When you know you have been an expat too long
There are experiences in life which can transform someone, such as living in a foreign country. Expats who’ve repatriated are especially conscious that they have changed. It is only when they return home they truly appreciate by how much. So, are there signs that you have been an expat for too long?
Visiting home feels like being abroad
Often the real expat experience, one which is successful and immensely rewarding, stems from throwing yourself into the local culture and way of life. This can mean a fundamental change from the way you used to approach life in your home country. This might be something which is very positive and beneficial, however, it may be problematic if you return for a visit.
If you have lived abroad for a decade or longer, during a trip home, you may start to notice people are eating food you are no longer used to, the weather is an issue where it never used to be, and people just seem to have a different outlook on life to you. Visiting your home country can feel like travelling abroad.
It becomes increasingly difficult to answer the question “Where are you from?”
For most of us, it’s an easy enough question. You are from a city/town or area of the country, and you normally reply with your country of origin when you’re travelling abroad. For individuals whose parents have migrated, things can become a little more complex, but it is generally easy enough.
For long term expats, there may not be a simple response to the question “Where are you from?” This is particularly true if you’ve spent a considerable period of time in each one of the various places you have resided. If you live in China, worked previously for a decade in the Middle East, after 5 years living in the US, but were educated in Spain, after being raised in the UK, where precisely are you from? It may take some time to figure that out, let alone explaining it. It may take you some time! If your parents are migrants, then this may further muddy the water.
You go up to other expats not to ask for help but to offer it
When you were a fresh expat, a little bit green, you probably sought advice from anyone who had been on the ground longer than you. Now that’s ancient history. You have now truly settled in, and things have flipped – you’re the knowledgeable expat, the one who is approached by the new arrivals.
If you’re the amicable, friendly sort, you may approach people before they come to you. You may feel you are a fountain of knowledge and there is very little you cannot address, and find you spend a lot of your time advising people by way of online forums and chat rooms.
Supporting your adopted country in sports
A new expat can usually watch local sport fairly impassively. Eventually however, you start to become emotionally attached to the point whereby an important win can keep you feeling elated for days or a crucial loss can leave you feeling low and deflated. Sporting loyalties can be a solid pointer of where you belong. When you find yourself cheering for your adopted country, not just out of respect, you know that your loyalties have moved, or are at least split. An intriguing situation arises when your adopted country is playing your home country – who do you root for then? If it is the former, then you have probably been an expat too long.
I know a guy who can…
Initially when you arrive in a new to a place, you procure goods and services from the most recognizable places. You look up a plumber or electrical technician in the Yellow Pages or online, you shop at the main expat supermarkets and malls, service your vehicle at the official dealer, eat at the recognised restaurants, etc. It might not be the cheapest way to do things, but it gets the job done.
Stay in one place long enough and you will inevitably get acquainted with the local eateries, a switched on IT guy for any computer/internet needs, a reliable guy who services your air-conditioning and maintenance requirements and the local garage which does the same job for under half the price. Throw in your knowledge of local markets which caters to clothes, groceries etc and you will no longer be an expat, but instead know where to go to get great services and goods at a fraction of the cost.
You become increasingly knowledgeable about local news and politics
In places like the US and perhaps the UK, politics, or at least main policies are fairly well known in many other parts of the world. However, generally speaking, new arrivals are generally oblivious to local news and politics. The latest political scandal or hot news topics can completely pass you by and unless you plan to stick around for long, many people don’t bother to engage. Once again, the longer you remain in a country and become more ingrained in the community, the more likely you are to become enticed into the latest social and political issues. Fully integrating into the society in which you live is not uncommon and is likely to enrich your expat life, but when you find yourself arguing local politics to a stranger in the bar, you probably need to hold up your hand and realise you have been an expat too long.