Many people hold a stereotypical view of expat life; they imagine healthy, tanned, well-dressed people, quaffing exotic drinks in exotic locations, living in luxurious homes and constantly adding to their art collections. Though it may be like that for some, it is by no means the reality for us all.
The realities of being an expatriate are many and varied, as are the things you learn about yourself when you become one. It all depends on the individual. I know I am adaptable (given 12 months to get over the cultureshock), I know I am tenacious enough to get out there and carve a new life out of nothing. I can confidently deal with the logistics of packing and shipping an entire family of five from one continent to another, and locate and establish links to educational, health, financial and social resources, all while continuing to maintain a semblance of family life, albeit without furniture, electrical appliances or TV for the first few weeks! I know I can single-handedly manage three kids between the ages of three months and five years on an eight-hour flight and come out the other side, not having lost i. any of them, ii. any luggage, or iii. my marbles.
But my biggest discovery is that I am actually a very serious nester, a homebody. I adore creating a comfortable sanctuary for my family that we can enjoy and feel “at home” in. I visualise us – the kids growing older and passing life’s milestones: high-school, learning to drive, graduation – and our home growing with us, around us, reflecting our life back at us with pictures, hobby materials and treasured possessions and memories.
I miss having a stable, familiar, comfortable base. I admonish myself for this shallow indulgence. I must watch too many Hollywood movies! What kind of frivolous, superficial person am I?
I have all the people who mean the most to me in the world, here with me under this roof.
Surely family and friends should rate higher on my Miss List than a home from the pages of “Good Housekeeping”. But it doesn’t. In my family, distance has been elevated to an art form, despite us all being in the same country, so being on another continent hasn’t made much difference. Social media makes staying in touch with friends easy. But there, you go, what can I say…It’s the one thing I continue to struggle with, re-emerging when I watch a film with a family home in it, or visit someone else’s house.
All this doesn’t exactly sit well with the expatriate life we have chosen. The cold reality is a string of rental properties with improbable colour schemes and questionable hygiene, upheaval on a 12 monthly basis (unless we are fortunate to get a three or four-year lease) and unknown neighbours and neighbourhoods to become familiar with, just when you have started to feel a part of your present one. And no valid reason to buy cushions and occasional tables.
But such is the addiction of discovering new places and their ways of life, the challenge of making things work despite all the odds and obstacles, the roller-coaster ride thrill of a steep learning curve, the joy of discovering you can do it! I choose to smother my craving for settled comfort for the time being. I put my trust in the hope that there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now I’m grabbing the world with both hands and throwing myself headlong into the next adventure. I’m taking each day as it comes and enjoying it for what it is, because who knows where I’ll be in three years time – and I just might be craving all that I have right here, right now…