One of the wonderful things about expat life isn’t just getting to know the country you are posted to, but being surrounded by other people with the same mindset as you. Globalist, internationalist, citizens of nowhere (or even citizens of everywhere), call us what you will but you know what I am talking about: people who have travelled, seen the world, and whose outlook on life encompasses the sort of open-mindedness that goes with this.
So moving back to your old life can be hard. Not only are you giving up the lifestyle that inevitably comes with being an expat (including, for many of us, a bit of extra help in the house), you are also losing the company of a huge range of interesting people from all over the world. Who won’t either raise their eyebrows at you or completely switch off when you talk about some of the places you have lived in or travelled to. There aren’t many people in the “real world” who care about your road trip to Mozambique or problems crossing the Zimbabwe border.
Depending on what sort of person you are, this might not matter all that much to you. Many will slip gently back into their old life, get up to speed with the latest goings-on in the school PTA, join the local neighbourhood watch group…Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things, of course. But many of us will miss the sort of discussions we get with people from other countries, the different outlook on life we get from living in another place.
So how do we recapture this life? For many the solution will just be to start planning the next move abroad – repatriation can cause much worse culture shock than moving overseas in the first place, so the answer could be just to move again. But of course for many of us (most?) this isn’t practical – we often return home for reasons either out of our control like our employees require us to, or for reasons such as the education of our children. There must be other, less drastic, ways of continuing to live the sorts of lives we enjoyed while abroad.
And yes of course there are, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post about it! SO here are a few of my ideas – feel free to agree, disagree, or add some of your own:
- Live vicariously through your still-expatted friends (mostly through the sort of photos on their social media pages that you used to annoy your own friends back home with), and then book a flight to go and see them.
- In case you don’t have any such friends, just plan some exotic holidays to the sorts of places you used to go when you lived in another exotic location. When you see the prices you now have to pay because it’s a longer flight and you can’t get local deals, cancel said exotic holiday and book something cheaper and closer. But you enjoyed the researching and the daydreaming for the original trip anyway.
- Find some local expats to hook up with. As I wrote about in this post, there will be plenty around if you look carefully enough. Make them your new friends and pretend you too are still an expat. Just try not to cry when they take you to their enormous house and talk about their children’s private education…
- Do something completely different like volunteer with refugees, start a university course, get a job doing something you haven’t done before. Expanding your mind is the next best thing to expanding your actual physical surroundings.
- Trying out unfamiliar food is another big draw of expat life, so keeping this up when you are home is a good way to feel like you’re still living that life in some way. Either by recreating some of your favourite meals from whichever country you have just left, or by trying new dishes that perhaps you wouldn’t have thought about before moving abroad.
- Read, watch films, TV series or documentaries about foreign lands. Escape into your imagination.
I am sure there are many more ways to hold on to some of the expat life once you are home and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. But in the meantime, I’m off to the local supermarket to find some ingredients so I can try cooking something that reminds me of sitting in the hot sun with the sounds of the Go-Away birds and hadedas in the background, or of an early morning game drive, or a trip round the wine estates of Stellenbosch….