I love expat life. I love the thrill of waking up each morning in a country different from my home country. I love all the different sights and sounds and smells….Well, ok maybe I don’t always love all the sounds and smells — I’m looking at you, neighbor dogs that bark all night long and cars long overdue for a smog check — but I do enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread or of unique flowering plants along the road. Depending on what country I am in, those sights and sounds and smells can vary greatly. It’s all part of the unique adventure of living overseas.
But there are days when living overseas is really hard.
Sometimes it’s just a compilation of little things that turn into one huge thing that makes you want to run back to your home country and bury yourself in all things familiar and comfortable. But sometimes it’s big things. Like losing a family member. I cannot imagine the pain and grief of losing a family member who was close to you while being so far away from home, away from all your normal support systems. A father or mother. A brother or sister. A niece or nephew. But I can now say I’ve experienced the loss of a new little family member that I wanted to get to know.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs while living overseas, but up until six months ago I hadn’t really experienced that feeling of being far away from family during a sad time and being unable to do anything to help. And at that time all I wanted to do was be home with family. And I couldn’t. I was on the other side of the world, on a tiny remote island in the South Pacific. At that moment all I could think about was the fact that it really stunk that I was so far away. Not only was I missing all the fun family moments, but I was also missing the sad, heart-aching family moments.
Sometimes it just hits you hard how much you give up to go live an adventurous life overseas
For me, in that moment, standing next to a perfect stranger while reading a Viber message that told me my baby nephew who was to be born that day had lost his heartbeat, it hit me hard. Then I realized my mom had sent me that message about 12 hours earlier in the day, while I, completely oblivious to it due to the fact that internet hadn’t been working all day long on the island, had spent the day having fun. Exploring and snorkeling and boating around to other islands. I had no way to check my messages all day, and I suddenly felt really guilty for having fun while my family was all mourning on the other side of the world.
It’s not always easy living overseas.
We often give up a lot to go live out our dreams of seeing the world. Of traveling to exotic places and eating exotic foods and meeting amazing people and hearing incredible, hard-to-believe stories. We have to say goodbye not only to the comfortable and familiar and safe but also to our loved ones. To birthdays. Graduations. Holidays. Milestones. Sure Skype and Viber and Whatsapp and FaceTime can help make the distance seem not as great. But there’s no real substitute for face-to-face conversations, complete with home-cooked meals and hugs!
Expat life is incredible. I wouldn’t trade all of these amazing adventures for anything. But there are days when I do miss my family. I miss being able to witness all the little changes taking place in my nephew. I have missed the births of another nephew and niece who I have yet to meet. I have missed birthdays and other special occasions. Living overseas isn’t always a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s hard. And that’s ok. The sad days make the good days seem even better. They make you appreciate life just a little bit more. They make you hug longer and more often when you do finally get back to see your family. They make you appreciate all the little things you might normally take for granted.
One thing that expat life has taught me is that you feel everything just a little bit more. More gratitude. More compassion. More empathy. More love. More joy. More happiness. Do we give up a lot to live this somewhat nomadic life? Certainly. But I think this life gives us back even more than it takes from us. And for that I will always be thankful.
Are you an expat? What have been your greatest challenges and struggles?