Things that happen when you’re an expat

The world can be an interesting place to live... via Steven Richie @ Flickr.
The world can be an interesting place to live… via Steven Richie @ Flickr

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.

I’m homesick

Annoying, but inevitable.

If I’m here, I can’t be there

My motherland England - bleak yet somehow charming. Via gidzy @ Flickr
My motherland England – bleak yet somehow charming. Via gidzy @ Flickr

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.

New Zealand - what a country. Via pursuedbybear @ Flickr
New Zealand – what a country. Via pursuedbybear @ Flickr

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>

I'm always missing hugging my loved ones back home. Via Aaron Guy Lerous @ Flickr
I’m always missing hugging my loved ones back home. Via Aaron Guy Lerous @ Flickr

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

Wellington, NZ. Not a bad place to live. Via Paul Capewell @ Flickr
Wellington, NZ. Not a bad place to live. Via Paul Capewell @ Flickr

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.

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9 thoughts on “Things that happen when you’re an expat

  1. Great read, as always! I don’t want to try and second guess you but something somehow seems different this time – why is it now a question of how we “cope”? You never previously seemed to worry about coping but were able to enjoy wherever you were at the time without even thinking about it. Maybe it’s age/knowing that there’s no expiry on the place/knowing that there probably is an expiry on the place/size or location of the city etc. It’s quite a complex situation, in my experience. Maybe I’m just projecting my own thoughts onto you. Who knows?! Always good to read your blog and I certainly do identify 🙂

  2. Nice post. I’ve been living overseas for about 17 years and maybe the toughest thing is the saying goodbye aspect. Everyone is different, but my attitude is that you can’t stop making friends just because you don’t want to leave them. I take you r point about social media having drawbacks, but one of the cool things is that you can maintain those friendships you make overseas as well. True, it’s not as satisfying as being with them, but it’s something.

    I live in South Korea and I blog about expat life as well and am always looking to connect with people who blog about similar themes. Please visit me at bosmosis.wordpress.com sometime. Cheers, and good luck with everything!

    1. Thanks for your comments, John! Living in South Korea must be fascinating – I’m a big fan of Asia. You’re right of course – saying goodbye is a part of travel that can’t be avoided. The pros of living abroad still outweigh the cons, I believe. I find social media has too many reminders of the past for my liking and am slowly weaning myself off certain sites. The best way to live is in the here & now.

  3. I’m an American living and blogging in the U.K.–more permanently committed to staying than you sound like you are, but still, I do understand what you’re saying. I love both countries. Whichever one I lived in, I’d miss the other.

    1. Hi Ellen, thanks for your comments. It’s a shame you can’t clone yourself and be in both places at once. In the modern age we have so much choice on where and how to live it can be tough to commit – that’s my trouble, anyway!

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