Are expats born or made?
Source: Creative Commons
I've been an expat three times now - as a child in post-colonial Fiji, in Australia as a traveller and later as a young mum, and of course now... as an expat Kiwi living in Britain.
I'm not sure whether expats are born, or made. Do you simply grow up with an adventurous spirit? Or do you crave to repeat the fascinating experiences of your expat childhood, as I did? Perhaps it's a little of both. Whatever the origin, I think the challenge can be far more keen for the 'mother' of a family than the 'father'. The maternal role is so intertwined with building a home and a supportive community, it can be difficult to assimilate into a new country and feel at home. It takes time, of course, and all of it is 'growing time'. In the end one of the biggest positives the expat life brings, is a feeling of being close as a family unit, sometimes even to the point of being self-reliant.
There have been surprising lessons too. In my humble opinion I think it can be more difficult to settle into an environment when it is a similar one to your homeland. If everyone around you also looks English and speaks English, the social gaffs are highlighted! I have been known to embarrass myself by saying just the wrong thing yet looking as if I should have known the right thing to say.
On one sunny afternoon in rural Hampshire my car battery died, and I needed a strong burly man to help man the jumper cables. I bounced across the road to the local pub where the old boys were in caps and Wellingtons at the bar ruminating over their pints. 'Hi there, can anyone give me a jump'. One of the old boys almost fell off his stool. Apparently, that's not the right thing to say in England!
The expat experience is a learning curve, sometimes a gentle one, sometimes a steeper one, but overall it's a worthwhile one. If nothing else being an expat helps to bring home what it means to be a native of your homeland. I'm not sure I've ever felt so much a Kiwi as I do now, as the sole voice in the pub cheering on the All Blacks in a rugby game against the Lions. I never watched the All Blacks at home. I didn't eat a lot of Vegemite then either, nor crave Pineapple Lumps or Jaffas or any of the other foods of home. But here I do. They are the foods of the other side, where the grass is said to be greener.
Is there an innoculation for being drawn to the expat life? If there is, I'll pass. I'm happy with living this life with my eyes wide open, where very little is taken for granted, and home is a part deep inside me that travels with me when I do.
About the author
Vix writes at Vegemitevix where she talks about life as a Kiwi expat living in Britain, now married for the second time, living with three children, a dog and a cat and a dining room full of detritus. Her story about how she met ‘my Englishman’ and the struggles they encountered when trying to fight her deportation, are the basis of her second book entitled From Pavlova to Pork Pies (via Paris!) which will hopefully be published in the new year. Follow Vix on Twitter @vegemitevix