There is much to love about living an expat life, but one thing that is really hard that family members and close friends are so far away. It is hard to comprehend just how difficult communication over long distances must have been before the internet age. Living as I do in an area that was part of the Louisiana Purchase (which I was only vaguely aware of before moving to the USA) there are lots of reminders of the early European explorers, who would have been out of touch with anyone for many months at a time.Even more recently, the best an expat could hope for was a letter every few months, or maybe an expensive and crackly phone call once in a blue moon. Nowadays, we are all connected by email, Facebook, Skype and any number of messaging services. The main problem here for these instant services is the time difference. If you move east-west, as I have, then it’s always difficult to coincide at the right time. As I am a Brit in America, by time difference is 6 hours, so by the time it’s evening here, most of my English friends and family are already asleep, and when they are up and about their daily lives, it’s still early morning for me.
For that reason, I follow a lot of my families and friends adventures on Facebook and by email, and I normally spend a few minutes each morning seeing what they have been up to. I also use messenger for communication, so that if they happen to be at online at the same time as me we can chat, but if not my message will be there the next time they are online. This works really well; until it doesn’t.
One morning recently I was in the midst of my Facebook routine, when it occurred to me I hadn’t seen anything from one family member for a day or two, so I went to look at what they had been up to, only to be unable to find their profile. My immediate reaction was one of bewilderment, followed by shock; had they unfriended me for some reason? A quick bit of research showed me that that was unlikely, they had simply disappeared from everyone’s facebook pages. I was surprised, so I wrote them an email to check if everything was all right and went about my day, but still with that nagging thought worrying away at the back of my brain.
When I had not had a reply for two days, I was starting to feel that I was allowed to be worried. I followed up my email with a text message, only to get an automated response that the message had not been delivered. This does sometimes happen, for reasons I’ve never gotten to the bottom of, but it was just one more thing that set alarm bells ringing.
I was just considering if I should contact one of their friends when I had an email from them. They had been having an issue with Facebook and had closed their account, and had been busy at work and not checked emails for a few days. All was well, but it did cause a few more gray hairs in the interim.
For anyone considering an expat life, this is one of the things that you really need to factor in. What would you do if there was an emergency “back home”? In a sense, this is always a concern. When I lived on the East coast of England by the family were scattered over the London region and on the South Coast, so to go and see them would have entailed a long drive. Living in a different country the considerations are just of a different magnitude.
Cost and time would be a very real consideration.
It’s sobering to consider that it would take me a whole day just to get to the UK, and that is living as I do within an hour of a major international airport. If you are living in a place without great infrastructure or just a long distance from the nearest airport, your journey home could be even longer.
This is not to put anyone off of this adventure because it is a great adventure! But it is one more thing to think about when living the expat life.
Derek was raised on the UK's South Coast, and has lived in London, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the East Anglia region of England. He is now a resident of St Louis, Missouri, USA. He is an author and blogger, and you can also follow Derek's adventures on his blog and Facebook page.