As an expat in South Africa, life is pretty good. I can afford to join a good gym, we have someone clean our house and do all our ironing. We eat out every week, often more. We can buy very good wine for a fraction of what we would pay for it in the UK. Not to mention the incredible travel opportunities we have here – just last week we were walking with penguins on a beach and watching whales breach just metres from our boat. Next month we are off to a game lodge and then in December we are visiting Namibia. All places we could only dream of seeing if we were still living in England.
Yes, the expat bubble is an easy place to be.But I know this life is not forever, I know I am living a bit of a fantasy life. And I also know that at some point, whether it’s two, three or four years from now, I will have to return to my real life. And none of this will be mine any more.
And this does worry me because I fear I will get just a little too used to the way we live in South Africa. I rarely use the washing machine here and I don’t even know where our iron is kept. I am getting quite a taste for top notch red wines and excellent quality steak. Barely a weekend goes by that we don’t have some sort of adventure – even if we don’t leave Pretoria, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and rhino all live within half an hour’s drive of our house. So how will it feel to return to reality?
I know it’s daft to worry about it already, when we’ve only just arrived in South Africa and are still going through that honeymoon stage where everything seems wonderful and exciting. I know that reality will hit in this country too – and, in a small way, it does every Monday morning – after all, there is still work to be done, however lovely a setting we get to do it in (as I sit in my study with the patio door open, I am keeping half an eye on Mr Weaver Bird currently trying to sell his newly weaved nest to any passing Mrs Weaver Bird).
But none of this will compare to the huge low we are likely to experience when we land back in the UK and gasp at the high price of everything, frown at the grey weather out the window and shudder at the idea of having to face either the British Rail system or the grid-locked roads every time we want to venture far from our home town.
So what to do? Should I do more of the housework to make sure I don’t get out of the habit? Should I stop the gym membership, knowing that I could never afford it at home? Should I cut the drinking down to one night a week (which isn’t a bad idea health wise – I don’t drink a lot here compared to many but I have noticed it creeping up slightly as the weeks go by….)? And save the steak for once a month blow-outs?
Should I heck!
I have to be honest, these thoughts did occur to me. Fleetingly. And then I decided I have no idea if this sort of life will ever present itself to me again – and South Africa is a country I always wanted to visit anyway. No, I really am going to make the most of my time here, grab life in two hands and make sure we don’t go home with too many regrets of things we wish we’d done. I will appreciate my cleaner as much as I can, reminding myself that our house back home is smaller and easier to keep clean – as well as the weather being a lot cooler. I will enjoy the wine and the steak, as well as all the great fruit and veg, cafes, juice bars…..
I will also use the gym because here I can’t just run outside on the roads around my house as I used to at home – it’s too hot, and I don’t feel all that safe. And this is a reminder that although there will be many, many things that I miss about life here, there are also many, many things that I miss about life at home. Yes the wine here is wonderful and the food is cheap and restaurants fantastic. But I miss the range in our supermarkets, I miss knowing that I will be able to get everything I need in one shop and that I can meal plan knowing that everything will be available that day. And yes the weather here is great but I miss the changing of the seasons. It should feel cold and autumnal at the moment; we should be cosying up indoors with the heating on, not baking on the patio and sleeping in aircon.
There are so many other things I miss about home – feeling safe, not having bars and locks and keys and guards and electric wire. Having a fast and reliable internet service. IKEA and other furniture shops which actually stock the things you need. Being able to watch BBC dramas without downloading them. And although the UK doesn’t have quite the exciting range of wildlife and adventure activities as South Africa does, it does have London and north Wales and Pembrokeshire and Devon. It is also right next to Europe. Oh, and only 9 hours to Florida.
So although I worry sometimes that I am getting just a little too used to life here and that I am going to struggle to adjust when we go home, I also know that what you really have to do is make the most of your life, wherever you may be. Every country and every destination has its good side – and its bad side. It’s up to you whether you appreciate them or not.
Do you agree? Do you make the most of your expat life and see it as an opportunity – or do you also worry how this will impact on you when you return home?
Born an expat, in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Clara Wiggins has travelled all her life, and has lived in 11 countries on 5 different continents.
Clara has used her extensive experience of living overseas, as a child, as a diplomat and as an accompanying spouse, to write a book 'The Expat Partner's Survival Guide. From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner's Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone considering moving abroad.
Order your copy now.