Thoughts on Expat Living
I have now been living overseas in SE Asia for 7 years. We made our first big move December 30, 2013 to Bangkok with two 50lb suitcases for each of us (four total). We carried clothes, shoes, toiletries and medical type supplies, special knickknacks for our new home (specially chosen ones), important papers for visa paperwork, laptops, and other miscellaneous but important items. Over these 7 years, we have lived basically the same way. We have what we need and enjoy, and, at the same time, my supply is carefully chosen and kept at a minimal amount. The days of storing the Christmas tins, having loads of blankets, pillows, and other bedding are behind me.
But I must say my thoughts on this minimalist lifestyle have recently been challenged. I have met some new expats in my city who live their life very differently. They have other options available to them, like the use of containers to ship their furniture and household goods wherever they live overseas. They have larger homes with kitchens in the Western style that is as fully equipped as we are used to in the States (including a dishwasher!!).
One side of me thinks back to life as I use to live it in my US home. Then I think of life here. It has taken adjustments, but the simpler way of life has come to suit me. I like being more thoughtful about the things I keep and store. I like having less things and a smaller area to keep clean. I do know that I want my space to be a comfortable space. I do want my space to be filled with things that remind me of special people and fill me with special thoughts from my life. I do want my space to be welcoming to others. And I must say that I like pretty things!
I would also say that, by having met these new expat friends with more stuff, I have realized I could allow myself a few more things. (Hahaha!) What does that look like? Finding Glade solid air fresheners that give my closets, bathrooms, etc. a nice smell. I found the apple cinnamon scent here, and I have been buying and storing them (you truly may not find this again!). I bought myself a couple more pillows/cushions to enjoy and use for floor sitting. I bought a couple more blankets/throws to have for guests and to just enjoy ourselves. And I have another item on my wish list to help with my kitchen space management. So it has been good to expand some and feel the happiness of making my home more beautiful and comfortable.
For many years, even before my expat living, I found it good to de-clutter my home and my life at times. As we are approaching the end of this year, this can be a good time to re-evaluate our stuff. This stuff may be actual things we own. Or this stuff maybe attitudes, disappointments, expectations…you get the idea…that you continue to carry around with you. Here are some questions that could help us truthfully think about our stuff.
I call this “de-cluttering” of life and stuff -- Living Free.
Anybody Out There!?
I think of the boat distressed at sea trying to find help. I think of the airplane pilot distressed in the air trying to find help. I think of the person alone in the forest that is looking for some human contact for help...
“Hello! Anybody out there!?”
In my expat living I would say I have hit these times. Feeling alone, maybe even lost, in the midst of a big vast sea of water or a vast forest of trees and wild animals. Desiring connection. Desiring communication. So, what can lead to these times and what can help when these times come?
First, before I go any farther, I would like to say…I am so thankful for this day and time where technology has paved a huge bridge for communication over the miles! I think of those who set out on this adventure of expat living before technology was this advanced. No social media. No Skype. No emails. Wow! My hat is off to those who lived in another nation in those days!
So, then even in this day and time with advanced technology, what can lead to this call for help…"is anybody out there!?” Distance and disconnection.
How does distance happen? I can talk about this from my experience and viewpoint. I see distance happening in various ways. Of course, by miles. Living on the other side of the world or maybe just the other side of town presents a distance. With physical distance, it takes more effort to stay involved in each other’s lives. We don’t shop the same stores. We don’t go to the same restaurants. We don’t hear the same local news. We can’t just visit each other face to face at the drop of a hat. And the list could go on and on. Effort is the key word here. The more physical distance the more effort it takes to bridge the miles.
Distance develops not only due to physical miles apart, but distance also happens on a social and emotional level. We begin to hang out with different people. We don’t share the same interests anymore. We don’t share our day to day or week to week life stories anymore. We become absorbed in what is in front of us and have little time or energy for anything outside of our immediate sphere. When one side of the relationship begins to lose its grip and drift away, the other side may find it too difficult to hang on because there is no reciprocal effort or help. So then both sides let go and drift away physically, socially, and emotionally. This drifting signifies a disconnect has happened.
