I know we’re not really supposed to admit to it, but I also know there are a lot of us expats who prefer living overseas to living in our home country–no matter how much we may go on and on about what we miss from home.
An American friend of mine who lived in Germany as a single woman for eight years has spent every minute since she moved back to the States (about 10 years ago) trying to think of ways she can move her new (American) family back to Germany.
For some people the reasons for their preference may be that they have a better job overseas or better access to further travel destinations; perhaps they enjoy a better social life, or a better standard of living; and many feel the social system and cultural attitudes seem more suited to their philosophy.A lot of people reinvent themselves when they move overseas and they don’t want to return to the former version of themselves they left behind in their home country.
For many expats it’s as simple as enjoying more opportunities they may not have had at home. Living where I do near London I have almost endless opportunities for cultural and travel experiences when compared to the small town I grew up in, in northern Minnesota.
If my husband said to me ‘Guess what! We can move to the States next month!’ I would panic. The panic would be less that I prefer the UK and more that I would be facing a crisis. I gain satisfaction out of being different in the UK (in spite of the 155,000 plus American expats in the UK, I still manage to feel I am different—the token American) and if I moved ‘back home’ I would be just another American, with culture shock, who wouldn’t even know the most basic routines, such as how to pay bills or what’s needed to set up a bank account. I would also miss all those opportunities to have so many amazing cultural experiences and I would miss the ease of travel throughout Britain and Europe.
Just for the record, I will say there are things I prefer in both countries, and that’s not said just to assuage those ‘back home’ that may read this. There are things I definitely miss from my small town in northern Minnesota that I simply can’t replace in my lifestyle near London. And while I may panic if I knew I was moving back to the States tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t be devastated. I fall into the category of the expat who has learned to love both countries equally bit differently.
I wonder if there is a correlation between length of stay and level of preference. In some cases this may be an obvious correlation–we stay longer because we prefer it. But in others, where the stay might not be entirely optional, the length of time could allow the reluctant expats to settle in and lose the culture shock (if not the homesickness) and eventually prefer the host culture–or at the least enjoy it equally, but differently, to home.
But who would dare tell their families back home if they prefer life overseas? Perhaps it just becomes self evident when we never come home… If it had been difficult to gain family support to move in the first place, it might alienate even more family and friends if an expat claimed to prefer the host country.
Do you prefer living overseas? If so, does your family back home know this?
Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!
Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.