Sunday, October 28, 2012

Expat Life = Isolation?

 I might be sticking my foot in it, but I’m going to say it anyway: sometimes, being an expat is a little isolating.


(Actually, sometimes it’s not only a little isolating, but very isolating.)

It’s not just that you’re far away from your own home country, your own culture, your family and your friends. It’s not just that you’re living in a place that is so different, that you miss the nuances and possibly offend someone. Completely on accident. Just because of cultural differences. (That’s a whole other post.)

And it’s not that you don’t make friends, either. Because you do. And I have. I’m lucky. I’ve met incredibly talented, creative, passionate, inspiring, kind people. I get to spend time with them doing super cool things like writing and sharing books and being part of entrepreneurial adventures.

But if you travel around in the development expat bubble, you quickly realize it’s a small bubble. A very small one. It’s surprising how many people know each other or of each other.

It’s not just six degrees of separation. It’s usually one. Or two.  Often, you hear that XYZ who used to work for ABC organization in LMN country with so and so is now here in Myanmar. Here’s an example: my husband knows at least four other expats in Myanmar (and there’s not tons of us here) who all worked pretty much together in a West African country many years ago. 

That can be comforting.  Sometimes it can feel strange, too; especially if you weren’t part of that life/world. 

It can also make it difficult to talk about difficult things…

…Because what if so and so who knows so and so hears about this difficult thing. Will that impact so and so’s friendships, relationship, work, reputation? The bubble is super small. So, uh, super-silence super powers are needed at times. 

Editing yourself isn't limited to discussing difficult issues. It's equally necessary to be careful sharing information about any other expat (gossip). We all know gossiping isn't nice. Grown-ups do gossip though. And when you're living in a very small bubble, it's best to be careful.I'm sure some of you living in small towns deal with the same sort of thing, right?

Enter: unspoken-boundaries-of-how-much-you-can-share-with-other-expats. Enter: isolation. Sometimes. Not always.

So, you’re gonna need to reach out to those you can talk to, right?

Well, this is Myanmar. Which means it’s not always easy connecting with people back home.  Maybe the internet is down. Or maybe the time difference makes it really hard. Or maybe it’s something you don’t want to write in an email. Or maybe you can’t finish a proper conversation on Skype because it keeps getting disconnected.

So what to do?

When we lived in other countries, I didn’t know how to work around this and felt isolated most of the time.  In Kenya, we weren’t part of the expat bubble, so I felt a bit more free to share. And I did when I needed to.

How to get around it now?

Creative outlets. All those things I might want to say (like, how sometimes it’s isolating being an expat!), I can write. I can paint.  Somehow, I get whatever is bothering me out of my head so I can move on.

Let's face it: sometimes things that are troubling us aren't as horrible as they long as you can express it in some way. It's keeping things bottled up that hurts us.

The great thing about using a creative outlet is I can express the essence of how I’m feeling without exposing myself too much.  I get to explore ways of communicating raw emotion without being too vulnerable, without spilling all the beans.

Isolation becomes a creative challenge.  And then, it gets fun! (But maybe I’m a bit of a masochist.)

So, I’m learning to harness some of these feelings and put them in a new place. On paper. And let them take their own course from there.


  1. This so resonates with me! My creativity has been a sanctuary for me in many seasons of life. I very much understand the feeling of isolation, too. I love that you've turned it into a positive...a creative challenge!

    1. Hi Janice,
      Thank you for your message. I agree: creativity can be a sanctuary. Definitely.

      I have an expat friend who says her writing is her Xanax. I love that. Basically, we're saying the same thing: the creativity is necessary. A lifeline. It's what we use to cope. And hopefully produce something cool as a result. ;)

  2. Yes, what Janice said. What I like about your writing, Becky, is your honestly and your ability to put the difficult stuff into words then show clarity in it. You have some amazing observation skills that you sift into your writing. You see the story, the blog, as it unfolds before you in everyday, simple events that reach inside many of us. Keep going there, keep that writer's eye's workin' for ya! June Maddox

    1. Thank you, June. ;) You always know just what to say. :)

  3. Becky, I'm so happy that you're blogging, and I would never have any idea what life is like where you are! I appreciate your honesty and your wonderful writing. It makes me feel as if I'm right there with you and I can feel the joy and the stings of being an expat. I would like to let you know that you are in all our adventurous souls, and you will never be alone in spirit. I wish I could offer a bigger piece of solace. You really really really ROCK! :)

    1. Indigene,
      Each time you leave me a comment, you brighten my day. <3

      I really like how you mentioned "the joys and the stings of being an expat." Think that about sums up how I'm feeling at the moment, actually. Thank you for saying that so well. :)

      You are so, so, kind and sweet and supportive. Thank you. :)


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