I’m sitting here at my dining room table, looking out onto a yard that has suddenly become my yard. I’m being bombarded by all the typical expat emotions. A couple of months ago the bright green garden was just a photo in an email. That’s the funny thing about expat life, isn’t it? It’s all imagination, speculation, hope and maybe a dash of dread, until it’s not. And you’re there. It may be the closest thing we get to being teleported.
This felt like a really, really long summer. I love going home, but as our children get older it becomes more challenging to live out of a suitcase for a few months. It’s not just our things that take up space, it’s us. Everyone’s so big now!
Yet, now that we’re here in our new home, it feels almost like the summer never happened. We’re not reminiscing about fun things we did nor wishing we had just one more taco. In a way, I see that we truly went from our old home, to a vacation in one place that is also home, and then directly to a new home. I think we get better at blending the places in such a way that it all feels like home, especially if we’re all together.
Is this normal?
Sometimes I wonder if this makes me hardhearted – the fact that I can so easily slip from one place to another without a second thought. When my mom asks me if I miss people it’s easy to admit that I do, but it’s difficult to explain that the missing is just one fraction of the experience. It’s a fraction of sadness that’s balanced by the memories of laughter, camaraderie and connection. If I’d never made these very special expat connections I’d have neither. We all take one set of emotions along with the other.
And to that end, I don’t think expats are hardhearted at all. I think we are simply masters of feeling all things at once and taking them in stride. We know deeply that complex emotions are normal and that cultivating a mindful awareness of how we feel does not mean we actually don’t feel. We simply have come to know well the lay of the land. Some times are harder than others. We know that too. Laughter and tears often go hand-in-hand.
As I arrive in a new place, I feel all of these things again – the quick passage of time as my children grow up with each move, the sadness for friends left behind even if “missing” is not exactly the right word, the joy in meeting new people and in creating a home in a whole new place. I’m at that phase where I look around and think, “How did we get here!?”
For me, and I hope for you, that’s the most beautiful aspect of expat life – holding all of these emotions, and their complexity, in one space. It makes us more resilient, wiser, more connected. It is truly a global life – a life of all that is, no matter where our feet are planted – and it’s definitely not for the hardhearted.
Feeling Your Expat Emotions
I’ll admit though – feeling all these emotions is not always easy. Sometimes we’re simply plowing through in survival mode. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t get better at feeling. Our emotions have so much to teach us!
There are all sorts of things you can do to deepen the practice of naming, feeling and connecting to your emotions.
Some simple practices you might try on your own include: journaling about your feelings, clearly naming your emotions out loud or in your head, checking in at specific times during the day and seeing if you can write down the emotion you’re feeling, and practicing distinguishing your thoughts from your emotions (download an activity from my book The Expat Activity Book to try this on your own).
If you’d like to talk more about my mindfulness programs for expats (a wonderful way to practice paying attention to how you feel), let’s chat!