Expat Life: Living In the Middle

Woman in green shirt and messy ponytail looking out over canyon.
Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

We’re moving soon. Right now I’m in a canyon of in-between.

Desert wildflowers and brambly bushes compete for space with rattlesnakes and scorpions along the banks of a bubbling stream from which hawks swoop down to quench their thirst. In short – despite the outward appearances of beauty, it often feels like one false step could lead to disaster.

On the other hand, I’ve been here so many times before I’ve become quite used to it. The reality of our time in Japan winding down (approximately 102 days from today) seems both unreal and entirely what should be happening right now. I imagine a bit like coming upon a rattlesnake den in a canyon. You’re shocked…but then, you are in a canyon.

Over the course of our expat life I’ve come to realize that trying to define these events as having distinct beginnings, middles and ends is fruitless. Right now, for example, when we have neither moved from Tokyo nor arrived in Brussels, feels like beginning, middle and end; a little bit of all three mixed up in a strange, confusing mishmash of this moment.

Yet, even if it’s confusing, there is indeed a real feeling to this in-between place. If we can never really define something as beginning, middle or end, what is it then that makes this part of the expat journey so distinct from other phases?

Is it knowing that at some point in June we will lift off from Haneda and in those very seconds we will have left Japan, but won’t have arrived somewhere else? Will it be those 8 weeks or so this summer when we go home to Austin without an actual home to return to?

Expats talk about this all the time – the in-between phase. Honestly, it doesn’t actually need a definition or clear lines to be real. It exists. We feel it.

You know how it goes…

It’s that time when you start to pull back from the life you’re leading in one place and begin to allot designated moments to begin to deal with the preparations of the next location.

You begin to calculate which dinners, coffees and social events are worth your time. You start to actively consider whether or not this particular friendship is worth it. You start to make your bucket list for shopping and travel. You begin to come to terms with the places you’ll simply not have the opportunity to visit (Hokkaido – waaaahhhh!).

It’s a mental unbuttoning of one layer of clothing while simultaneously pulling on another. As you can imagine, it can feel clumsy and even reckless at times. For those of us who’ve done it often, it also feels comfortingly familiar.

Either way, like the ecosystem of a dessert canyon, it remains both completely explainable and surprisingly complicated.

I think in the grand scheme of things, what’s more important than trying to pinpoint the exact nature of this experience, whether in your eyes it’s the beginning, middle or end of something – is remembering to develop a comfort with the stillness, ambiguity and the in-between-ness of it all – the in-between-ness of the entire expat experience. To learn to walk neither fearfully cautious nor optimistically blind through the canyon, but to cultivate a deeper awareness of all that comes up as we navigate the unpredictable terrain at any phase.

The only real question then, is how.

I think we do it by owning that we’re in-between people. We’re neither at the very moment of our birth nor (in most cases) the edge of the end of our life’s journey. We’re always in the middle. We like to believe that the next exciting adventure is just about to begin, but I’m not sure it works that way. One moment is always beginning and just like that it’s also ending. And over and over and over.

We learn to become comfortable in this liminal space by seeing what’s really here in this very moment – our real emotions as they are, our thoughts as they jump us forward or pull us back into the next phase. We accept both the simple truths and the distracting clutter of the moments we live right now as the real place. We become trusting of our ability to be insightful and open to learning from the unexpected. We take up residence in the awareness of right now. We admit it might all be the middle…of something.

When we see it that way, it’s a whole lot less scary.

One of my very favorite quotes is from Sue Monk Kidd in one of my very favorite books When the Heart Waits. It reads, “What makes you think life happens on tomorrows stage? This is no rehearsal. This is it. Live it now!”

In all the many places we may live, the canyon is always there in both its beauty and ruggedness. We live here. And, you know us world travelers, we can make anywhere home.

Share

2 thoughts on “Expat Life: Living In the Middle”

  1. This post resonates with me so much Jodi! It’s such a gift to learn to embrace being “in-between people.” As you explain here, we all are always in-between, but it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life and forget that. Living abroad sort of pushes you to get comfortable with the liminal space and even though it’s hard, it’s one of those skills that can help us wherever we go.
    (I’ve also added that book to my reading list–it looks great!)

    • Melissa, I’m so happy this spoke to you – especially as you’re in such a big life-shift! I find it’s during these times when I feel the most in need of remembering that exactly where I am is the best place to be.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.