Upside Down Expat

The Decision Dilemma


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Home is where the heart is. A cliché with a lot of truth. But what if our heart is in two places, or more? This post unpacks some of the considerations for expats attempting to reach a decision on a long-term future.

The journey of an expat begins with a full case, bags of anticipation and a pocketful of trepidation.

It can also lack a little foresight.

As while many go on to create an amazing life that better suits, leaving behind strong roots can result in both homes feeling incomplete.

Even those who decided before departing can find this reality presents a predicament.

Because, while a great privilege to be able to pick a country to reside, having more than one possibility can, for many, create an emotional divide.

The result is the common phenomena of expat ambivalence. Where caught within the confines of two minds, long-term plans linger in limbo and decisions are difficult to decipher.

It’s confusing and complicated because;

Pros and cons don’t cut it

While the overseas pro list is often longer, the home pros are stronger, making it impossible to compare. Long pros don’t compensate for the longing we feel for family. And so for life-changing decisions it becomes clear that comparing lists blurs the emotions behind them.  So then we move to mulling over what mirrors our values. However….

Vying values

Basing our toughest choices on our strongest values is a robust approach. But when our most defining values are divided it’s a catch 22 making reaching a decision difficult. For example, strong family values with loved ones faraway contrasting with, say, a relaxed attitude at odds with the rat race of our birthplace. This classic case of dissonance can cripple even the most compos mentis of minds. So if our values are split, it’s also worth assessing…

What’s right for us

Whether simmering under the surface or intermittently intense, every expat experiences an element of guilt. Sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, regret they’re not part of our present, and worry what the future holds without them. It’s therefore important to consider, if no-one got hurt, what would we do? But then again, this is difficult when we’d be hurt too. So maybe we can try…

Visualising our future

Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of deciding what our heart desires. If it rings true that picturing ourselves in one place years from now is impossible to do, it may be our truth calling. Because reality begins in our mind. So a lack of visual projection may be a sign that it’s not what we’d like to find in our future. However, when we can imagine both, or none, then we should realise…

Not deciding is deciding

Being undecided, but not acting, is ultimately deciding. We should consider if  undecided in our head, our heart is deciding instead. We can trust it, go with the flow, live in the moment and wait until we ‘know’ And  if we finally get to that place, we should remember…

Owning our decision

Both options undoubtedly have their challenges. Repatriating is almost certainly harder than expatriating, and remaining an expat will always elicit a little emptiness. However, when we make a big decision we create, sometimes subconscious, reasons to reinforce it. Through cognitive dissonance, we minimise any regret we may have.  So when we choose, eventually our psychological sanity switch will flick and we’ll convince ourselves we made the right decision. Even if we didn’t!

So, when an expats mind is split, there really is no simple solution.

Because it’s not just deciding where to live. It’s deciding what we can live with and exist without.  It’s facing being far away from family forever or turning our back on a way of life we now know to be better.

And wherever we land for the long-haul we’ll forever carry a little extra baggage. The ‘what ifs’ of a life we once knew, or for an important part of our life that changed us.

But ‘what ifs’ mean we had options.

So while our case may end up a little battered and bruised, we will never regret that it was used.

If only we could just unpack it.

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  1. Anna Tandy

    Very interesting but having been an expat for nearly 65 years there are no rules. Just so it, enjoy it, live the moment, be in the now.Do not expect to make true friends, they are shallow and transient. If you can get one good friend, one good maid, one good nanny and school embrace the life as an expat and wait for the next country to come. You will surely move on .

    1. Post author

      Thank you Anna, 65 years wow! you’re absolutely right about living in the now.

  2. Mehd

    A very interesting piece, well written. I have not been an expat for 65 years but left Morocco in 1987 and still living abroad. It has been a wonderful experience with many challenges and every country I have lived in has both sides, pro and cons. No matter what anybody might say, I wouldn’t have done any other way. Met some wonderful people, tasted some amazing food, culture and traditions. Like someone said: calm seas don’t make a good sailors. Morocco will be my last destination but for the time being Bali still has plenty to offer my journey.

    1. Post author

      Thanks mehd that’s a long time and great to hear you have no regrets! I doubt I will either it’s a great experience although as you say can be very challenging at times too! I loved Bali it’s a beautiful country x

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