Tuesday, 10 February 2015
You Ever Hear These Words From An Expat???????
Over the past few weeks I've heard words to describe expat life that might surprise you.
And you thought it was all long lunches, heaps of travel on FFP, tennis lessons, volunteer work and a constant party with new friends.
The lady who described it as LONELY lived in the Middle East for several years. She and her husband decided that their kids would board in the UK. She flew back and forth every 6 weeks. Not really living in either place, but rather visiting. When she was with her husband, being an expat she missed her kids, and when she was 'home' in the UK she missed her husband. She felt she was in a constant no-win situation. She wasn't in the Middle East long enough to really settle in with a group of friends, everyone remained acquaintances. This was over 20 years ago. Maybe with Skype and Facebook it wouldn't have been so bad; maybe with more international schools the kids would have joined them. She said they all survived, and are a strong family unit but she remembers this time with sadness.
Some find it language FRUSTRATING. Forget not being able to understand what's going on around you (aka Yokohama), but conversing with other English speakers can be fraught with initial misunderstanding. There's American-English, British-English and Australian-English. One of the funniest misunderstandings is the word 'thong' - British-English it's a piece of ladies underwear, in Australian-English it's a summer shoe (aka flip flop). Poorly is not a financial status, but rather a state of wellness (being sick, not vomiting, but unwell).
Then there's spelling!
Check out this very short list of potential confusion and hilarity between different English speakers.
Ketchup, tomato sauce.
Hard flour, soft flour, plain flour, self raising flour.
Push chair, pram, stroller, buggy.
Grade, year, form (school).
School bag, satchel, wheelie bag, back pack.
It can be DIFFICULT and FRUSTRATING not being able to find the ingredients to your families favourite meals, or having to find alternatives; putting on a constant brave face in front of the kids who haven't found a best friend at school yet; trying to work out time zones to Skype with family/friends back home; juggling travel opportunities with trips home, realising you are running a no charge B&B. The FINANCIAL cost of opening your home to guests (aka family and friends), going out'n'about with them is an unknown quantity and depends on where you are living and for how long in terms of it's attractiveness to visitors.
We've all lived in places that have been DIFFICULT to navigate - there's language, customs, cultural differences which resonates to shopping for food, going to the hairdressers, making a dinner reservation, finding child minders, employing reliable home help to name but a few day-to-day things that can be very TIME CONSUMING until you know where to go for the help you need. You waste a small fortune finding your way, buying foods you don't like, products you're not happy with, replacing electronic appliances and equipment because of the constant change of power sources.
Another lady in a different conversation talked of being LONELY. She explained she's always found making friends difficult. She doesn't like crowds, and doesn't enjoy 'starting over' every few years. She sees 'all you extroverts' and wants to run a mile the other direction. Her friends at home are those she's acquired and developed over y-e-a-r-s and they fulfil her. She doesn't want or need new ones, especially as they move often. She admitted if she knew her married life would be that of an expat wife, she might not have married her husband. (I found this comment so sad)
Some find it FRUSTRATING even tho we are currently in an English speaking country. The definition of words differ for an Australian, American, Canadian. Not being able to find the ingredients to your families favourite meals, or having to find alternatives; putting on a constant brave face in front of the kids who haven't found a best friend at school yet; trying to work out time zones to Skype with family/friends back home; juggling travel opportunities with trips home, realising you are running a no charge B&B.
Most expat families are single income families, not by choice but by immigration and visa status. Expat life can be FINANCIALLY CRIPPLING for some families. Long gone are the days when squillions is earned, mortgages are paid off, investment properties are purchased and more. The reason expat packages tend to cover school fees (international schools are ridiculously expensive, captured audience), sometimes rent (or part there-of) is because governments have already given away one job to a non-local, they are not going to do two.
Many ladies talk about giving up their jobs/careers to enable their husband/partner to accept the international move. it's a very patriarchal lifestyle. I had lunch with a friend who opened up about her career - she's several degrees including an MBA, she is invited all over the world to lecture (now I know why she's always 'away'), she's been a CEO of a private hospital and sat on 2 Boards. What a waste she isn't able to work!
