I have lived outside the United States (our home country) for ten years. This was a tumultuous decade.
A hurricane wiped out the entire lower section of a city.
I met and married the man who is my husband.
A shooter went on a rampage on a university campus.
I finished my PhD.
Americans elected our first black president.
We had a baby.
Another shooter went on a rampage, this time in an elementary school.
We had another baby.
Watching television coverage of events unfolding thousands of miles away is surreal and one of the hardest things about being away from family and loved ones.
But also in these same ten years, we were making our own memories, and taking full advantage of the gains in expat life.
Every expat journey is different: here are the top 3 perks in ours thus far.
3. You’re 6 hours away from most of the world’s major capitals
In the Arabian Gulf, Eid festivals are national holidays. You can get 3 -10 days off, depending on whether you work for the government or a private company. Thanks to the timing of these religious holidays, we have been to Tanzania, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Jordan, France, England, Thailand and other places I’ve forgotten.
“Looks like all you do is go on vacation,” a friend said one Christmas.
With two Eid holidays, and anywhere from 14-45 additional days off in a calendar year, we are out of the office much more than the average American (though the hours we put in when open for business are very family…)
2. Your family expands exponentially
Your home away from home becomes the people with whom you share life’s major moments: birthdays, anniversaries, the arrival of children, the mourning of loved ones. The longer you stay away, the more opportunities you have to make new traditions. (This is a refrain you’ll hear from any expat, any where in the world).
My favorite memory of life abroad will be developing my hosting skills for our group’s Thanksgiving. From as many as 80 people our first year and down to 8 adults and 7 children, this meal is more meaningful than ever.
1. You have free ongoing personal development
Away from friends, family, routine, familiar roads, you are stripped bare to the essence of who you are. Not everyone can take a sustained look in the mirror sans makeup. When the hotel has lost your luggage, you can lose your temperature, or develop your problem solving skills (and in some cases both are warranted). For those who can preserver, an ever improving self awaits.
The time my son was suspended, by the throat, in the bathroom of an airplane, and I opened the door to ask the stewardess to give me a hand. She and I jiggled the obstructing changing table, back and forth, back and forth, as he grew more and more panicked, until finally, thankfully, it gave and he was free. I learned: don’t panic. Keep trying.
Why all this expat introspection all of a sudden? (I do love a nostalgic look back; I’m the one all those end of the year re-caps of music and movies and TV are made for).
Because it’s nice to take stock after a decade of anything.
And also because I’m launching my own podcast (squee!) about Expat Dilemmas.
More details to follow!
Leave a comment on what you’d like to hear in the show. Or if you’d like to be a featured guest :).