I read a fair amount in the expat blogging world. I enjoy the common themes and interesting people that choose to live like I have. Though I see one theme that almost bugs me. The question of “when you go home”. Not the condition, when you go visit or if you choose to return, but the idea that “when you can’t take it anymore as an expat and have to go home.” Is there an assumption that being an expat is just a phase?
There are lots of reasons to be abroad and an expat. Those that start the experience with a clear ending time in mind. Something like a two year post abroad because “hey it is a great opportunity”. Those that went abroad searching for something or running away from something else and just kind of got stuck in a place for a while. They may or may not get unstuck and move on again in a year or so. Those that are the trailing spouses or girlfriends or boyfriends moving abroad to be with their loved ones. These groups are based around motivations to leaving the home country and striking out. Each seems to have a built in trigger to “going home” as well. The relationship doesn’t work, the job is over, the self is found or the money runs out. There are always reasons to want to go home; but for some of us we beat all the reasons and stay.
I am often asked “how long do I expect to stay?” and “how often do I go home?”. There seems to be an underlying sense that assumes I will not stay forever and will eventually just “go home”. I admit fully that my initial plan was not to be here necessarily forever. I too thought I would get it out of my system somehow in a few years and just wander back to a different part of the US or wander the world. At some point though in the first year or so of being here I just felt so much at home that I decided I didn’t really want to leave. With my issues with airplanes at the time, there was a real sense that I may never set foot in the US again. This is not true anymore, but still I feel at home abroad. I finally found my people.
I have only been here a few years. I also unfortunately cannot read the future. However I have seen a number of expats move through the groups here. There always does seem to be a group that does return to where they came from for a bunch of different reasons. But there is a group of us that just seem quite happy in our expatness and would not be happy being back among the “normals”. I think I am one of these people.
Before this turns into a real solid rant, don’t get me wrong. There are some really excellent expat writers out there. Back to my original point, a fair amount of the expat websites seems to discuss integration into new cultures as well as what to do when you go home. I guess this is where the need is. These are the most stressful parts. There does not seem to be quite so much about how to just live as an expat.
Over the hump of integration to a great extent and nowhere near the turning point of going home. Nor the eternal nomads backpacking from here to there. We are home, just living our daily lives and frustrations in a different country.
As an American living abroad, there is another aspect. Almost all of our ancestors came from elsewhere. Many through Ellis Island from Europe. I have done the reverse heading back to Europe. I remember a documentary at one point about the immigration through Ellis Island, which talked about many if not most of the people that came to the US expected to go home. They thought they would make their fortunes and head back. I don’t know how true this is (especially through my memory), but I can imagine. I wonder if expats are all the same in that respect. We head out expecting to make it and come back a better/richer/happier person; and for whatever reason some of us just stay.
There is a peace to having someone listen and understand. I guess this is why I spend my time with my expat friends talking and online reading other’s stories. It helps me to feel not alone. It is also why I write. To show others my stories and say they aren’t alone either. So tell me your stories… especially if you would like to guest post of Grounded Traveler, let me know.