My Love/Hate Relationship with Being an Expat

For almost a month, I went through the pleasure – and pain – of criss-crossing around the globe from India to Finland to the United States and finally back to India, in an attempt to spend time with as many family members, loved ones and dearly missed friends during the holiday season as humanly possible. I ended up doing a pretty good job, managing to go home to Finland for about 10 days, then flying from Helsinki to Alabama to spend a few days with my husband’s family, and then continuing the trip to New York to change the year in our old neighbourhood in Brooklyn with friends. While my husband returned to India early January, I stayed behind for another week or so to attend a work event in Washington, D.C., where I also luckily managed to find some time to grab drinks with an old friend from graduate school who I haven’t seen in over a year. So, all in all, a successful trip. The one person I missed was my youngest sister, who has recently relocated to Scotland with her Scottish beau. Moving abroad with a foreign boyfriend – I wonder if she has really thought this thing through..

Why, then, after such a joyous reunion with so many people, did I feel almost as depressed by this adventure around the globe as I was excited about it? Why did it exhaust me as much as seeing all those people energized me? Why do I feel like, in the end of it all, it was a zero-sum trip?

Because being an expat sucks. Because being married to a foreigner sucks. And because all those amazing trips, experiences, travels and years spent abroad in various countries also, to be honest – suck.

“What a crazy person!”, you might be thinking right now. I don’t want to give a totally wrong impression here, so let me rephrase the above: Living abroad is wonderful. My husband is the most amazing man in the world, I love him to death, and would probably move to Mars with him if I had to. Amazing trips, experiences, travels and years spent abroad have made me a better person, a more tolerant person, a more educated person, and of course, travelling is often just simply a lot of fun. But let’s be honest – it’s not all just fun and games and adventure. I know I have written about this before, and I’ll probably continue returning to this topic of loving and hating this kind of life style periodically, because it does dominate my thoughts and dreams very often – this desperate search for some level of balance and stability in the midst of living abroad, being married to a foreigner, and essentially having committed myself to a life of some level of rootlessness probably for the rest of my existence. The reason why these amazing experiences, in addition to being amazing, also kinda suck is because I am afraid that I’ll never be able to stay still without wondering what I am missing. That I’ll never find a place where I can just stay put and feel at ease, because I am so aware of how much more is out there.

This latest holiday trip made me exhausted and, yes, a little depressed too, because it reminded me of how many important moments I am missing all the time, every day when I am away. It reminded me of how many amazing, beautiful people I have somehow managed to accumulate in my life, but that I am now far away from. It was a testament to the incredible richness of my life, having been privileged enough to travel to many countries and live on four continents – but at the same time, it was a painful reminder of how I have also left pieces of myself in each and every one of those continents and countries, and how I now feel like a puzzle that is missing half of its pieces, with gaping holes in the middle that make it impossible for me, or anyone else, to make any sense out of what the puzzle is supposed to depict. I feel incomplete, constantly.

What I also realized was that what really makes me sad is not the big things I am missing, like weddings, births of babies, engagements, birthdays, funerals. Of course, not being present for these huge life events of friends and family members does kill me, every time – and it makes me feel like a shitty daughter/sister/friend. But what I really miss are those every day moments. Regularity. Moments of comfort and familiarity that one only has in certain places, with certain people. Moments that require no effort whatsoever, just.. being. Moments of feeling like I am in control, like I hold the reins, like I know what is coming next. Moments when I’m not an outsider, a stranger, a foreigner. Those kinds of moments can sometimes be few and far between, when you find yourself relocating to a new city, a new country, a new continent, every few years. Sometimes, I feel like nothing is in my control, nothing is familiar, nothing is easy. Everything is always new, and foreign, and unknown, and weird, and strange, and confusing, and exhausting, and..

..Still worth it. “Is it, really?”, you might be wondering at this point of my rant. I sometimes wonder that too. Is this really worth all the sacrifices, being away from your family, being far from friends? There are definitely times when I don’t think it is, days when I throw tantrums like a little child over being so tired, and so frustrated, of missing that stability and predictability that this kind of life lacks. It’s been weeks since our holiday trip, and I am still recovering from the emotional, and maybe also physical toll it took – but in the end, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way. And no one forced me into this life – I chose it, and I keep choosing it, every day.

ParachuteIn the end, what is predictable or stable? Who really knows what’s waiting behind the next corner? I definitely don’t, I actually haven’t got the faintest idea – but maybe I wouldn’t want to either. Maybe I prefer this uncertainty, this unpredictability, this fickle little life I have. There are definitely days when I absolutely utterly hate it, and get very angry at myself for making the choices I have made, but the thing is, if I hadn’t made the choices I did, I would have always wondered “What if”. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the kind of life I have – but on the other hand, I’ve rarely, if ever, said no to an opportunity for an adventure, and while no one lives entirely without remorse or regrets, I’ll rather take too many risks than too few. Sometimes, not knowing what’s behind the corner is actually a blessing – sometimes it’s better to just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and jump.

Life will always catch you eventually.

This entry was posted in Culture shock, Expat Life, Foreignness, India, New York, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My Love/Hate Relationship with Being an Expat

  1. Hang in there! I know being an expat sucks and constantly not living in your home country ‘sucks’ but it helps if you have a light at the end of the tunnel!

  2. thisgoodink says:

    Love this post. I can relate in so many ways:)

  3. Sameboat says:

    Thank you so much for posting this…. I searched in Google “I hate my expat life” and this came up. Would you please e-mail me if possible?… I wouldn’t mind telling you a bit about my fear of going back home. I live in the Middle East.

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