The Expat Dilemma Part 2

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I recently wrote a post called The Expat Dilemma that seemed to resonate with several other expats. We’re an interesting group us expats–we debate where home is (if we have one at all), we teeter on the line between outsider and local, we bond over the idiosyncrasies of our adopted cultures, the things we miss back “home”, and try our darndest to steer clear of the “grass is always greener” mindset.

The Expat Dilemma that I wrote of is, essentially, this quote in more words. We want a life that seems to evade us. We want to be here AND there. We feel the heaviness of homesickness, we miss birthdays and life-long friends’ weddings and holidays with the fam–but pluck us from our expat life and put us back home, and we’ll be feeling stir-crazy and craving our next adventure in no time.

My question is; does an expat ever stop feeling “a nostalgia for the familiar and the urge for the foreign and strange” as Carson McCullers suggests, or are we constantly in limbo between the two?

I say yes to being in limbo.

I know that as long as I’m in Spain, I’ll be nostalgic for home, despite the fact that the longer I’m here the less “familiar” home is. I also know that as much as I was born with roots, I was born with wings and my wanderlust will never subside. Whether I’m appreciating a new culture within a country (like I’m doing now with the recent move) or acquainting myself with a new culture entirely, I’ll always, always, always crave what’s foreign.

Expats, what do you think? Non-expats, can you relate to this quote?

Author: Christine

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49 Comments

  1. I don’t miss anything at all about Britain, if anything it seems even more of a money grabbing nanny state since I left a decade ago, tho in that sense Its as bad here haha

    The day to day community I missed but got over that within a year or two ;)
    Paz recently posted…Highs and lows of off the grid living: Part oneMy Profile

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    • I will admit, there are definitely things about home that I don’t miss!

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  2. Love this post Christine!

    I think you’re right – I think I’ll always be straddling between the 2. Often times, I’m so ready to go home, to see my family, to know where everything is, etc. but after a couple of weeks, I’m itching to get back to life overseas. I imagine at some point we’ll move back to Canada and I wonder how repatriation will go – I imagine it will be a lot harder than I first imagined.
    Jay recently posted…NYE in the Pacific NorthwestMy Profile

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    • Repatriation I’m sure is harder than it looks!I can’t imagine the culture shock you’ve had living in West Africa! BTW, love your pictures of Seattle–that’s where I’m from :)

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  3. I just found your blog and I can’t wait to read more. I’ve fascinated by those who live the expat lifestyle and would love to live overseas. My husband and I traveled to Europe last summer and now we have travel on the brain and have talked about how great it would be to live abroad. I don’t think it’s something that we will pursue, but I hope to travel as much as possible. I wish I could weigh in more on this topic. Cheers!
    Meghan recently posted…Menu MondayMy Profile

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    • Thank you! Traveling to Europe is a sure way to get a serious case of wanderlust! Living abroad is a huge decision, and requires a lot of planning, but it’s not impossible. Where would you want to live if you decided to move?

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    • me too :(. for me its been terrible. how do you choose between what you love and who you love if they can’t come together?

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  4. wow… exactly… so difficult sometimes. not knowing what makes your happier… i don’t know that that feeling ever goes away. and maybe i’ll always have the feeling of nostalgia and wanting to go back when i move back to CA

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    • I think bits and pieces of each experience make up our happiness, and the trade-off of having experienced both is the nostalgia. The good thing is you can always come back to visit!

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  5. Very true! I used to think it was something that I would grow out of, wanting to be abroad all the time, but now I’m not too sure. I suppose I love the challenge of it all, as opposed to what I perceive to be ‘easy’ back home, yet in the midst of the actual challenge I’m always wanting it to be all the more easier. Can’t win!
    Caitlyn recently posted…The night on the jungle raftMy Profile

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    • I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of it! It’s a great personal challenge, but I know exactly what you mean about wanting it to be easier.

