by Jess Thakkar
Living as, and being an expat, has been on my mind of late. How did we all get here. Was it planned? Or did it just happen? Usually it’s the male half of the couple that brings about the move, the female has to follow and adapt. It’s a challenge and we all want something exciting and new for our lives. And so it begins…
A series of events, decisions and even luck brings us to attain this status. I don’t think anyone really sets out to be one. It’s not like saying to ones teachers at a school careers meeting or to your parents that, “when I grow up I want to be a doctor, oh an expat one! We all set out along the usual
route, higher education, that converted first job, perhaps a super second one with a pay increase then maybe you get headhunted, or meet a friend or ex colleague that has this fantastic job in say, Singapore! And that’s it!! Bang! You start to think, “Perhaps I could do that! Why not, think of the money and oh the sunshine, the big bonus at the end of the year”.
The thoughts begin to move into action, you instigate and contact a recruitment consultant that is a specialist in overseas positions, or a friend of a friend that knows of a vacancy overseas, that’s just right for you!
That’s how it may start and it ends with you and your partner upping sticks, with or without children in tow, going to work halfway around the world. Some people just fall into it… by mistake even. Transferred by their company to sort things out for them, only for six months, to set up the manufacturing arm or delivery point… that was two years ago and you have no idea when you will be going “home” because you have now made this new place your “home“.
This new life doesn’t come easy, you are expected to work, and work hard! Long days, hours spent in traffic, hot, sweaty and exhausted by the heat and that’s before 9am.There is the abysmal driving conditions, the potholes in the road and the motorbikes/bicycles or even cows depending on where you land this fantastic overseas job!
It’s not just you that have to change your life, your partner and your family, siblings, and children all have to. You are ok. You have your special job, with the bonus and the cachet of working overseas. Your partner had to leave their job, family and friends. They worked hard to get that job! They were happy and content and didn’t really mind the wind and rain, seasons are wonderful things. Family feel upset and even angry, why do you need to leave they say? That job was perfect for you, and it is so far away, but when will we ever see you? Children will have tantrums, once they realise what they are leaving, friends are so important and so is routine to a young person. Babies and toddlers come with their own issues, food, clothes and sickness, how will they cope in a strange land. It happens and the move takes place. The packers pack your life away on a container for a six week (if you are lucky) journey to the next stop. The excitement of finding a beautiful house with a garden, a swimming pool, maid and gardener kicks in. You love it! It’s warm all the time and the food is exotic. It’s OK that you can’t speak the language. You get by with “Google Translate” and the promise to your self, that you will learn.
Until that moment when you are all alone, it’s 1pm, you are sad that you have no one to talk to and won’t have until 7pm. When they come home. The house is quiet. Loneliness kicks in. You for your toast and the milk tastes yuck and you can’t find that sausage roll that you loved so much for lunch, whilst reading that glossy mag with your mates, giggling at the latest fashion faux par made by that actress. You miss home and everything that goes with it. And your partner doesn’t understand, This house is fantastic, what more could one want? This is supposed to be a dream come true, is it not?
Finally you make friends and join a club. You meet others that are in the same position as you. You start to feel normal for feeling as you do. You begin to fit in. You are OK. Things are looking up. You all go out in couples for weekends away and dinner at the newest restaurant in town.
You actually start to enjoy your new life. Your family get used to you not being around and you make new friends. They are the same as you and you are happy in their company. In some ways they are better than the ones you left behind. They understand your new life. They are experiencing it at the same pace as you.
Things are good and then you change. You don’t want to go ”home” for winter… Oh God! It’s freezing! Oh how your feelings have changed. You really don’t want to go back. It’s cold and dull! No one understands you any more. You’ve changed. We adapt to the new and leave the old behind.
Humans are always evolving and moving and becoming apart of our new surroundings. We make it all work. We have to. An expat is a weird creature. Not belonging here or there anymore but we survive and live and enjoy and just get on with it. We enjoy the fruits of our labour, we have a disposable income, we have home help and even a driver to take us where ever we need to go. Yet I can’t help but wonder, how does the uncertainty effect us all? One day it will all be over and you will have to start again.
By which time you have made this “new” place your home. You have roots now and people who care for you and you them. You can’t imagine being without you new best friend. Uncertainty… an awful emotion. Not knowing when the plug will be pulled on your special life is tough. Maybe it won’t happen for a while yet but there is always an end date, you just don’t think about it. You did once, in the lonely days, when you counted the days and months, when you were alone at home. But not anymore.
I have lost many friends, I say lost because I too looked for someone to fill the gap of who I left behind. I made friends who understood me and experienced all the same emotions. They have left and I have found new friends. But it never gets easy. You have to expose your self time and time again and it can get quite hard to continue to do so. But continue we must. For being lonely isn’t a good place to be.
So my friends. Enjoy it. Embrace it and love it. Live the expat life you are lucky enough to find yourself in. It will eventually end. There is an alarm waiting to go off after so many years. Then you go back to being someone you once were. Normal life resumes. Expat life isn’t normal. It’s special.