Do you know that feeling when you’re in a room filled with people, but you know that you stand out? Even if you’re dressed the same way, doing the same thing, there is still just something different about you? That’s kind of what it’s like being an expat. As much as you love and enjoy where you’re living, you’re still that person who isn’t from around there.
I grew up as what they like to call a 3rd culture kid. Both of my parents are from different countries (Canada and El Salvador) and they moved around so my brother and I were raised in a few different countries. For this reason I have spent most of my life living in countries other than the two that I am from. As a result, when I’m in Canada I’m the foreigner because I did not grow up there, then when I’m in El Salvador I’m also the foreigner because I did not grow up there either. But when I go anywhere else I’m still the foreigner because I am not a citizen of those places either. So basically, no matter where I am, I’m always seen as the foreigner by most people. This is both a beautiful and a frustrating thing. The frustration comes from other people thinking they get to decide where you are from. Many people think you have to live in one place for most, if not all, of you life in order for it to be your home. The beauty of the way I was raised is that I got to see different cultures, learn different ways of doing things, and all the while still having somewhere I could consider a home base. It’s true that I will never know what it’s like to have a best friend that I’ve known since kindergarten, but I do know what it’s like to have friends all over the world. Growing up as a foreigner gives you an appreciation for different cultures and different ways of thinking. It’s made me who I am and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Now that I’m married and with a baby, my husband and I are expats once again (we live in Puerto Rico). Sure, it can get lonely when you’re missing family. Especially with a new baby, I find myself having days where all I want is to be near family so that my son can grow up with his grandparents close by. But when I have a day like that I just try to remind myself of all of the great things about this life because there are so many positives. We get to live the beautiful experience of calling the Caribbean home, and we get to learn about a brand new culture that we haven’t experienced before. Not to mention all of the people we have met here that are also expats and from various countries all over the world.
If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone who is preparing to embark on the life of an expat for the first time it would be to keep yourself open. Open to new experiences, open to new cultures, and open to diversity. Take advantage of the opportunity to discover your new destination. By which I don’t mean to simply go and hit all of the tourist spots, I mean don’t close yourself off by surrounding yourself only with other expats that are also from the place you’re from. I’ve seen this happen many times. A lot of people prefer to socialize only with those who are from the same country as themselves. I think it’s better to keep yourself open to locals as well as to fellow expats from around the world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a community of people who have a similar background to yours, but sometimes people can miss the beauty of a new place because they concentrate only on what they left behind. Treasure your home base and your past, it’s why you are who you are, just keep yourself open to truly enjoy you’re new surroundings, you might be surprised by how rewarding that can be.