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  6. Beautiful post, Christine. Although I’m not an expat….yet, I can relate. I think once you feel the rush of living life outside the “home” you always knew, for many it keeps calling you back. I have found myself in the last year yearning to be an expat. I have to constantly remind myself to live in the present and be happy where I am today. The grass isn’t always greener, but some days I’m sure it is! Who knows where the course of lives will take any of us….
    Kara of Standby to Somewhere recently posted…Standby to DublinMy Profile

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    • That’s a great reminder! Living in the present is something that a lot of us find difficult, but need to focus on more.

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  7. Lovely words, Christine.

    I think about this a lot! Will I ever be satisfied to be in one place for a long time? Maybe not. It’s a scary (and exciting) thought. But how lucky we are to live in a time (and place) when being an expat is possible!

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    • We are SO lucky! What incredible stories we’ll have to tell our grandchildren :)

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    • “Happily in limbo” as you said is the best way to describe that! We’re quite lucky, aren’t we?

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  8. I think I will never stop feeling torn between the two – nostalgia and adventure – and in constant limbo. Some days I feel heavier on one side, another day, on the other. After ten years of living away from home, I haven’t yet managed to turn any place into my “only” home – and as long as there is more than one place you call home, there will always be nostalgia for the other.
    Katherina recently posted…Photo Essay: My Winter Escape to the Country SideMy Profile

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    • That’s a perfect description for how I feel when I’m overseas- I can’t wait to return home to the familiarity, family and friends. Then on the other hand, I crave the adventure so I research how to return with every spare minute. How do you solve this feeling of being torn? Others have shared to be in the moment; definitely sound advice.
      Caitlin recently posted…Spain: The Return TripMy Profile

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      • I don’t think one ever solves this dilemma, to be honest! You evolve and adapt and get better at it all with time. Balance is always helpful–I wish I knew the secret. :)

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  9. I understand what you mean. I’m often conflicted with nostalgia and excitement re: living abroad – I miss my family and friends dearly.

    But then again, I don’t feel ready to go home – and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel settled, where ever I am. I love exploring too much!
    Alex recently posted…BolognaMy Profile

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    • Yeah, I don’t know when I’ll feel “ready” to go home either. Visting and living in a place are two distinct things. Exploring just keeps calling me too :)

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  10. I can relate to this so very well! Although I haven’t been an expat for very long, I still feel like leaving a lot behind in my everyday life. I have moved so many times already and I have always left places, memories, and people behind. Of course I return every once in a while, but it doesn’t feel like I truly belong there anymore… I loved the line “as much as I was born with roots, I was born with wings and my wanderlust will never subside”. I couldn’t agree more! It’s so good to hear that others are struggling with balancing these feeling too!
    Julika recently posted…Picturesque Monday: The Ancient City of ÉvoraMy Profile

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    • Oh, YES I’m struggling! But I think it’s a good thing–it means we’re getting these opportunities to see the world and be able to love something enough to miss it.

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  11. Great post, Christine! I am very bad at remembering the other side of the coin when I’m in the other place!

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    • Don’t we all? That’s the tough part of this bi-continental life!

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  12. Lovely, thoughtful and insightful piece of writing Christine. Enjoyed it a lot and made me reflect on many things. That sense of the unknown that never leaves you, the uncertainty of tomorrow, the endless path to comprehension….some will find too heavy a weight to bear, others an exciting and constant companion.
    Gazpachomonk recently posted…Culture, the Clash and UFO’s: Speaking of Spain Episode 2My Profile

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    • It’s a mixture of all of those things for me–somedays more or less of one. Thanks so much for your kind words!

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  13. I love this post and quote! There’s always something that’s missing from both my ‘home’ and ‘expat’ countries, but something to compensate for it too. Either way, being in one place for too long definitely makes me feel stir-crazy.

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    • I have a bad case of the stir-crazies. ;) Totally know what you mean.

