2016 – A Year In Expatland

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, Susan, through a compilation of all the articles published on the blog in 2016.

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!

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Susan generally enjoys her expat life, even if she sometimes gets frustrated because she can’t always tell her truth.

But there’s one thing she isn’t comfortable with: the transition period.

When the time comes to leave, she becomes anxious. She hates the packing and the farewells while at the same time feeling a great sense of excitement and adventure for the new place. She struggles to sleep well. She has a knot in her stomach. Her body aches but she has no time to take care of it. Add to this that finding a new house, arranging new schools for the kids and organising new hobbies is an intense and demanding process.

Rebuilding a whole new social network takes a lot of effort too. She’s very grateful for her portable network of online friends especially since her husband is often away from home, travelling for work. When he comes back, he’s exhausted or stressed out and she can’t really rely on him to lend her a listening ear.

This year particularly, she needed to confide in someone because she worried a lot about her parents back home. Her mum got diagnosed with cancer. She spent sleepless nights wondering whether she should go back to support her parents or trust someone to take care of them.

Repatriating should be easier than any other expat assignment, shouldn’t it?

Not sure though. Already going back home for a holiday brought up some disturbing experiences. Moreover, some of her expat friends who reverted back to their home country were quite surprised of how difficult it was to readjust.

They never thought repatriation would be so hard! And with the children, how can you know you’re doing the right thing?

Susan’s kids had such a blast at school this year: her daughter in grade 7 and her son in grade 9 won sports awards and academic prizes. They were selected to be part of teams engaged in national competitions and have built strong friendships.

They’re now so well adjusted after the initial impact of losing a home three years ago. Susan is very proud of them.

Furthermore going back is not straightforward. Her husband would have to lobby his management to relocate him back home. Living closer to Susan’s parents will put some strain on their marriage. Especially because her husband never got along with her mom!

That’s why Susan is hesitating. Her childhood girlfriend just went through a divorce. She can’t risk the same! What would she do with the children abroad?

There’s a wonderful thing that happened to her in 2016: she found a part-time job in a community based charity, caring for the elderly. That enabled her to get her mind off her dilemma and somewhat ease her sense of guilt for being far away from her parents.

Gradually she earned the trust of the residents and some of them opened up. Gloria in particular told her the story of her life. At 85, she went through quite a lot. She lived in a refugee camp for 7 years after WWII before emigrating in this country. She met her husband in a local shop and they got married. At first, he was quite nice but soon he changed and took advantage of Gloria’s poor knowledge of the language. Although she worked hard, he kept mocking her abilities. It took years for Gloria to understand this emotional abuse. But when she realized what she was up against, she fought back and made him stop. They had 3 children together and all went to university. Gloria is very proud of them but she feels lonely since they all live far from her. Now she has time. Time to think. Memories of the war come back to haunt her.

Susan spends hours to care for Gloria and to listen to her. She feels worthwhile when she catches a smile on Gloria’s face.

Next year, Susan will be 50 and her husband is a bit older than her. They need to think about their future. Are they going to retire abroad or to go back home?

If they wait for too long, they may be stuck abroad. On the other hand, they have two teenagers at home. Handling them is already a challenge. Telling them that they’ll leave their friends and their activities would be a drama! They’re so passionate. They even woke up in the middle of the night to follow the Olympic Games and their favourite teams!

Tonight, Susan is celebrating New Year’s Eve at home. But where is home for an expat soul?

Stay tuned for more in 2017! And don’t forget to send comments, inspirations and suggestions when you feel like it!

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