Sometimes when you’re an expat you want to blame whatever trouble it is you’re having on your expat life. And sometimes it is indeed the case that being an expat may be the cause of or at least an influence on your situation.
Certainly some marriages come under a lot of stress with the expat life—whether you’ve moved overseas with your partner following his or her work, or you’ve moved overseas to be with a partner in his or her country, like I have.
And staying in touch with some friends is more difficult when you’re 6000 miles away from them—yes, even with Skype, Facebook and email, than it would be if you could still meet up each week for coffees or a night out every now and then.
A lot of people, myself included find having a baby overseas incredibly difficult when there are no family around to help out.Another thing that can be isolating to long-term expats is that every now and then we have a sense of life getting on without us while we’ve been living overseas. We visit home and learn about new laws (there were no 70mph speed limits when I lived in the States), or we find that our old high school with its awesome 1930’s architecture is being leveled to make room for progress. It seems like the world we’ve known as home is disappearing.
Long-term expats may also find out about new developments or changes through visitors–people come to stay with the expat and bring presents or snacks the expat has never heard of, and unlike some changes, it can be fun to discover these new products from home.
For example, recently I had some American cousins come for a visit and they brought these fantastic little cheese crackers, which I quickly became obsessed with—they were gorgeous! I decided that not only would I hunt for where I could buy them online (fully expecting to pay a lot of postage) I would also blog about my new discovery.
But many times when you’re an expat and you think life is more difficult as a result of living overseas or that you’re missing out on things at home, or even that you’ve discovered a new product from home, you’re completely, totally wrong.
Those same marriages may have had issues anyway and the expat life just brought them to the surface. We all lose touch with some friends, expat or not. Having a baby without support (and with support) is difficult in any country. Things will change and move on, new laws will be made and new high schools will be built—that’s life, whether you live in the same country or another you’ll watch change happen around you.
And when you post on your personal blog about how exciting it is to discover an amazing, new cheese cracker treat from the States that has been invented while you were away, maybe Google it first. Because it may be new to you but it may also have been in the States since before you were born and just because it wasn’t sold in your area of the States when you lived there or just because your mom never bought it doesn’t mean it’s new. And you’ll get a load of people who have never commented on your blog step out of the shadows to let you know just what a ‘duh’ moment it is that you think you’ve missed out on something back home just because you’ve been living overseas for years and years!
Just like the other examples above, you could have just as easily been missing out on these cheese crackers until today if you had stayed living back home.
The moral of the story is that life is not necessarily worse/more difficult or you’re not necessarily missing out just because you’re an expat.
So the next time I slip into one of my moments of homesick self-pity, or the next time I decide to blame an issue on my expat circumstances, I will remind myself of the cheese crackers, and give myself a light hearted reality check!
Over to you readers, how do you keep a reality check?
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.