1) You`re definitely coming home
One of the most frequent questions I’ve always been asked by well-meaning people back home is ‘when are you coming back?’ or ‘what are you going to do when you come back?’. Incidentally I personally do want to come back to my home country at some point, and I possibly won’t be an English teacher forever (although I do love it and it would be OK if I did), however I know lots of other people living outside the UK who have no intention of returning at all and that’s fine! Why do we have to come back, guys? Air travel and the internet are fabulous innovations that make this all the more doable these days.
2) You`re Peter Pan
When I first moved to Japan to teach English, a friend made a comment over Skype that I was `living in a Peter Pan world where I didn`t need to grow up`. This sounded quite appealing to me to be honest (admittedly my alcohol consumption as an expat in Japan did resemble that of a university student at times), but my day-to-day life wasn`t actually that different to how it was back in London, and four years on here in Brazil (where my job is a million times more demanding) I would say it`s even less so. I have a job to go to, taxes to pay, home furnishing to purchase, bills to sort out, and all the other `adulty` boring crap we must subject ourselves to when we`re `adulting`. Plus I`m doing it all in another language, through a system I`m not familiar with, and without my family and best friends around for general emotional support and ranting purposes. Not only that but I have an astounding revelation to share… all those other `grown up` things like buying property, having a career, getting married and producing offspring can also take place outside of your home country if you want them to. As far as I`m aware my womb didn’t shut down the minute I stepped off the plane and my ability to work hard and learn new things didn`t come to a halt either
3) You`re on your jollies
This is kind of understandable since many people`s main experience of `abroadness` consists of sitting on beaches, sipping on cocktails, sampling local cuisine and sight-seeing. It sounds wonderful to be doing this non-stop, but as mentioned above, people living abroad do usually have jobs and responsibilities too. Questions from back home over Skype have included
- `Why don`t you have a tan?` . I work as a teacher in a school in São Paulo, not as a friendship bracelet seller on the beach in Rio. Plus as a particularly pale person, I`m not taking any chances about the ageing of my skin (or worse) by wearing anything less than factor 30 everyday.
- `Why are you eating a sandwich for lunch and not Japanese/ Brazilian food?`. Yes, of course when you`re on a two-week holiday you often want to eat nothing but the local cuisine, but when you`re living and breathing the culture 24/7 you sometimes need a bit of respite and some home comforts. It`s not like British people tuck into a full English and roast beef every day, is it (thank heavens)?
- `Why haven`t you been to [insert place], [insert place], [insert place]?`. OK, so as a smaller country with fantastic transportation and a strong currency, travelling in Japan (and the rest of Asia) was reasonably easy, despite the fact that (as we`ve already established) I had a job to go to most of the time. Brazil, on the other hand, is flipping massive (my most recent trip to Floripa took 15 hours by bus) and I earn in the local currency (which is extremely weak) so I can`t just swan off on a trip to Argentina or Chile for the weekend (there`s no Euro Star unfortunately, and if there was it would be out of the price range of most people living in Brazil).
Of course I`m experiencing elements of another culture everyday, and I possibly do have more opportunity to explore new places at the weekend sometimes or during my annual leave, but seriously, most of the time I`m either at work, in the gym, having dinner with friends or watching Netflix with my boyfriend. It`s not that exotic.
4) Your relationship is a `fling`
There`s something about meeting and dating someone abroad (particularly someone who isn`t from your culture) that seems to be taken way less seriously than meeting someone in the local pub or on Tinder back home. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone instantly shuts off emotionally or decides to become celibate just because they`re living in another country (and foreigners aren`t aliens, so it is possible to have a meaningful relationship with them too). Life happens, and that includes relationships. I`ve been with the same partner for a few years, and having lived together in both Japan and Brazil, we`ve shared a lot more than I ever had with any previous partner in my own culture. This not only includes the mundane stuff like joint health insurance and finances, but also trips, mutual friends, challenges, experiences and plans for the future. Just because all this takes on foreign soil, it doesn`t automatically make it temporary, less meaningful or some kind of `holiday romance`.
5) Life is always easy
Despite the smiling faces and beautiful scenes on instagram from time to time, having an extra bit of sun on your back and living in a new and interesting place doesn’t guarantee that life is always `easy` or `stress-free` as many seem to believe. In addition to normal day-to-day strains that everyone contends with, the following aspects can also throw a spanner in the works…
- Homesickness is a real thing. It can be really hard being a 12 hour flight from home
and only seeing your loved ones once in a blue moon. You miss their weddings, birthdays, Mother`s/ Father`s days, the break-ups, the general world-putting-to-rights over glasses of vino and they miss all your highs and lows too. No matter how many friends you make or how strong your relationship may be abroad, they can`t replace the people you`ve known for years.
- Abroad friendships are complicated. Your friends often become like your abroad family, which can be great but also very intense and unhealthy. I`ve never had so much friendship drama as I`ve experienced living abroad for that reason. Not only that, but you can`t really predict who you will end up living or working with, or who you`ll meet that can a) communicate with you and is b) up for being mates. This means you have to be ready to become pally with people that you probably wouldn`t be naturally drawn to at home, which can obviously have its challenges. Here in Brazil my friends are all Brazilian so those friendships feel more permanent, but in more of an expat community like Tokyo, people constantly came and went, so I had to get used to saying goodbye too.
- Cultural differences can be seriously challenging. I`ve written a number of posts on this blog about some of the cultural differences I`ve had to deal with over the last few years. It`s all part and parcel of the experience, but it doesn`t make it any easier when you feel like you`re the only person who sees things in a certain way, or when certain cultural practices or social attitudes make you hugely uncomfortable. Equally, it`s natural to accidentally offend people from time to time, simply out of ignorance. Sometimes you just want reassurance from someone from your own culture that you aren`t going crazy, and that in fact most people from your country would be feeling or doing exactly the same.
- Language barriers make everything more difficult. Learning a language really does open up a whole new world (wanky comment, sorry), and gives you much more insight into the culture you`re living in. However, in both Japan and Brazil, people are often not used to foreigners trying to speak their language and so either a) refuse to believe that you`re trying and just give you vacant expression b) automatically look to the nearest local for assistance or c) generally make zero effort to speak slowly or grade their language appropriately (I`m sure this is a million times worse for foreigners living in English speaking countries). Life is therefore a minefield of miscommunications and in both the places I`ve lived, hardly anyone speaks English so when you`re having a crisis, you really are on your own. It`s not like being in a tourist resort where you can just demand people speak your language and it also makes even the simplest of tasks much more stressful and time-consuming.