Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. [Kierkegaard]
Life as an Expat
When you live abroad, far from everything you know, there are certain things that become "normal". For example, after an identity forged for you as the "foreigner", the "walker", the "traveler" and every other name for someone who just does not quite fit not get me wrong, it is possible to fit in quite well, but never be native, so to speak. The funny thing is that often there is comfort in being the odd one out. You know your role, you know how others perceive you and you know what is expected, or expected, do not behave. Also, you can get away with a lot and chalk it up to "cultural misunderstandings", but not recommended, but it happens.
Not only their identity or role among friends and colleagues determined that for you, but all the way in forming your social network. Suddenly, he was separated from those who knew you in high school, college or university and you have to start over with people that most likely meet other types Expat-related events. If you're brave enough, also try to participate in some local events, but many foreigners, especially those living in non-English speaking countries, prefer to run with a herd family and hope to meet with one or two locations along the way. In recent years, I have made a number of good friends during attempts to build a network abroad in English speaker meetings Amnesty International, book clubs, international networking events (sponsored by organizations such as Internations or meet-) and above all, the Irish pub. No matter where you go, there is at least one solid Irish Pub attracting English speaking Expat and backpackers passing through.
The prodigal son returns globetrotter
When I landed back on Canadian soil, for months I still proudly my identity as the drifter who just moved back to live far, far away, with stories to tell and cultural comparisons to make - all the time. Gradually, however, these cultural comparisons boring (but annoying: who wants to listen for the fifth time the amount of food cheaper in Germany than were Canada), the images had been shared, stories told and re-told and then ... and then, it was not just me. I was not used to being alone "I" without something attached to define "self." Once upon a time I was a college athlete, then I would have been the Globetrotters, and now? Suddenly I was back to square one and back in Canada, where the first question a stranger asks "what are you doing?". What should I do? I, ugh ... I write? Something like that? I love traveling, but not officially do that anymore, unless you are on vacation, but anyone can do that! Am I having a midlife crisis a quarter of the way? Not quite. But I was in a bit of a loss. So, how I can find myself again?
How to overcome between
1. Reconnect: The first thing I did after my return bathe in the friendship of family and friends who had been separated on and off for many years. Suddenly, when we moved, we had people offering to help. When we had a birthday or a commitment to celebrate, we've had people asking where and when they might get to join in the festivities. As Expat is easy to forget how nice it is to have support around you without having to search. While all my friends and family ties remained strong abroad, to spend quality time with your loved ones without having to cross the ocean to do is something that should not be taken for granted.
2. Appreciate the familiar: As an expat, or a backpacker regular work your way around the world, you begin to thrive in uncomfortable situations. Each situation becomes a challenge, every unknown word a track or an obstacle to understanding the world around him. Being uncomfortable almost becomes an addiction and everything that is even remotely familiar becomes synonymous with routine and boredom. Once you're back though - after an initial bout of depression and a sinking feeling that everything is mundane and never again find the light in the world - actually begins to appreciate the familiarity of things your around. The ease of understanding of the processes and procedures within the inherited system really make life much easier: to know where to get the health card renewed for the operation of the banking system, all efforts had to face in the day-to-day bases in a foreign country away and give you more time to focus on the big picture. The larger what? Yes, there is a bigger picture. Or it may have. Read on!
3. Recognizing an opportunity to grow: While abroad, it is often enough to be living (and survive) as an Expat - and it's easy to forget that there are other directions in which you can grow, other parts of your life that needs exploring . When I lived in Germany, I was teaching English business - something we enjoy, but not something that was necessary plans to pursue a higher level. Being back in Canada, however, the use of existing connections and using the familiar work environment and expectations, I had the opportunity to explore a new career as a writer, something I always wanted to do, but do not necessarily have the time or ability to pursue abroad. Recognizing the ability to grow in new ways is definitely a key to overcoming the disappointment of being an "Ex-Expat". Today, I'm taking German lessons, playing in a rec league soccer mixed with friends (including my husband), meeting people for drinks, holding a family vacation and the most friendly dinners in our new apartment just brilliant! I have had the opportunity to develop professionally and be a better friend and family member whom I love - just by being present. And you know what? It feels great.
4. Take a moment to ponder: When I moved back to Toronto, I teared the first time I set foot in the TTC. Not only was convinced that the Toronto transit system was backward, dirty and full of crazy people, but I wanted to look out the window and see the mountains, and missed the familiar voice telling me to "Mind the Gap" in the London Underground or the U-Bahn voice directed me to the exit ("Bitte in Fahrtrichtung aussteigen links") pulling out from a day of work in Holzkirchen. Instead, I saw a city that did not understand a system that had left for good reason. He took a return visit to Munich to realize that maybe ... just maybe I was being a little too hard with the country that chose to call home (at least for now). All honesty, the German U-Bahn is not as clean as you can get a couple of crazy people who ride the TTC, in Munich you get more drunk because it is legal for consumers of alcohol in public places. I also realized that perhaps the Toronto skyline was not so bad after all, it was just different. And then I realized. Toronto Nothing was bad, just took a little getting used to. No country or city is perfect. All are flawed in some way or another. It just takes time to recognize the benefits and accept the flaws from one place to another. Do not worry - give it time.
5. Books (or at least schedule) before holidays: Last but not least! The best way to survive life as an "Ex-Expat" is to keep traveling. From weekends away to holiday abroad, it helps to know that you're stuck because you're back where life began. This particular lesson took a while to sink in (for both my husband and I) but now we know that something big is always booked two or three months in advance and programmed little something in between. Be sure to move only in travel has gone from your life, something you get to enjoy once every few months. Browse local parks and hot spots, neighboring cities and places you never could have thought were worth exploring. When travel becomes a luxury and not a part of your daily life, you begin to appreciate the value and the search for the lessons taught in smaller doses, whenever possible. Explore the world around you and take you to the mentality Expat with you, wherever you are.