As is now the tradition, in the last days of the year, I’m taking you on a journey: the story of an expat woman, Lisa, through a compilation of all the articles published on the blog in 2015.
Disclaimer: Not all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. In fact, they’re all either clearly identified or aggregated parts of several real expats where I took some liberties to change location, names and chronology. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is not purely coincidental. It’s my aim that you’ll recognize yourself somehow in this adventure and that you’ll benefit from this experience. Enjoy!
Lisa is sitting at the kitchen table, looking outside the window. In this early winter morning, her mind wanders. 2015 is drawing to a close and what a ride!
She moved with her family for the third time in ten years. She thought it’d be quick to adapt because the whole family didn’t have to overcome the language barrier. They live in a country that speaks the same language. She was surprised.
While she is more experienced with the practical aspects of transitioning between countries, she finds it harder and harder to uproot herself each time. Not knowing how long she’ll stay in one place, whether to put her energy into building local relationships, volunteering or job-hunting , she struggles to live with uncertainty. She’d love to have some coping strategies.
Looking back on her expatriate experience, she recalls the first years as easier. Everything was new, the children were little. She was happy to leave the rat race behind and enjoyed being present for the kids: teaching them to ride a bike, sitting with them when they read their first words, accompanying them on school excursions, passing on her values, building one day at a time a life of shared experiences and meaningful conversations together. She felt needed and appreciated when their little eyes looking up at her sparkled with wonder and admiration.
The years in primary school brought up such good memories. Sure, there were also darker moments: some cases of bullying, her son not getting along with his teacher, her daughter badly injured on the playground. But all in all, she managed to get through.
Now with the teenage years, Lisa is again thrown off balance. She feels disoriented.
Her role has changed. In order to raise young adults able to take care of themselves, she needs to back off. She has to carefully manage the right balance between letting go and maintaining the dialogue. She has become very sensitive to the changing moods of her teenagers. She feels rejected. Often. All the more because she doesn’t get a lot of emotional support from her husband: he’s glued to his phone and travels frequently. The effects of the jet lag are pernicious: when he comes back, he’s a moody sloth. Lisa resents this disconnection even if she understands the stress put on her partner. She is concerned about her relationship. She recently read an article about emotional abuse and why expat couples are at high risk. It still sticks in the back of her mind.
Adding to her family situation is the worry of her aging parents. Till now, they’ve managed to live on their own independently. But they’re approaching their 80s. What if one day she gets the news she dreads? What if one of them died?
Lots of questions keep her awake at night. Where are the kids going to study? Will they ever go back home? In her mind, home is the country where she was born, where her parents live, where she grew up. But her children have a totally different experience. They hardly lived in their passport country!
If only she could talk to someone and just be heard. Her expat friend Mary mentioned she joined a support group online: a safe space where other accompanying partners come together and share their experience. She really felt relieved when she saw she was not alone in going through contradictory feelings, often tempted to cry and laugh at the same time.
Sometimes the expat life seems daunting but one thing is sure: you live fully!
Being continuously challenged to step out of your comfort zone, you experience ups and downs with everything in between.
Expatriation is so much more than a geographical relocation.
It is a journey towards your inner self. And it’s both scary and fascinating.