Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Old-time Expat Life

With businesses and people becoming increasingly globally oriented, expatriation is commonplace and fairly easy to do. With so many people doing it, the provisions are there to make the move as seamless as possible. But this hasn’t always been the case.  

In this blog post, Expat Explorer takes a nostalgic look back to see how the experience of living abroad has changed over the years – and what it would have been like to be an expat 50 years ago.

Picture source: Creative Commons / bechaugen
Sharing and communication

If you were an expat 50 years ago, it would have been much more difficult to communicate with people back home. There was no email, no internet calling, and dialling an international number for longer than a few minutes was too expensive to do regularly. News was sent by post, the blue airmail letters taking weeks to arrive but holding memories to savour.

Nowadays, expats not only can communicate with more ease, but their family and friends will have more of an understanding of the expat experience,  photos are no longer confined to an album but uploaded to the internet so that everyone can share a  hidden local gem or beautiful sunset as it happens.  

Picture source: Creative Commons / bechaugen
The care package
Along with the internet, came the availability of home comforts. Whether you’re a Brit craving baked beans or a Dane with a love for liquorice, the likelihood is that you will be able to find it somewhere in your host country, and if not, you will be able to order it online. Back in the day, expats relied on their trusty care-packages sent from family and friends every few months, and they would relish and savour these little tastes of home.

The expat bubble
Back then, the ‘expat bubble’ was also more prevalent. Expatriation wasn’t as common and most people were sent by their work.  Expats lived and worked alongside each other in gated accommodation, and were less likely to spend time with the locals. With fewer businesses operating abroad, the profile of expats wasn’t as varied and most worked as diplomats, teachers and bankers; they often came from countries with a similar culture. In areas where there were a small number of expats, but businesses needed to operate, the few that were sent there were promised a high quality of life – put up in lavish accommodation and invited to embassy events on a regular basis.

Living in the expat bubble extended to leisure time, expats would frequent the traditional foreigners’ clubs in the evenings. These clubs, although still in existence, are now more like museums than bars, and are frequented by tourists rather than expats, who go to enjoy a drink and a romantic Hemingway-like experience of old.

1 comment:

  1. I was an expat for twenty-six years in various countries, including Indonesia, the UK, Philippines, Russia, France and Egypt. Russia was probably the most difficult to contend with (back in 1992) and believe it or not, the UK wasn't that easy either. In Manila in 1980, we had to rely on our shortwave radio to hear the BBC World Service our only means of knowing what was going on in the world. I still have that radio and use it here in the US. Also making international phone calls was a pill in Indonesia and Philippines: you had to book your phone call and wait for the operator to phone you back. This often took hours, and your phone call would most likely come through via the international operator at 3:00 a.m.


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