To follow on from my last post the best things about being an expat inspired by Maria over at Iwasanexpatwife here is the altogether sadder worst things. Just so you know the weather isn’t one of them!
1.Homesickness, Isolation and Loneliness.
Without a doubt the worst thing about being an expat is that your family and friends are so far away. There is probably nothing like the feeling of being alone, when there is no one around who knows you or knows anything about you or has any kind of shared experience or history with you. You are isolated from anything familiar and the comfort blanket of your nearest and dearest is miles away. No one pops in for a coffee, no one sends you a text to see if you’re free for lunch, there’s no one to moan to about the kids or the weather. You stop looking around you when you’re out and about because there’s no chance of you seeing anyone you recognize, no chance of bumping into someone you know in the supermarket and having a quick chat. There’s a gaping whole in your life that used to be filled with your loved ones and now they aren’t nearby anymore. Thank goodness for skype, facebook and twitter for helping us to keep connected, at the end of the day it is a poor substitute but it will have to do.
I thought culture shock was the feeling I had when we first crossed the strait of Gibraltar from Spain into Tangier, Morocco on our first visit to Africa. When your senses are bombarded with the sights, sound and smells of a completely different culture. To a certain extent it is but it can also be subtler than that, it can be a feeling that something’s just not right and you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that’s wrong. A surprising percentage of expats suffer from some form of culture shock even when moving between relatively similar cultures. It can manifest itself in many ways but generally it is a feeling of being overwhelmed by unfamiliar surroundings, disorientation and feeling totally alone. Fortunately the Internet is full of information to assist expats with the adjustments needed to combat the effects of culture shock
This is another tough one. In our first year or so of being in Canada several members of my immediate family and closest friends experienced some real traumas, accidents, illnesses and bereavements and the feeling of being too far away to help is awful. Missing out on family gatherings, significant events and not being there for your loved ones when they need you most are all sources of guilt, there’s nothing you can do about it. Part and parcel of expat life is learning to be self reliant and accepting that you will need to deal with anything that life throws your way by yourself but that does not prepare you for the guilty feeling of not being able to help others that may need you.
4. Starting from Scratch
A fresh start can be good but starting from scratch has many drawbacks. No credit rating and no insurance ‘no claims’ discount for example, result in endless red tape and paying a fortune for things that can be really frustrating. It feels like taking a massive step back when you go from being quite comfortable financially to having to pay a huge deposit to get a mobile phone or accounts with the utility companies. You need to constantly prove your reliability and trustworthiness.
5. Language Barriers
I’m English and I moved to a country whose first language is English, so it should be easy but it’s not. I’ve been told I don’t have a particularly strong accent but sometimes making myself understood is beyond frustrating. Phone calls are worse and I usually have to repeat everything I say at least twice and I find myself dreading having to call someone and putting it off for a day or two. Canadians don’t seem to understand when I say ‘a’ or ‘i’ so spelling things out doesn’t help at all, it can be a very irritating daily occurrence. You can learn to say the words that are different like closet instead of cupboard and elevator for lift but it’s more difficult to change how you say it. For me it’s a constant reminder that I am different and it draws attention to me, which I really don’t like. They only amusing part of having an accent is that all the kids I work with in school are learning new words from me so I have a whole group who say some words with an Essex twang!
To end on a positive note although the bad things seem really bad sometimes the good things about being an expat are good all the time. Expat life is hard but it sure is an interesting journey.