Being an Expat: A Curse or a Blessing?
Nihad Y. Awad
When you get your visa, people start to tell you how fortunate you are, and with green monstrous eyes, they talk about how luck has struck you. Instead, you feel like lightning has struck you instead of luck. A mixture of opposing and confusing feelings starts to roam through your heart and mind. You pack and leave, uncertain of anything, but excited to take the challenge.
Being an expat is definitely an enriching experience, but it also unfolds some disappointments. It could be both a curse and a blessing, according to circumstances and how we perceive and handle the challenges it brings.
Here are a few things that would make it exhausting and hard:
You uproot yourself; pack your life and memories in a suitcase, leave your family, friends and beloved ones behind. You know you will call, they will “Skype” you, but you also understand it is never going to be the same again.
Gradually, you try to track the news back home, the new places, even the jokes, but it all becomes isolated from you by the oceans and deserts you crossed, which leads to the following point.
You arrive to a new place, where people speak a different language and have a culture that is not like yours. At moments you will feel profound loneliness like you do not belong until you start to really dive into the new culture, mingle and fight the culture shock.
You feel stuck; unable to go back, or to belong to the new place; so wisely you start to “adjust” to the fact that you are different; that you cannot force your home into the new place, and also cannot be treated like a citizen.
You understand that things are done differently and that it isn’t anyone’s fault. You accept the infuriating moments, the foolish misunderstandings and even how the routine mundane tasks sometimes become difficult and complicated by the language and cultural barriers until you gradually handle it with acceptance.
The nostalgia/reminiscence list
You have a never ending, non-exhaustive list of the things and people you miss. It hits you sometimes as a wave of depression, and you feel like an exile, and sometimes as unnecessary overwhelming guilt, considering how you used to take everything back home for granted.
You yearn for even the simplest and silliest things that you used to share with your family and friends or even your moments of blissful solitude, knowing that still you are surrounded by your loved ones.
Losing your inner child
If you become an expat whose life totally and absolutely revolves around work, work and more work, you gradually lose your talents and skills. You stop working out, playing that instrument you loved or even doodling in your sketch. This may turn you into a human robot, which you will detest.
On the other hand, the experience is not very gloomy, there is light at the end of the tunnel (we are not sure yet, what is that freaking light, but we anticipate it and walk towards it with hope).
Here are some perks of being an expat:
We carry our homes inside of us, you start to see things differently and appreciate everything back home; even the things you harshly criticized. Your relationships start to have a new emotional depth that it may have lacked.
You are missed too, so your loved ones reach out to you and you know how much they love and care about you. You start to realize that home is not a place or a person; it is all the people you meet, all the places you visit, all your laughter, tears that you live during your journey in this life.
When you gradually become part of the new culture, you embrace it a long with you native one and you even become ready to see more cultures and experience them, crossing all borders.
A multilingual experience
Immersing yourself in the new culture requires your knowledge to the new language. You start learning the host language, and even plan to learn more languages.
It is an undeniably hard experience, but when you challenge yourself it can become a real journey of self-discovery of abilities and powers.
You cross paths with multitudes of people, you taste new food, learn different customs, new laws and values, which do not only add to your life, but they also broaden your horizon and how you perceive things. You accept diversity and make peace with the fact that you are a foreigner and you have to make the best out of it.
You would not have decided to pack and go, unless the job you found offered you a salary that is relatively higher than the one you got back home. That is never something to be ashamed of, because yes money is important, and yes a better salary is an opportunity that is crucial to a better standard of living, and so it is an offer you cannot refuse (no Capones involved).
The new country with the new job, probably matches your hopes and career plans, so you go for it, you do your best and reach out for your ambitions.
It is really all about how you will perceive the experience, and how much stress and nostalgia you can handle and accept. Some are able to shut off their previous life at their native countries of origin to the extent that when they go back to visit home, they don’t feel at home anymore, they have a reverse cultural shock and even their loved ones treat them like guests or strangers.
Others feel they can bring their former life as is to the new place. Both are two extremes, and reaching the golden mean is always the best. When in Rome, act like the Romans, when back home, be fully a citizen, and be yourself everywhere you go.
Become a child of the world and belong to many places. The grass is always greener on the other side, so let’s take a deep breath and give the grass where we stand a chance to marvel at it while the sun rises.
WE SAID THIS: Don’t miss The 10 Types of Expats You Meet in Cairo.