The experience of being an expat is somewhat difficult to explain. Those who are or have ever been expats generally understand things that you are going through very readily (which is why expats often find solace in the company of other expats), while those who have never been in the expat situation find it harder to understand. Having never been an expat myself, I really had no idea what the experience would be like (even being married to someone who was originally from another country as living in a country temporarily is not the same as making a permanent move to a new country which has its own set of rewards and challenges), and not really knowing any expats before our move, left me unaware of what to expect. However, even if I had spoken to other expats, I think I still would have found it hard to comprehend what the life is really like as it is a unique situation that is best understood through experience.
So, while I have found it difficult over the past year to explain to non-expat friends and family what our experience and existence right now is truly like, I do find it easier to relate what I think are the two best things about living as an expat (especially operating within an expat community which is what we have with our school) and the two most challenging things.
- We get to travel to so many amazing places; places that I never imagined or even planned to visit. Actually, many of these places are places that I never even heard of before living overseas. Getting to see places of historical significance, places that existed long before my home country existed, world-famous works of art, breathtaking landscapes and getting to try delicious cultural foods is amazing. Getting to have these experiences with my family, especially my kids, is priceless.
- Meeting people from all over the world and getting to learn about their cultures is wonderful. Even better is learning firsthand that we are all different but also the same, and that there are always ways that we can relate to one another. Watching your kids make friends with people that have lived in so many different places and have so many cultures as a part of their existence is awesome and, hopefully, something that will make them more accepting, broad-minded adults. But the best part is just realizing that you have friends (and sometimes some of the best friends you have ever had) all over the world and that because of this, you are changing and shifting your perspective and becoming a better version of yourself. A friend that left recently received a gift that was a world map and friends wrote their names on their home country or in the country where they now reside with a note that said, “wherever you are in the world, you can always find your friends.” Finding friends and knowing you have people that you can count on all over this world is an amazing gift.
- While it’s amazing meeting people from all over the world, the expat community is also a very transient community meaning that people are always leaving. You make friends, you spend a lot of time together (especially because you can relate to one another, you often have a common language and you have no other connections in the country) and then they leave. This past year, I made some very good friends and then three of my best friends and several others left in one mass exodus. Now, I have to start over, find people to socialize with and talk to, and it’s not easy. In fact, there are days where it makes me quite sad. But, it’s the nature of the expat life, and, so, I will find some new connections and strengthen those with the friends who remained. But, more than likely, I will find myself (as will my kids) saying goodbye again very soon.
- As an expat, you exist within two or more worlds. You have the country/home that you came from and the country you now reside in (and for some, you also have your country of birth/origin and/or the country of a spouse). You often left behind friends and family in one country, but have also made or returned to friends (and sometimes family) in a new country. You have a culture that you were familiar with in your home country and a culture that you are interested to learn in your current country. There are things that you miss in your home country, but also things that you like in your new country. In some cases, you have left behind a home or property in a home country, but you also have a home and property in the current country. There are responsibilities and obligations spanning the globe. And to make it worse, you are trying to maintain relationships and connections in a home country (and many of these people cannot quite relate to what it is like for you in the current country) while trying to make new connections in the current country (so that you have people to socialize with and relate to in what is, at times, a challenging existence). Add on the fact that for many expats, there is no idea what the future holds-where you will live next, what the next job or assignment will be, where your kids will go to school or on what time frame any of these things will occur. It’s all up in the air and there is no sense in planning or trying to figure it out because it is impossible -there are no answers. To say that you live in two worlds, that you belong in multiple places but also belong nowhere at the same time, might be the best way to describe it. It is a strange feeling, especially for someone who is new to the lifestyle and has been living in basically one place their whole life.
But having said this, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity, and I am not complaining or failing to see how lucky we are to have the chance to experience this. I am merely pointing out, that like many things in life, there are multiple facets, good and bad, rewards and challenges, ups and downs. This is my expat life and I hope that you all can take something away from both the exciting and challenging side of this existence. That is what we try to do, and, while we may not know what will happen next, we hope that embracing all aspects of this lifestyle will make it a more rewarding experience which will help us to carry the things that we learn with us for the rest of our lives.