In my small 3.5 years of being an expat wife, I can’t say I have a wealth of knowledge on the topic just yet, but seeing my mother do it her entire adult life and making some friends who have been in the same boat for a lot longer, I became aware of some of the lesser loved hurdles that come along with the excitement of living abroad.
1) Missing your loved ones:
Although distance does make the heart grow fonder, it does not necessarily make the heart any stronger. By all means, give yourself permission to bask in the (what sometimes feels like) endless loneliness for a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with allowing for some sad times as well. Having a good old cry (I’m talking the unattractive, slobbery, teary, wet ones) will let a lot of the sadness out already and you’ll feel better afterwards! (Heck, I just threw myself a small pity party in the shower, some 15 minutes ago, whilst working out ideas for this post)
2) Stupid reactions to the: “I am currently not working” statement
A phenomenon I only recently became acquainted with as I stopped working to stay at home with our newborn (and after speaking with fellow expat wives, one that seems to occur quite often)… Some people (not everyone, but a few) seem to think that because one doesn’t work (for whichever reason) they have nothing else to talk about but housework, beauty treatments, babies and the latest shows on the TLC Home Network. I have introduced myself at parties and when explaining I am currently a stay-at-home-mom, have literally seen the other person’s eyes glaze over with disinterest whilst they scan the room for someone more interesting to talk to. After having a successful career as a psychologist for the last 10 years, that was quite a downer to experience, and I was bombarded with visions of me slapping my Degree in their stuck up face screaming: “acknowledge my intelligence, damn you!”.
There is no need to get validation from others. They don’t know your history, your interests and input; and if they judge you by a stereotype they have in their mind, well that makes them just as narrow-minded as they think you are.
3) Apparently not being part of the ‘real world’ according to some
This little gem happened to a friend of mine when she started work again and a colleague stated it would be good for her to see the ‘real world’ … Correct me if I’m wrong here, but making arrangements that go with moving house, finding schools, taking a bus to God-knows-where in a new city, making friends with total strangers, finding food in a store where it all looks like Chinese script (in our case, it really all is Chinese writing), arranging Visas and relevant documentation and trying to learn your address in the local language in case you get lost (which you will…and often.) … seems pretty ‘real worldly’ to me.
4) Making ‘the sacrifice’
I don’t see my situation as a ‘sacrifice’, but rather a choice my husband and I both made together. Sure, there are some things in life that change and those we go without, as a result of moving abroad, but the grass is not always greener on the other side, and every lifestyle has its ups and downs regardless of where you end up and with whom.
These are only a few negative examples that needed to be vented today, but of course being an expat has its many upsides and advantages as well!! Exposure to new cultures tends to build your patience and tolerance towards others as you explore new things and meet new people. Tasting different cuisines from around the world can be an eye-opening experience and who knows what you’ll discover! There is a challenge in meeting strangers and turning them into friends, but if we’re lucky, some can become life-long friends. Being away from family is hard, but it also means that the little time we do see them, we tend to focus more on spending quality time together and enjoying each others’ company. So to close off with something uber-corny (but true in my experience): An ocean can keep us apart, but it will never separate us ..