What it Means to be a “Long Timer”

by Laura Bagin
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When I first moved to Thailand I was in awe of the people I met who had lived here for several years. I couldn’t imagine living away from home for five, eight or even 15 plus years. Even though I knew my stay here was expected to be between three to five years that time just did not register. I was trying to find my new normal and looked to these women as an example of how to do that. Their friendship and guidance made all the difference for me making an easy transition with the move versus brooding and wanting to go back home.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be considered a “long timer” with regard to my expat life. I have been in Bangkok a mere 3½ years and I am the experienced person. I am one of the people who welcome new women and help make them comfortable. They look to me for answers to the tough questions… Where do you get a VISA picture? What tailor should I use to recreate a favourite outfit? How do you get to the Chatuchak weekend market?

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There is an air-conditioned area at the market?? While none of these are earth shattering matters it is nice to be able to share my experience, to help out those who have just arrived. Coming to a new country, leaving that which is familiar, can be challenging. But knowing someone is there to help you makes the transition so much easier. It is comforting to know that there are others who can help traverse the everyday life struggles, real or perceived.

I have met some amazing people over the past few years. People from all over the world. Some are on their first posting like me. Some have lived a nomadic life moving every 3-4 years and are on their eighth, ninth or fifteenth assignment. It is so interesting to learn what it is like to live in North Korea or Iraq, countries that do not scream warm and fuzzy. Or to know that there really are places that are hotter than Bangkok! All of these women have an inspiring story to tell and like me have learned to start fresh and build a new life wherever they end up.

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Some of these women have come and gone from my life and others will remain lifelong friends. To me this is the challenging part of being an expat, making strong connections and then having to say goodbye sooner rather than later. I have said goodbye no less than four times to people I considered “my” person in this transitory environment. I have sent them on their way to their new adventure, sometimes back to their home and other times to places I hope to go visit. Each time I have said goodbye it felt as if I would never find another person to fill that gap. And each time I have met yet another person to make that connection with.

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Some may be older than me, others may be younger than me. Not all of them may be fellow Americans. But we are all in the same boat. We are away from “home” and looking to make friends and find a community that we fit into. Finding these friends was easier than I expected. There are a multitude of groups that give access to a whole world of interesting people. Women’s groups, expat groups and Meet-up groups can be found on the internet. Pick one, pick two, or go to them all. They are the link to a new life. And even now, as someone who has lived aboard for a while, they can still be a lifeline to new friends.

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As old friends leave we need to meet new friends. We too need to start over yet again. I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything. I know I am blessed to have the chance to travel seeing new places and having new experiences. Four years is a long time to be away from “home”. But I have come to believe that home is wherever you make it. It is where your important people are. It is where you live your day to day life and make your friends. Your first home may be where extended blood relatives live. Your NOW home is where you make it.

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