My Fears as an Expat

shutterstock © Piotr MarcinskiMy Fears as an Expat

The sometimes harsh realities of living abroad.

By Rachel Richter

Global Living Magazine – Issue 17 | March/April 2015

Being an expat isn’t all sunshine and happiness like the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds suggest. Yes, it’s an amazing experience filled with excitement, exploration and new beginnings, but, there’s also a not-so-happy side to it that most people don’t get to see.

Life behind closed doors can sometimes be very different indeed. It isn’t always smiley, happy faces; there are often tears, worry and sadness. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ in expat life, many of which contribute to the tough side of life in another country.

One of my main worries about living here in America is wondering if expat life will suddenly be brought to an abrupt halt. My husband and I are living in Atlanta, GA on a visa that is connected to his work. If, for some reason, he doesn’t have a job with that company anymore, once his last day of work rolls around, we have 30 days to get out of the country. We’ve been here two years and I feel like we’re now fully settled in to this new life; I would hate for something like that to happen right now. I’m not ready to go back to life in the U.K. yet – I’m not sure if I ever will be – but right now I feel like there is always a dark cloud hovering over me, wondering if we might have to move and the life I know right now will be over in a flash.

Then there is life back home and how it goes on without you. Yes, I chose to move over here and I knew that leaving my friends and family behind was part of the deal; I also don’t expect them to put their lives on hold and sit and wait for me to head on back over to the other side of the pond. Expat life does sometimes leave you feeling a little left out and distanced from the people you used to be so close to. Houses are bought, weddings take place, babies are born, big birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated, and you’re not there. There is always a huge pang of sadness when I realize we won’t be able to go to one of these events, something that, just a few years ago, a big tick would be immediately placed into the ‘yes’ box on the RSVP without even thinking about it. Now though, we have to think about plane tickets, rental cars and how much it will all cost us before we even attempt to fill in an RSVP.

As well as the big celebrations, there are the little things in life that I miss so much. Popping out for coffee with friends, shopping trips, spontaneous evening drinks and walks in the park. Life goes on and I’ve built a new life over here, but these things will always be missed.

I worry that people may forget me, or that my young godchildren, who were born after I left the country, might not know who I am. Yes, I speak to them on FaceTime, but nothing compares to a face-to-face catch-up, cuddle and some time at the park! If I were at home, I would more than likely see them at least once a week, compared to the few times a year I see them now. Every picture I receive and FaceTime call we have, they seem to be so much bigger than the last time I saw them. Children grow up so fast and I don’t want to miss out on that. I’m pretty sure they do know who I am, but there is always the thought at the back of my mind that I will be ‘Aunty Who?’

One of the biggest fears I have is definitely not a pretty one. I am 4,000 miles away from my family and friends – a 9-hour flight followed by a 1- to 2-hour drive. What if one of them has an accident or falls seriously ill and I don’t make it back in time? I try not to think about this one, but sometimes it creeps to the front of my mind, especially when you hear of some sad news somewhere else.

Expat life can, sometimes, be a lonely place. You can surround yourself with as many friends as possible, be a part of as many groups as is physically possible, and say “yes” to every invitation to coffee, dinner, lunch and playdates as you can, but sometimes you just feel lonely. I’m not quite sure how to explain this one; maybe it’s when I look at my Facebook feed and a group of my friends are getting together and I’m not with them; maybe it’s when I wish I could just pop around to my best friends for a brew or when I find myself at a loose end (which is pretty rare these days!). You just want to reach out to the people you left behind but, thanks to a 5-hour time difference, sometimes that’s just not possible.

There are the little things that worry me too. I’m the outsider here in the States – the Brit abroad. I want to be part of my new community as much as possible, but what if people don’t like me? My accent obviously makes me stand out (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “I love your accent!”), but what if I just want to blend in. Being an expat means fully submerging yourself in your new life, or it does in my books anyway. This old accent of mine, as much as I love it, makes me stand out like a sore thumb!

All this doesn’t mean that expat life is the worst experience in the world though, far from it. Becoming an expat is one of the best decisions I have ever made and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s an adventure I never thought I would be embarking on, and to say it exceeds my expectations is an understatement. As with everything though, sometimes it’s not perfect, but that doesn’t mean I want to trade it in. That’s something I would never even dream of doing.

[Image: © Piotr Marcinski]

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