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  14. Really interesting article. I’ve never lived in another country for longer than three months. I haven’t been able to find a place where I’d like to live yet, perhaps for the same reason you mentioned that I ever feel like I belong or ever could belong there.
    Sofia recently posted…A Grand Adventure – And the Winner is …My Profile

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    • You get to experience most countries while still in the “honeymoon stage” then! I’d love to hear how your experience as a serial expat compares.

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    • Thanks for the mention! Everyone is so different and some seem to adapt in no time while others take awhile.

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  15. I have to admit, I don’t miss the US much at all — but I do miss other countries in which I’ve been an expat. As much as I enjoy living in Paris now, I miss China and Singapore on a daily basis, and I know that in the long run that’s where I’ll end up for a long stint (if not to settle down completely).

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  16. Nice post! I don’t necessarily miss “home” as much as I miss the people and get nostalgic for things/a time that no longer exists…if that makes sense. I find it comforting being in that “in between” space, except when I have to move from one location to another. Let the stress begin! ;-)

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  17. Dear Christine, new to your blog having arrived there through Pommie travels, then Rob …then yours. Loved this post and its quotes as it describes our situation so well. Born in Malta, moved to Belgium, back to Malta, back to Belgium and last year moved to lovely Porto in Portugal as a family. With my wife and 2 kids we are trying to solve our personal expat dilemma by systematically adding two to three year stays in a new country we chose. Like this we start to feel local, learn the language, get to know the place really well, feel the adrenaline of a new place but the time horizon is long enough to feel at ‘home’ as well. After two years the ‘itch’ is usually back and by the third we move to the next country of choice. We always try to live in the moment (as difficult as it may be sometimes) and avoid comparisons between the ‘homes’. Regards Dirk

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  18. This is definitely true. At least for me, part of the problem is that I’m conscious of the randomness of life, and how if I stay in one hostel I might meet incredibly annoying people, and if I stay in another, I might meet spectacular soul mates. You never really know how things are going to work out, and you’re always aware of the good things you’ve left. It’s as true of countries as it is just walking down the street. Maybe if you had walked the other way, or slightly faster, life would have worked out differently.
    OCDemon recently posted…Why guidebooks are here to stay (for now)My Profile

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    • That’s an interesting way of looking at things–and so true! It’s amazing how a seemingly small decision can change the whole course of our lives!

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  19. I totally feel you on this one. I’ve been in Spain for two years now and it’s certainly not easy… There’s always that nagging, whether here or there, that makes me want to be in the other place. When someone invents teleportation our problems will be solved! :
    Chelsea Alventosa recently posted…The Start Up Costs of Moving AbroadMy Profile

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  20. Nice post. We’ve (M and S) only been here (Andalucia) 3 months and although M never left London he thinks he may get restless in one place here (strange?) but S – from Ireland – was more of a nomad before anyway so is perhaps less likely. Any homesickness hasn’t kicked in, it may never. We’ve met expats who are proud to say ‘they’ll never return to the UK’ as if it’s something to be congratulated on. Maybe they’ll be the first to return, who knows. It is a strange feeling wondering if home will naturally be Spain in a few years’ time or whether it was a big adventure that ends in familiarity.
    con jamon spain recently posted…Spiders – look away now if you don’t like themMy Profile

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  21. I think one aspect of feeling “at home” or not is to look at why we’re abroad in the first place. Expats run the gamut from those who relocate for a year or two on a work contract, those who are constantly on the move from country to country indefinitely, others who move to be with family, etc. I think to feel content with any new home, one has to want to be there first and foremost. That you aren’t dragged along as an unwilling participant but that despite the hardships and frustrations that come along with being an expat, you genuinely do want to have the expat experience and try to be optimistic about all that comes with it. Otherwise the foreign and strange could get overwhelming. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or having a bad day, I remind myself I’m never stuck. And that tomorrow is another day. Cool post!
    Diane recently posted…French cultural differences: How to freak out an AmericanMy Profile

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