My Theory On Blooming

LIFE OF AN AMERICAN EXPAT LIVING ABROAD

IMG_4141.JPGIn a little over a week I’ll be boarding the plane to head back to South Africa. I miss so many things about my Johannesburg home… I miss my dogs, my friends, my gym routine, my ballet class… pretty much my life in general. But, I am starting to get that dreadful feeling in the back of my mind about leaving my Michigan home.

I don’t know what causes this phenomenon in expats. I suppose not everyone who lives abroad deals with this feeling of emotional limbo, but I know I’m not a solo act singing the “Holiday Return Blues”. For me, it starts about two weeks before returning. I start to realize I haven’t a moment to meet up with a friend or I didn’t get a chance to take my kids somewhere. I get this sinking feeling like the time I’ve spent at home has slipped between my fingers like the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan. At the same time, I know I have done so much… days at the beach, riding bikes, indulging in enormous ice cream cones and enjoying dreary rainy days shopping at Target.

When I touch down in the US, I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. It’s weird. It’s like my mind automatically turns on its internal cruise control, and coasts carelessly throughout the length of my visit. I don’t have to “think” about things because I just “do” them. The self-confidence level in regards to the knowledge of my surroundings is so high that I don’t have to question myself. My innate abilities of being a local kick in, and I can accomplish things with ease and without anxiety. (Disclaimer: Please keep in mind I’m talking about my experience as a non-ATCK. Those who grew up abroad might have the complete opposite feeling about visiting “home”.)

I suppose I never realized how much harder my mind has to work when I’m living abroad. Nothing comes naturally to me when I’m going through the motions of my expat life. The language is typically different, the food is different, the bureaucracy is different, the driving etiquette is different — EVERYTHING is different!

Even though these challenges create opportunities for growth, they can also create an overwhelming sense of anxiety causing you to question everything you do. It’s not that you can’t complete these chores (if you were back home, you’d have had this done in a jiffy), it’s just that you don’t always know the easiest or best way to accomplish the task at hand, Instead of going in a straight line, you end up zig-zagging through an ordinary errand, and are sometimes left exhausted and often deflated.

When I’m in my host country, I think I subconsciously stress over things I wouldn’t give a second thought over at home. For instance, how am I going to exchange the broken cable box since the account is in my husband’s name and they won’t talk to me? At home, I would walk into the  cable provider’s office and know someone would talk with me and not require a passport, blood oathand my husband’s stamp of approval to exchange a broken cable box (though I might want to bang my head against the wall while waiting to complete the process).

I can’t quite put my finger on the root cause of my expat holiday return blues, but perhaps the catalyst for me is caused by the anticipation of #expatlife’s little added stresses and the feeling of being “under the gun” to get all the things I plan to accomplish before I embark on another 10 months abroad.

So here’s my theory… You could be the most experienced expat in the world, but as a foreigner you probably won’t know all the details of living in your host country like a local. You might get there one day, and you probably won’t even notice when you’ve crossed the threshold to innately living in your host country. But, to me, it’s comforting to know that even though I might not always take the most direct path to get from point A to point B, I can still manage to get things done. It might not have been the way I did it back home, but that’s okay because I’m not home. And, at the same time… I occasionally I do really enjoy being able to get behind the wheel and cruise every once in a while. So, no matter where you are… try to enjoy the ride.

One of my favorite words in the english language is serendipity. It’s defined as finding something good without looking for it. I think serendipity is planted where you least expect it, and can come in many shapes and sizes.

Lately, I have really been noticing how many serendipitous encounters I have been having when it comes to my relationships with people or places. These moments are little reminders of how #expatlife is more common than ever before. I keep going back to this hashtag, but I seriously love it…and if you missed my original blog post about #expatlife on the Families In Global Transition website, click on this link.

A few weeks ago my family and I had dinner with two sets of friends. We all knew each other, but not as a collective group. This triangular friendship is a prime example of #expatlife. An friend and colleague of my husband, who lives in Switzerland (we met while living in Belgium) was visiting their South African office. Ralph is the little brother of the best friend of my dear friend, Marybeth. I mean seriously…what are the chances?

These episodes of chance have been popping up for ages, but they are becoming more personal each time. For example, I have a friend who moved from South Africa to Detroit last year…She lives on the same street as an old college roommate of mine. I was once talking to a mom at school in Mexico City and found out they had lived one mile from where I grew up, and their kids attended the same elementary school I did. On a flight from New York to Johannesburg, my husband discovered a Brazilian coworker had a brother who was an exchange student at my husband’s small town high school over 25 years ago…and my husband remembered the coworker’s brother too.

The latest coincidence happened the other day, and was made possible through my connection with Families In Global Transition (FIGT). I returned home to my small West Michigan town two weeks ago to find out not only one, but two well known FIGT presenters (Megan Norton and Michael Pollock) live in an adjacent town and the other literally lives right down the street. This connection spurred the opportunity for me to participate in a panel discussion at Michael’s book discussion about Third Culture Kids.

As expats, we seem to be able to make connections with other globetrotters with ease. We also have the ability to connect others with those we know around the world…creating a large web of relationships. Expat networks are vast, and technology has helped create easily accessible platforms of knowledge and virtual tribes who understand #expatlife for us to tap into for guidance and support. All of this is great stuff, but the personal bonds we uncover when global nomads collide are what really amaze me. The happenstance of two people who live on opposite sides of the Earth and share a tiny piece of historical landscape is an incredible example of how the world creates relationships amongst its citizens.

These types of discoveries are what make #expatlife such a special experience for me. Being an expat has unleashed me from having a connection to only one specific place with links to the local community. My global lifestyle has given me the chance to connect to an army of global citizens of the world, But, I must admit… I do get a little excited when I‘m able to root out small ties to one of the many places I have called ‘home’… it reminds me of my past experiences and those who have crossed my path. It also fills the small holes in my heart that I carry (I like to use the word nostalgia instead of homesickness) from country to country.

So here’s my theory… The small connections we unearth while living abroad are the surprising benefits of playing the expat version of “Six Degrees of Separation”. As you begin to peel the nomadic onion, I predict you will begin stringing together a laundry list of connections quicker than you’d ever imagine. The expat world is a microcosm, but it’s spread across all corners of the Earth. Even though you might feel like a small seed in this big world, you never know when an unexpected coincidence will fill your cup and help you BLOOM.

Yay! I am officially a published writer. I’m so proud of this accomplishment. An article that I pitched and wrote for Global Living Magazine was published in it’s summer edition. It was a goal I’d set for myself long ago, and I finally did it.Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 1.18.00 PM.png