Before you take your excited leap into expat life, there’s something you need to realize about becoming an expat. Unfortunately, it actually has very little to do with you and a whole lot to do with the people you leave back home. Here’s the problem you will face: You will have to constantly speak up in defense of expat life. You will have to offer explanations and information, personal details and perhaps intimate insights. You will have to regularly deal with people questioning your lifestyle and your choices.
Well, you don’t have to do any of this, but, unfortunately, you will be faced with some difficult conversations with coworkers, friends, and family. That’s an inevitability you must embrace before embarking on your expat journey.
Conversations About Expat Life
Unfortunately, when you choose the expat life, you will undoubtedly encounter a variety of responses from those who are closest to you back home. Some will be excited for you on your new journey, some will just be sad at your departure. But some will be incredulous, skeptical, or downright judgy.
People back home will tell you that expats don’t live in the “Real World.” They will often remark on you running away from obligations. They assume that you’re in a Peter Pan moment of desperation, clinging to childhood as you seek Neverland.
Perhaps they think that you’re just in a phase, or having a mid-life crisis, or trying to get out of babysitting the grandkids for free every day.
Many people think that expat life is irresponsible.
For some reason, there’s this idea that expats don’t live in the “Real World.” That theory bothers me quite a bit, but probably not for the reasons you think.
It doesn’t offend me or make me second-guess my life decisions – on the contrary! When people (frequently) make comments or ask judgemental questions along these lines of irresponsibility or escaping the “Real World,” I know it’s actually coming from a place of unease, perhaps even unhappiness.
You see, happy people don’t care what other people do with their lives. Happy people don’t judge, they don’t infringe on the happiness of others, and they certainly don’t try to tell others what they’re doing wrong in life. Happy people are too busy being happy to challenge your version of happiness.
In Defense of Expat Life
Life is a choice, a series of decisions we make every single day that creates a lifetime of memories and moments.
Expats don’t leave the “Real World” to go on some fantasy break from daily difficulties. Being an expat doesn’t mean that your world is any less real – it means you’ve selected a different way to live that is just as real as the life you used to live.
Living in another country offers just as many reality slaps as does living back at home. Daily challenges, bills to pay, work to be done – this is everyone’s reality. Living in a new country doesn’t mean you’re no longer in the “Real World,” it just means your reality has shifted to better suit you. That’s often difficult for people back home to grasp.
It’s hard, but sometimes you need to remind people back home that the “Real World” isn’t defined by their own reality. Sometimes you need to remind people back home that you’re living a very similar life, just in another culture.
The “Real World” doesn’t only exist in the place you were born and raised, with everywhere else being an escape from reality. Not everyone who chooses to move overseas is fleeing something; most of us are running toward something instead.
Expat Privilege and Choosing Happiness
I know I am incredibly privileged to come from the background I do; I know that I have endless opportunities afforded to me merely because of who I am and where I’m from. I recognize my privilege.
But, while it may not be as easy for others to choose the type of path I have chosen, everyone chooses a path. You choose a path every single day in the way you react to life. If you choose to see everything in a negative light, that’s your choice. If you choose to see things positively, that’s your choice.
You choose your own path. You cannot choose what shows up on that path along the way – illnesses, natural disasters, economic downfalls, systemic challenges – there are countless issues outside of your personal control. But you can always, always choose how you react to those issues along the way.
And you don’t need to leave your native country to change your reality either. That’s something you can do right this minute in the way you react to the world and in the path that you choose to take.
Expats don’t leave the real world – they enlarge their real world and add something new to it every day. An expat’s real world encompasses a variety of realities absorbed and engrained through varied experiences in unique places. But reminding people back home that your life isn’t irresponsible, or crazy, or an endless quest to escape can be exhausting.
Just remind them…Expats don’t leave the “Real World” for an extended vacation; expats live in the real world just like everyone else. It’s all real. The only difference is in how you choose to perceive it.
If your people back home are truly happy, then they’ll be happy for you in your expat life, too.
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