One week ago we were in the Seattle area enjoying what was left of a wonderful Christmas break. Do we live in Seattle? No. Are we from Seattle? No. But there we sat in a beautiful vacation rental overlooking the Seattle skyline and the Puget Sound.
I began to think as we sat there that expat life is so unusual. It’s wonderful, it’s frustrating, it’s a unique way to live and it’s an incredible opportunity. But above all that, it can also be weird. Case in point: we were home in The States for Christmas, but since we no longer own a physical house, we didn’t return to our home state but instead rented a vacation house on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Now all this is pretty cool, but it’s also a bit different. To illustrate my point further, here are 3 reasons why expat life is weird:
1. You’re never truly settled.
Sure, you move to a new country and put down some shallow roots, but you know deep down that this is most likely not your forever home. It’s temporary, which is a weird way to live. I tend to be a person of habit and routine. One who likes to plant roots that run deep. Living an expat life doesn’t offer that opportunity, and this reality can be a struggle at times. We live on a 2-3 year plan that may or may not change at any point. For example, we were supposed to live in Shanghai for 3 years. Those 3 years got extended to 5. However, right before the 3-year mark, we ended up finding out in July we would be moving to Bangkok in August. Whenever you ask an expat how long their assignment is, you can see a little glint of uncertainty flash in their eyes before they answer. In addition, their response is usually something to the effect of, “well, we are supposed to be here until 2020, but you never know”.
2. You know the life you’re living is not reality.
At least for us, living abroad has provided more disposable income than we’ve ever had before. This has afforded us the opportunity to travel the world, go out to eat more often, and buy things that we perhaps could not afford before we moved. I mean, I was sitting in a vacation rental overlooking the entire Seattle skyline and Mount Ranier for Pete’s sake.
That’s not reality…for us anyway. It’s amazing but I also know after we move back home, we will no longer be able to afford to rent a house like that and may be back to staying with relatives whenever we travel. Now that would be weird!
3. You long for home and wonder why.
Although it’s a given that you always miss your family back home and long to be with them, this is more about home in a physical sense. I’m not going to lie, our life in Bangkok is pretty darn amazing! We have a driver and a housekeeper. We have a pool.
We basically live in paradise and would never be able to afford such luxuries if we didn’t live abroad. Yet, every time we go home to The States, I find myself longing to stay. Even though we no longer own a home, there’s something about being back in the familiarity of your own country that’s comforting.
I feel settled there and although when I leave, I get to return to this incredible life, I find it difficult to rip myself away-every.single.time. Then, as a result, I feel guilty because it seems as if I am not appreciating the huge blessing I’ve been given, and find I just end up in a jumble of emotions. Weird, right?
I suppose living abroad is really just a weird juxtaposition of reality. It’s an amazing opportunity, a huge blessing, and a fantastic way to spend a few years of your life. On the other hand, it’s also a life that can include times of longing for the familiar, and for the roots you can’t seem to make grow deeper. It’s a weird, wonderful life that’s certainly never dull. I know one day 10 years from now when we are settled back in The States, we will look back on these days with longing. Perhaps we’ll be bored with being settled, and decide we need to go and do it all over again. Hopefully, if we do, the next time will be in Scotland. 😉 But until then, I plan to try and enjoy every crazy moment of this weird, and wonderful ride.
I don’t think your feelings are weird at all. You guys are living this amazing ‘alternate’ life that you know (in some sense), isn’t really real. I think it’s only natural – even in the midst of your extraordinary adventure – to have a longing for what feels true. Are you familiar with the author Frances Mayes (wrote Under the Tuscan Sun)? Her memoir “Under Magnolia” came to my mind when I read your post. She writes about the idea of ‘home’.
Thank you for your kind words Wendy! I truly appreciate you taking the tome to read it and let me know I’m not completely crazy. 😉 I will put Under Magnolia on my reading list. Thank you for the suggestion! Btw, we are going back to Scotland in June! I can’t wait.
I’m excited for you! Where will you be staying this time? We’re headed back this May. We’ll be staying outside of Inverness in Farr. Counting the days!
Yay for you! I can’t wait to see the pictures! We are still finalizing our schedule but hope to be there for 3 weeks. Our son is interested in Glasgow University so we will do a tour. Also Edinburgh, and I think Inveraray, and St. Andrews area. Have you done any of the islands yet?
That sounds wonderful. I have not yet been to the islands. We’re talking about going to Lewis and Harris on the next trip after this one. I’m pretty sure as long as I live there will always be a “next” trip lol. Well, until God sees fit to just move us there, that is. 😜
Haha! I’m right there with you!
Wow so true!! The longer I live abroad I’m beginning to learn all these things as well. It’s a weird paradox sometimes 😁
I am so glad you find truth in it. Sometimes it’s easy to wonder if I’m the only one feeling that way! Thanks for reading Courtney!
“You’re never completely settled”. Wow does THIS resonate! Although our goal IS to set down roots here, it feels like light years getting it all comfy and feeling like “home”. We are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of living here, and we are still getting settled.
It certainly takes a year to feel like you belong. Think about all those firsts that you are going through every single day! At least after the first year, you’ve done it all once and know a bit more what to expect. I’ve learned to put pictures on the walls and make the place feel as much like home as I can as quickly as possible. This also helps us feel a bit more settled in our unsettled world. Good luck to you in your journey and thanks for reading!