After publishing my previous post I had an email chat with my friend Andrea and somewhere during the conversation she typed the phrase “expat persona”.
Now if I was Oprah I would say that was a “lightbulb moment” but I’m not Oprah (duh!) so I will say that it crystallised my thoughts on expat friendships and why I’ve struggled with them.
I think to a certain extent expats are acting, or putting on a brave face. We (and I absolutely do this myself) erect an artifice of “expat life is so great!” and “it’s such a great opportunity for the kids!”, while inside all the negatives of expat life lay unspoken. No-one puts voice to just how hard expat living is and no amount of pre-move cultural training or reading of books can quite prepare you for the reality of living in an environment where very little is familiar. We all carry on with our struggles contained inside our heads, plastering a smile on our dial when we leave the house and never EVER mention our internal dilemmas when speaking to friends and family at home, out of fear of burdening them.
So the friendship barrier I feel I’ve encountered here is, I believe, the protective wall we build around ourselves in public.
Whilst I can’t change other people’s behaviour/coping mechanisms I can change my own so I plan to let my “happy expat persona” drop every now and then.
(PS: Just so you all know – I’m fine! I’m not down in the doldrums – although I was a few weeks ago – this is just my observations and internal thoughts on what I’ve noticed whilst trying to make friends here!)
I read a great (fiction) book a few weeks ago called Sunshine Soup by expat writer Jo Parfitt. It really talks about expat friendships from the points of view of a couple of different women (a first time expat and a veteran) and is also great escapism as well as like looking into a mirror at times. I really enjoyed it.
Glad to hear that you’ve come through the doldrums and are facing the sun again.
I think that is so spot on K!. Even here, as we blog away how much truly is everyone saying what they are really thinking…it’s about creating a person that’s still real, but if we put everything about us out there…gosh..how “bad” might that be.
I am not diminishing what you say & you know that, I hope.
But i do think that there’d be some people you know (not always expats or bloggers) who would say “why would anyone complain/dislike etc living in another country when they can” It’s a bit of a tall poppy thing.
I must say, that it’s all very well to have the experience, but if you just got to pop back home for a bit to re-group it’d be ideal, yeah?
Cheers…and I know that you are the beginning of another new(er) experience, called study..Take care. D X
Well written, Kelly! I have tried to maintain a good balance of my reality on facebook and on my blog. If I was honest daily though, everyone would stop reading. 🙂 Plus, those who have not lived the expat life do not understand and we can’t expect them to really. Our blogs and facebooks have a wider audience filled with those who do not understand. Right? I try to keep it mostly positive in public but with a select few, those who get it, those who care, get the good, bad and the ugly. 🙂
I think there is great value in being honest where it has the potential to be helpful to others. And your last few posts could quite possibly be very beneficial to others who are processing similar feelings. I will say “thank you” for myself and for them.
Even though I am not an expat I can totally relate. Sometimes I am afraid to be too totally honest. I feel like I might come across as too whiny. But I do feel compelled to let it out sometimes.
Yes, it is important to be honest. I like my expat life, generally, but I’ve been at it for so many years that I now no longer have a place that is really home, because I’ve been gone too long. I have no place where all my family and friends are together, so I have no support group of people who have known me for a long time. That is what bothers me the most, if I am allowed to whine!
I’m not pretending I know anything at all about expat life specifically but I do think much of this is relatable to the wider population too- parents, bloggers, co-workers, etc. I guess it comes down to feeling out who is ok with your truth and who isn’t. xx
I think I had that wall when I was at home a bit as well. I definitely have a different feeling for when I’m being completely myself with a friend and then more guarded with an acquaintance. It usually takes me a fair amount of time to build a real friendship and it’s hard to drop the wall down even when I know I should. My friendship building skills are still a work in progress. 🙂
I think at times it is very difficult to let your guard down and be honest with people that you don’t know all that well. I’ve also found it hard to be honest with people back in the UK about how tough it has been – they have this expectation that it will be a breeze! I think you are very right when you say that there is this sort of conspiracy about expat life. I for one have found it very challenging being here at times, but then at other times I love it and there is no way I’d want to go back yet. It’s like being on emotional roller coaster, which can be a bit disconcerting and scary at times, but exhilarating at others.