My first day in London. I sat down for lunch with 5 guys who were working in relation to the gaming business. When I’m not with my Nintendo colleagues, Crytek is the next place I am likely to find good people to be friends with – gamers are awesome. So, I thought I’d be fitting right in with these 5 guys. I grabbed a gaming magazine from the table and flicked through it while they started talking. However, what they all wanted to talk about wasn’t games and geekery – the wanted to talk about their babies and toddlers! They’re not so much older than myself, but they have real lives, with houses and marriages and babies. I have StreetPass hits and an impressive collection of gifs.
I’m planning to move back to the UK in June. I’ve been feeling tired of the expat life for a little while now and my time in London has only made me even more sure that I need to go back home. A lot of expats move away because they are escaping something – I was purely bored of everything the UK had to offer, but now I am very much a foreigner in my own country. The lunch the runner boy brought us was from a place called Leon, which, apparently, is the new big thing as it does healthy fast food. I had no idea. I also have no idea about TV shows, music, fashion (I really stick out like a sore thumb on the streets here and had to do a mad shopping dash on my first night).
More than that, being an expat seems to hold people back. Of course, living abroad is amazing for your career – whether it’s that you have a great job in your expat country, or the experience gained abroad helping you bag that amazing job back home. But I’ve slowly realised that living abroad has hindered me in growing up; in progressing in life.
The truth is, expat life kinda is like living in Neverland. As much as you grow while living abroad, you also stunt your own growth as it’s kinda like you’re living a dumbed down version of life. Life lite, if you will. Allow me to explain.
1. People back home are getting married, having babies, doing grownup things while you’re derping around being an expat.
It’s hard to make friends abroad – and even harder to find someone to love. Sure, you have to find someone attractive and interesting as you would in your home country, but you have to find someone who matches your future plans as well – if you’re sick of life there and want to leave but they want to stay for 5 more years then things are going to get tricky. Put on top of that the fact that expats all have varying degrees of craziness…it’s no wonder the love life of an expat is a sorry affair.
But click onto facebook and…what’s that? Your best friend from school is engaged? That boy you once snogged on the football pitch now has a baby? That guy from your year 8 science class bought a house with his girlfriend?
Wow, all of that seem like very big steps. I can barely commit to which event to go to on a Friday night, let alone find someone to commit MYSELF to! I can’t imagine a life committed to one person, or a small person, or a pile of bricks. That’s just mental.
2. Speaking of family, since you’re never around, you lose contact with most family members.
My dad’s cousin is really close to the family. He’s been voted one of our favourite family members, and no Christmas day is complete without him sticking wine corks up his nose and running around like he’s 5 years old. But, he’s not exactly the kind of person I’d skype each week. My aunt and uncle are the same – some of my most favourite people in the world, but aside from the odd facebook comment, I never speak with them any more. In fact, my family life has been downgraded to an hour on skype to my mum (with probably 15 minutes with my dad) a week. My sisters, brother… I have no idea what’s going on in their life. I had no idea when older relatives were about to pass away. I missed their last moments, the chance to tell them how much they meant to me. Like I said recently, I missed my sisters becoming young women.
They say that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, but I think as an expat it may even be the complete opposite. You can’t choose your friends as the pool from which to choose them is so small but you are easily able to choose which family members to keep in touch with. It just takes a lot of effort to make sure you stay in touch.
3. Since it’s a new language and a new culture, you pretty much feel like a teenager anyway.
You’re plonked in your new country but you don’t speak the language – but you want to! After learning how to order a beer and some food, the next step in your language journey is with children’s books. You learn basic words and pick up how to have basic conversations, so you decide to go out and use your language with real people – only, you can’t. I mean, you can say where you’re from and how old you are and whether you like dogs or cats, but real people like to talk about politics and tv and real life things.
So then you want to speak your native language. You try with those same local people but find that their English ability means that they can only talk about Scrubs (that’s how they learnt English).
So you speak with other expats. But they’ve lived in that foreign country for such a long time, their English is weird. You start mixing the local language with English and then the next time you speak on Skype with your family you find that you can’t English anymore. You’ve forgotten words for normal things because you’ve not used that word in over a year. You start to wonder if you can class yourself as fluent in your native language anymore. You decide to stick to talking about which animal you like and leave it at that.
4. And when you don’t like the rules, it’s often possible to “gaijin smash” them.
‘Gaijin smash’ is an awesome phrase. Gaijin means non-Japanese people in Japanese (and is often seen as a derogatory word). The term gaijin smash means when an expat knowingly breaks the rules and if they get caught, they play ignorant and pretend they just had no idea that the rule existed. I gaijin smashed in Japan when I kept a cat in my flat. The Korean students I studied with gaijin smashed when they found a great way to cheat the train ticket system.
Depending on the country, it may be a little difficult to gaijin smash. Asia is awesome. I can’t think of a way I’ve gaijin smashed in Germany.
But if you gaijin smash too much, you run the risk of forgetting what it’s like to have to follow rules in life…like a proper adult. You feel like a cheeky kid, like you can get away with anything you like.
5. Expat life is way more fun than home life.
My Japanese friends always used to laugh and say that all the expats know more about what’s going on in the town than the Japanese people there.
As an expat it’s often easy to lead a life where you do ALL THE THINGS. I don’t know if it’s because the salary may be better than locals’, or because you want to enjoy that country for as long as you’re there, but expats are often the ones who know about all the events, know all the new restaurants, go to all the new places.
Without tv in my life, I can easily fill my days with comedy, improv classes, meetups, events, restaurants…life is simply fun. So fun, in fact, that I wonder if I’ll be as satisfied with a life where I have a long term, loving relationship and small feet to chase around the pile of bricks I’ve used up all my savings on. Hmm.
As Wendy discovered in Neverland, sometimes it’s nice to be in a magical, exciting place for a little while. But, like Wendy, I feel it’s time to me to go back home and move out of the nursery.
Do you know any other ways in which expat life is like living in Neverland? I’d love to read about them in the comments!