There are a few house-dads, their wives are the one's with the contract. Their ISOLATION is ten-fold (another chat, another time)
A man I met last week in line at a Government office, spoke of his FRUSTRATION of not being able to find a suitable house for his young family as there's not much quality rental properties on the market and the rents they are asking are ridiculously expensive. His final decision to make-do with the best of what he saw isn't sitting well with him but he has to put on a brave face and stay strong for the sake of his wife and kids so that they love it! He wasn't able to get all his kids into the same school; the paperwork involved in bringing their family car from one EU country to another amongst other things. His wife and kids haven't moved here yet, so that's a whole other round of conversation.
He said going to work was so easy. He has a new respect for 'expat wives' (this is their 5th international move, but the first with kids)
It seems every midterm school break and term breaks requires a holiday to be taken. February one goes skiing (in some communities, February mid term is actually called 'ski break'), or flies to UAE for sunshine; the long summer break has people going 'home' for months on end, or having several mini trips back'n'forth. Whether you feel COMPETITIVE or not, being the one to stay-home can get very FRUSTRATING and LONELY.
You don't have to be a westerner living in Saudi, or SE Asia, we were Aussies living in the UK who found aspects of living Winchester Lonely, Difficult and Isolating. A new Irish friend was living in Hampshire for several years and felt similar. An American lady mentioned how totally isolated and out-of-place she felt in Sydney; and an American said Paris was awful for the first 3 years.
Funnily enough our time in Yokohama was the easiest! There was a huge support network offered by school that you experienced information OVERLOAD more than anything else. There were so many nationalities at school waiting to help you! The expats who found this environment difficult were those with quiet natures. We moved around in packs - convoys of cars went to Costco for bulk shopping; a day trip between school hours to IKEA (even if you didn't need anything), 'everyone' belonging to the same expat sports club; kids going to the same English-speaking ballet/tennis/swimming school. You couldn't help but trip over people you knew.
You can be lonely in a crowd, and expat life can be very busy and very lonely all at the same time.
So, that's the reality for some people.
How do you turn it around? How do you make it work?
For everyone who shared their negative stories, they all had positive outcomes to varying degrees admittedly. Here are some:
Join an American Women's Club or an International Women's Club. There are also various clubs for different nationalities - Google it.
In some cities there are expat clubs - check them out and join, and participate.
Research organisations/charities that need volunteers and sign up.
Enrol in a course you've been longing to do, tho not online. The idea is to be out'n'about.
Join the schools parents association or social groups.
Start a group - advertise at school, or at the local shops.
Share ideas via a Facebook group - in Yokohama we started a 'eating out' guide, and a 'holiday hangout' group where ideas were shared, get togethers were planned and friendships were made.
Open your home - host a pot luck lunch then ask someone to host the next months' get together; host a simple coffee morning class mums.
Sometimes this is as easy (hehehehe) as changing your attitude and simply accepting you are no longer in Kansas, Toto.
Accept the differences - otherwise you need to ask yourself why you are living where you are.
Be creative in finding solutions - ask others how the cope.
Find a confidente to talk with. Don't keep things bottled up, but don't dwell on things either.
No getting away from this, just try not to get caught up in it.
Maintain your families values and morals. You won't be living where you are for long, and you'll move. So keeping things constant within your family is vital.
Smile and be gracious (and have a bestie to bitch with)
No such thing. Isn't that what we tell our kids?
Make Google your best friends - catch phrases like 'top 20 Free things to do with kids' or 'Free things to do' are a great start; sign up to any and all 'local' websites offering information ... after a while you'll learn which ones you like.
See ideas for Lonely. Isolating.
Shame. Some moves just don't live up to your expectations. Keep in mind it won't last forever, set small milestones/goals and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Everyone who contributed to conversations that have ended up here know that with time, patience and a bit of effort, THINGS GET BETTER. They have to, otherwise we'd all go home.
G and I try to keep a balance with MissM. Expat life is what you make it. We try to keep it real. We acknowledge the good bits and the not-so-good bits. We arrive with a thud! and assimilate as best we can as quickly as we can, without stepping on too many toes. We love having people stay with us, we love learning about our new home and experiencing new cultures. We make HOME where ever we are, for however long we are there.