Is this inevitable? I have had to consider this question with my expat life since 2014. I have been so aware of living in one place but needing a bridge that keeps me connected to others who don’t share this expat life with me. I have learned to consider a new type of grip or hold on my relationships. Let me explain: I can join with someone by holding hands, but this is not the strongest hold. If one of us relaxes our hold, the other automatically loses their grip also. When I think of the grip, I think of the game Red Rover. Do you remember that game? In this game there are two teams. Each team lines up across from each other (some distance away) and holds their team members hands to form a straight line. But the best way to connect is by grabbing at the wrist/upper arm area. Then when the chosen person of the other team comes running over, the wrist/upper arm grip makes it harder for the person to break the union between the two people joined together.
So…as I think on disconnect as an expat, I say, NO, it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. We can all learn the stronger grip. The grip that can hang on even when the other relaxes their hold for some reason. The grip that can resist the pressure of miles, etc.
Hold on to your relationships. Choose to connect and not disconnect. Use the tools we have with technology (overcome your fear with this) and be creative. You may have to be the one who holds on, but it is worth it! You will be an example to others how to do it. You may want to relax your grip…DON’T…don’t give up. Dig in. Make the effort. Show love at a higher level. Don’t grow weary. There will come a time that each of you will need each other and the friendship you give to one another.
A reminder of one of my many special friends who stays connected with me over the miles.
Thoughts on Expat Living
This seemed to be a good time to highlight expat living…living in a nation that is not your own (not your home or birth nation).
For me, Vietnam is my heart nation, but at the same time, it is not my home nation.
As one expat friend said, once you go to another nation, your worldview (how you view the world and yourself in that world) changes. So, yes, living overseas for the past 7½ years has definitely changed me. When I come back to the States for a visit, it always takes me a bit to readjust. And I have realized that sometimes you just have to learn to live life feeling a little bit like a “fish out of water”.
What I want to highlight in this blog is the coming and the going…and especially the going…of expats. Expats usually tend to live in a nation for short term stints (under a year to 2 years) or long term stints (10 to 20 years or more). You live with the reality that there will come a time that an expat friend will leave. Also, because the expat life tends to be back and forth between here and there (the current nation of residence and the home nation) there can be a lot of extended travel with different life situations. As an expat, you do have to learn to live with some uncertainty. You have to learn to live loosely…having roots but also knowing how to uproot, at times uprooting often. In my experience, the most odd and difficult feeling to cope with is the sense of grief as you see friends leaving. At these times, a season is closing for them and a new season is opening, but in a new place. So the friendship is something that is in flux. You may have enjoyed weekly gatherings of fellowship together over the past 1, 2, or more years, and then it changes. They move on…not just to another town, but to another nation. I wouldn’t say this is bad, I would just say it is different. It requires adjustments in your own self.
I have also learned in this age of technology “connection” can be defined and accomplished in ways that those in the past never imagined. We just came through a period where Zoom and such apps have opened a whole new world of connection to use across the globe! We do have to be intentional to learn it and to use it. We do have to see a different way…re-adjust our worldview yet again. But the opportunities on the other side of that adjustment can be phenomenal.
One last bit of learning for me…I don’t say “good-bye”, I say “see you later” or “see you again”. I do believe in an eternal connection that I share with my friends. They may not be in my current location and my present weekly activities, but at the same time I do believe they are in my future. We have been connected for eternity. And at times our thoughts will turn to each other. We might think for no apparent reason…but these are good times to remember them with love and shower them with prayers and blessings.
Cheers to expat life! And learning to thrive in change.
Cindy writes about her adventures, observations, and other nuggets from living in another nation. She and John live in SE Asia. She will also share nuggets from her 58 plus years of life.