

The series launched with my own post, the story of how I ended up in Mexico all those years ago.  You can read it here:  Stories from Life Abroad - guest post series launch

Each month there will be a new post by a different contributor.  They may or may not be bloggers, they could be from any country, living anywhere in the world as expats, immigrants or nomads.  The idea is to tell as wide a variety of stories and experiences of living abroad as possible, from many different viewpoints.

This series will keep running for as long as I continue to get contributions for it, so if you would like to take part, email me at mummyandthemexicans@gmail.com and I will be happy to send you the details.

Last month we had a little break so there was no guest post in September, but August's guest post was from Karen van der Zee of Life in the Expat Lane.

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Mother Tongue Notes

This month’s guest post is by Andrea from Mother Tongue Notes , a blog about raising bilingual children and confident citizens of the world, from the perspective of a Portuguese mummy living in the UK.  Here she tells us how and why she came to be an expat and why she set up her blog.

A Portuguese in London 

Hello! I’m Andrea and this is my story…

I was born in Lisbon. Possibly one of the most beautiful, and right now, exciting, capital cities in the world.

Once upon a time… 

I came to the UK 20 years ago to study. It was never my intention to stay this long. Life just happened…
I had been studying business in Portugal at a prestigious University. In my free time, I was doing theatre – acting, but mostly producing. It was very clear where my passion and skill set lied. I found that there were multiple degrees in Arts Management in the UK, which was unheard of in Portugal, where the arts and cultural sector was underdeveloped at the time. I did my research, applied for Universities, was accepted in a few and chose London – an epic cultural capital and close enough to visit home regularly.

Like a fish in water

As soon as I arrived in London, I felt like I belonged. I loved London’s dynamic energy. Everything was so efficient and organised. The easy access to information and support was impressive. Whatever your problem, there was a helpline, government service or charity for it. I loved the melting pot, different food, cultures and fashion styles. The different tribes, the creativity, the politeness and tolerance. The anonymity and the fact that one could be as bold as one liked. I adored the cultural offer, the free museums, the breadth of choice, the high-quality performing arts and the quirky dance, theatre, and site-specific productions. It was just so vibrant!

Being white, European and speaking good English I had no problem in blending in. Yes, there was the odd cultural misunderstanding here and there to start with but I came to the UK open-minded and assimilated easily. I would never have dreamt to impose my way of living on anyone.
I missed family, friends, the weather and the food, but I could catch up on those at least twice a year.

How 3 years turned into 20 

The opportunities in the arts and cultural sector kept coming during and after my studies so I kept staying.
One more year.
Two more years…
Just before I met my husband 9 years ago I had started playing with the idea of a fresh start. You know… going somewhere else.

I never felt like an immigrant in the UK. Just a Londoner, a citizen of the world. The world was full of possibility and I loved the feeling that I could up sticks and go anywhere, anytime.

The nature of London 

London is very exciting for young people. But also very transient. I lived in 10 houses in as many years. I made many friends and lost most of them. Not because we fell out, but because people don’t stay in places like London for too long. They soak up its energy, fulfill a project or dream, then go back where they came from or move on to the next adventure elsewhere.

Long, intricate roots

Fast forward and now I’m well and truly attached to this country. Married to a Brit with two young children, a house and a dog, my professional life and network has been forged in this country over the last 20 years.

Our family and I are now settled in South East London where we feel part of a community. My husband and I are raising our children to be bilingual, biliterate and multicultural. We want our children to be kind, strong girls, citizens of the world who appreciate different cultures and diversity.

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Mother Tongue Notes - Image Shows A Mum With Her Two Small Children On A Bus

Identity crisis

Having children in a different country made me rethink my identity. I had to try harder to reconnect with my roots so I could pass it onto my children.

After all these years, I can safely say that I am a more polished diamond than when I arrived. My husband says I’m still a little bit blunt sometimes, very ‘dramatic’ and that I cry easily, whether happy or sad. Portuguese people are passionate and wear their heart on their sleeve. I am British in many ways but I’m also glad that I retain some of my Portuguese features.

I had no Portuguese family here and never had many Portuguese friends - I naturally gravitated towards other nationalities – and so, over the years, I drifted away from my own culture. I stopped reading the news and books in Portuguese. I was detached from home politics as if it was not my concern.

I had no reason to speak the language. I forgot words and even parts of history and tradition, but I had not even realised it. Not until our children came into our lives.

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Mother Tongue Notes - A Small Child Is Looking At A Picture Book

Bringing up bilingual children 

Raising bilingual children was a no-brainer. “Of course they’ll be bilingual!” we would reply to anyone who’d ask.

What I didn’t realise is how much effort one needs to put in, if one is the only minority language speaker and, like me, drifted so far away that Portuguese doesn’t come easily. Strangely enough, English comes much easier to me these days. That’s called language attrition – when you forget your own mother tongue.

All of this shook me up and I set up a blog a year ago called Mother Tongue Notes to keep me motivated in this tough but rewarding project of raising bilingual children, and by association, of reconnecting with my mother tongue and culture. In the blog and social media channels, I share our journey, ups and downs, things I like and learn, tips that apply to anyone in a similar position, regardless of the family languages, sprinkled with a little ‘Portugueseness’.

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Mother Tongue Notes - Headshot Photo Of Andrea From Mother Tongue Notes

Find Andrea at Mother Tongue Notes and on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter  . 

I hope you enjoyed this post - please share it or leave us a comment below!

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Photo credit: Antique globe turned to Mexico by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Mother Tongue Notes


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  1. This is such a great idea for a blog series! So interesting! #KCACOLS

  2. I admire you for putting in the work to have your children be bilingual. It would have been easy to have ignored that but you should be really proud that you didn't.


  3. Very nice. Being bilingual is a huge asset and I think it is cool. #GlobalBlogging