Monday, March 18, 2013

Hello/Good-bye: The Transcience of Expat Life

Saying good-bye is something you have to at least try getting used to as an expat. When you live life overseas, especially if you're committed to that lifestyle, then you will always be arriving and leaving. Others in your life, in your expat circle, will always be arriving and leaving, too.

The benefits of transience is exposure to other cultures and being well traveled. Children who are third culture kids usually start traveling early in their lives and become comfortable with it. Some have even said they feel most at home in airports.They're usually adaptable, self-sufficient, and have a great understanding and empathy towards global issues.

Most likely this is because of the connection(s) they've built in different countries and because of the connections they've made with people who have then moved to other countries (that they then feel some connectedness to); for example, I watched a movie - I'm so sorry I can't recall the name - about third culture kids. One of the kids said that when the tsunami hit Thailand, they felt a deep sense of grief. They had recently been to Thailand or had friends that had lived there or perhaps they used to live there themselves. That connectedness breeds empathy for the greater good. This is a gift.

The cons, though, are that some third culture kids don't know where they belong or where they come from. Some adults aren't sure, either.  The transience, the coming and going, the attaching and detaching, can make certain children and adults find it difficult to create deep relationships with others. Research has shown that expats are generally more adept at maintaining a level of detachment (especially from relationships).

Third culture kids are always losing friends to moves. They're also always gaining new ones. So are the grown-ups.

Sometimes, there's a lot of stress in expat families. The family usually values hard work and academics which can provide a lot of benefits to children; but it also means - usually - that at least one of the parents works extremely hard and may travel a lot.

When stress accumulates in an expat family, it's difficult to resolve issues when you don't have a strong support network that you can lean on. As I discussed here, sometimes it can feel a bit isolating being an expat. Sometimes it's hard to find people you can really share what's going on with.  The expat world is usually a pretty small one.

This goes for adults and for kids.

Transience is on my mind because some friends will be moving away when school gets out this year. Another friend who moved away in the fall is moving back this week. It's an influx of constant change.  I find that when I live overseas, I get a bit more guarded. When I arrive, I try not to get to close to people who are nearing the end of their contracts. It always feels safer to invest time and energy in relationships with people who haven't been in the country very long; but even then, you never know when an unexpected change might bop you over your head and then: boom! Your new close friend is gone.

Some people seem to be naturally wired for a transient lifestyle. They may even crave it, need it, in order to function at their best. They may be comfortable with the level of detachment that comes from that; and for whatever reason, perhaps that best suits their personalities. These individuals - whether children or adults - will probably thrive as expats.

Others won't. Some people - adults and children - are hard wired to have roots and a home. A physical place, not just the planet, to call their own. A place to have an attachment to, and place they know they belong, surrounded by family and friends that have known them for many years.

It's been said that the longer you live life abroad, the harder it is to re-adjust and repatriate (or settle down...somewhere).  I'm not sure if there's a point-of-no-return, or some kind of tipping-point, but it does seem like there is. I don't have research to back that up, just my observation. 

So, I think it's important that as we journey down this road, we're mindful of who we really are and what our needs are. We communicate with our children. You figure out what kind of expat you want to be. Temporary. Permanent. Long-term, but eventually repatriate. Lots of options.

Be clear from the outset.


  1. Oh my goodness - did you and I both post a blog with the same title on the same day? Great minds? ;) xxx

  2. I think for me it would be extremely difficult to have gone through what you did with living as an expat, overseas so far from community that I know and family close by. And having to say the good-byes would be extremely difficult. You are a brave woman, I admire you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is all so new to me. xo

    1. I'm not sure how brave I am, Suzanne. But still, I guess it does take courage to make that move. It's interesting because I've been learning that many people here - who are expats - don't seem to find the moving around too difficult. It seems I'm a bit more of an oddity here than many...


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