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.