A lot is written about the expat experience. In particular about the issues faced by individuals and couples when transitioning into a new culture. I don’t want to do a rehash – just Google it for more information. In summary though, there are issues with loneliness, fear and relationship breakdowns due to differing expectations.
When one partner is working often the other is left in this ‘limbo’ realm to figure out how to do things. Feeling isolated, even when surrounded by people, the day- to-day stuff like how to go food shopping, how to hire help and sort out the internet is daunting. Then there is the super stressful stuff like the red tape business – visa’s, Embassy’s and the often baffling legal side. Usually all this happens with children in tow who you also have to help transition. You are often watching your child unravel as they deal with fears and insecurities. With young ones they will retest the boundaries turning you into a screaming banshee more often than ever before.
Cultural differences often have a huge impact, not just the language barrier. How many times have I described the environment here to friends, for them to say ‘I just could not stomach it’. There is a massive paradigm shift that needs to take place so you can sleep at night. You have to find a way to navigate through the clash between your ‘Western’ expectations and the way things are in your foreign country. You have to find how you ‘fit’ here so you can flourish. Easier said than done sometimes. Case in point – my last post about buying a puppy!
When I arrived here one of the things I had heard was that the expat community was excellent. A great source of friendship and support. For the most part it is totally true. I know for me, I have made the most wonderful, delightful and kind friends who have been amazing support. I do not in any way wish to contradict this. I was so impressed and proud of the ‘Sisterhood’ that appears to be here. For the most part it is awesome. I have lost count now of the times I have been overwhelmed with support from the wider community when I have sought counsel.
I guess now I have been here a little while I can see some of the cracks and it worries me. No, it doesn’t worry me, it dismays me. There seems to be a common issue across the board, no matter which country you are in. This issue from my perspective is that the broader community of women will only go so far with the Sisterhood ideal, before they feel compelled to rip each other down.
I started to notice it a few weeks back, small snippy, inappropriate comments made in the public realm. Comments that would be ok if done on private message, between the two parties. Instead it is this passive-aggressive attempt to embarrass and shame people who are supposed to be united in a common situation. It also seems these people consider each other ‘friends’. A concept totally lost on me because I would never consider a person who does this ‘my friend’.
I have seen comments calling a person ‘irresponsible’. In recent days after the initial outflowing of concern and support for a pregnant expat who was hit by a car, comments have turned nasty, judgemental and so disgusting they have been removed (thankfully) from social media. Why? What has this woman done to deserve such venom? What have her family done, her child who witnessed his mother get run over, the unborn child she carries – what have any of them done to deserve this retribution?
I did a lot of research before making this move, to arm myself with as much information as I could about what to expect as an expat. So I am familiar with the range of issues. It really came home recently when a brave soul reached out to our community here asking for help. She needed help finding treatment for depression. I don’t know that it was intentional, but I was so impressed by this woman’s courage. By acknowledging her suffering, she has highlighted the fact that living like this can be completely overwhelming and it can totally engulf you, chew you up and spit you out.
Recently I was chatting on messenger with a new friend about my concern over the observations I had been making. In response she said: “There’s a market here to make expat spouses happier people!” I don’t actually believe this is true. What I believe is that if people showed a little more care, a little more kindness then perhaps some of these issues which are so very real, will be a little more bearable to work through. We will feel a little less lonely and a little less isolated. So that when things get hard, we feel OK finding a soft shoulder to cry on. We can find someone who will be honest and say in a calming voice ‘yes this is difficult, but you know what we are in this together, and together we will get through it’. Strong bonds are formed in this environment. I have seen it, I have experienced it, and I have felt impressed by it so I know it is here. Let’s extend ourselves beyond our own Tribes and show a generosity of spirit that is much more far reaching.
I am also a big believer in the power of attitude. You are the only one who can influence how you feel about things. By having an optimistic view on life, challenges suddenly become a little easier to deal with and overcome. It is not always that black and white, I do get that. It’s just that reflecting on what I notice going on around me, I have started to wonder if a lot of people may feel a little disparaged. I think it is easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to what other expats are doing. I know I do. I hear about these amazing women here doing amazing things and I wish that was me. So far I have brought a puppy which was not on my grand plan. I don’t even appear to be able to find suitable help with the children so I can go and pursue dreams of mine. Dreams that helped me find the courage to bring my family here. You know what though. In these moments I take a breath, look around, maybe eat a Cinnabon and go ‘your time will come. One day at a time’.