Thanks to increasing border freedoms and the digital age it’s now easier to live abroad than ever before. According to the Home Office, around five million UK citizens are residing overseas (with over a million of those choosing Australia as the place to up-sticks to). And that’s just people from the UK. Globally, there’s a lot of us attempting to live in a foreign country and that comes with both challenges and rewards. This is my second time around. Having spent a year in Australia and fallen in love with Melbourne then been forced to leave the country by the cruel Australian immigration system (why don’t you want meeee???), I went back to Blighty for a bit before taking the long road to Wellington, New Zealand. It’s the first time I’ve lived in a capital city; the first time I’ve lived on the coast (I can see the ocean from my house); the first time I’ve lived as far from my homeland as it’s geographically possible to be. So, here are a few of my thoughts on being an expat.
I hate the word ‘expat’
It’s an ugly word. Anything starting with the preposition ‘ex’ tends to send a shiver down one’s spine (ex-boyfriend, ex-lover, ex-best friend, ex-husband/wife). The Latin roots of ‘expatriate’ are actually fairly innocuous – ‘ex’ meaning ‘out of’ and patria|: ‘country’. But anything ‘ex’ suggests a throwing off of the past, a rejection of the homeland. I believe most expats are far from cut off from their mother country.
Annoying, but inevitable.
If I’m here, I can’t be there
This is the age-old dilemma of travel and choosing to reside overseas. You can’t have it all. If you’re in your home country you’re missing out on the life-changing experience that is living abroad. The same goes for when you are having that life-changing experience – you tend to feel the pull of home from time to time. It can be tough. I recently missed a friend’s wedding and I was feeling down about it the whole weekend. All you can do is be sure you’re making the most of your time away from home instead of moping around wishing you were back there.
I wish my country was more like this…
I’ll just get this out the way now – New Zealand is an amazing place to live. It’s naturally stunning, insanely clean and the locals are happy, friendly and chilled as, bro. Australia was also a great place to spend a year. I’ve definitely spent time among my local friends either mocking English culture or making excuses for it. I will always maintain that the miserable weather in the UK has shaped our entire national identity (like, hello, we don’t get a summer except during one random year out of every seven or so. Don’t even get me started on winter). So yes, I do long to see a more upbeat version of England at some point during my lifetime but unless global warming speeds the hell up I can’t see it happening.
I also love the national pride some countries around the world have. It’s hard to be proud of coming from England (cough British Empire cough). A kiwi friend of mine was shocked that we don’t celebrate the Queen’s birthday as a national holiday – Australians and New Zealanders both get the day off. Aussies also go for gold on Australia Day every January and Kiwis get together on Waitangi Day in February. Canada has Canada Day, the US and India have Independence Day. These countries just loved seeing the back of England. Even Ireland and Scotland have their own special days (St Patrick’s and St Andrew’s). Meanwhile, the English get through the year as quietly as possible. It would be a wonderful thing to bring the country together annually and celebrate being English – eating roast dinners and trifles, drinking tea, ale and cider whilst moaning about the weather and generally being awkward around family we usually only have to see at Christmastime. But alas, we can only do this at Christmas – when the rest of the world is celebrating too so it’s okay for us to join in.
It isn’t like this in my country!
All that being said, I bloody love England and being English and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Having spent time in Australia and New Zealand I can say that there is one thing England has over the New World – our Government thinks that we have common sense. They may be misguided in this belief – or simply too busy dealing with the broken economy, cluster-fuck that is the Eurozone and massive crime rates to give many shits about us killing ourselves in dumb ways. I recall my joy upon returning from a year in Australia and I could CROSS THE ROAD WHEREVER I BLOODY WELL LIKE. There’s no such thing as jay-walking in the UK – the Government believes us to be sensible enough to judge whether or not it’s safe to cross the road. This is also why the game Frogger was so popular in England back in the day (we nailed it every time). When driving in the UK it’s also possible to speed a little bit and get away with it. Everyone knows this to be true. Whilst not recommended in a built-up area, you can always speed (a little bit) on motorways – I’ve never once been in trouble for doing so. It’s the 10% over/under rule – and, frankly, the police have got better things to do. The amount Australia and New Zealand fine their citizens for being a measly 8km/hour over the speed limit is where the real crime lies.
I wish I could share this with <insert name here>
As soon as someone invents a machine that can temporarily transport a person to the other side of the world, just for half an hour or so, please let me know. A 24 hour flight is quite a big (expensive) ordeal to go through just to give my best friend a hug and tell her about what happened last night.
I’m scared to put down too many roots
This is one of the hardest balances in expat life for me. I am very comfortable living out of a 50 litre backpack for months and months so it feels weird to buy extra stuff when you initially move abroad – but I must in order to fit in with my new life. This can also apply to personal relationships. The closer you get to people the harder it is to say goodbye to them in the end if you are just a temporary citizen.
No one here understands me
You know that awkward moment when you make a super witty joke and the room just falls silent? This has happened to me in English-speaking countries numerous times, so I can’t imagine even attempting to be funny in another language. Some cultural differences just don’t translate easily and British humour is occasionally one of them. People give you this look: “Oh my god what you just said was so rude/bitchy/negative/offensive.” I’m joking. Of course, the joke has already well and truly failed once you have to explain it. I often wonder how many people that I’ve met abroad have totally misjudged my personality based upon their inability to tell when I am absolutely taking the piss.
Social media is ruining my experience
Seriously, at times I know so much about what’s going on in England I may as well still be there. I can tell you what the weather is like in my tiny country hometown pretty much every day thanks to the Brits moaning all over Facebook. Recently I realised I’ve been feeling a lot more homesick living in Wellington than I did when I lived in Melbourne, even though I’d been away for longer last time. I soon figured out why. In Australia I had the crappiest, most basic phone money can buy ($19 if you’re asking). I checked Facebook maybe 2-3 times per week, didn’t use any other social media at all and averaged a couple of Skypes home to England per month. Now I’m looking at Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat pretty much every day and I’m reminded of home far too much to be healthy. I have chosen to live abroad in a whole new country on the other side of the world – I really ought to be embracing this experience and not living vicariously through friends back in the UK.
This relationship is going nowhere…
…Unless you or I feel like relocating to another country for the rest of forever. I touched on this in a previous post detailing the pitfalls of Love and Travel. It’s still a sore spot. Is there any point to a relationship with an expiry date? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
I don’t want to say goodbye to this place
I’ve already done it once with Melbourne and now I’m being cautious towards Wellington lest I should end up with another unrequited love half a world away. Perhaps the damage is already done. Saying goodbye is hard to do. I plan on spending the next half of my life doing much less of it.
So, over to the other expats out there – I’d love to hear how you cope with living overseas and any stories you’d like to share.