Upside Down Expat

Country Commitment-Phobia

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Couple Beach Kite Flying Getaway Holiday Concept

A love story

You know the script; girl meets new country, falls in love and has a baby.

Captivated by clear skies, blissful sunshine and pristine sands, it all happens so fast that she pushes aside any niggling doubts of long-term plans. Before long she has created a new life. And while she knows deep down they’re not the perfect match, after a while she becomes deeply attached.

This is how it is for me. Because when life’s big moments present themselves seemingly suddenly, subsequent decisions are made easy. For example;

Life; Here’s a job you can apply for in Australia, want to have a crack?
Me. Yes ok!
Life: Perth’s not really suiting you here’s a job in Melbourne, fancy it?
Me: Yes please!
Life: Here you’re pregnant, want the baby?
Me: Oh wow, yes, thank you life.

So, for a long period of time, I’ve been in the fortuitous position of choosing to say ‘I do’ or ‘I don’t’ to some of life’s most fantastic opportunities. The answers to which, for me, were indisputable. Sure enough, they have been some of the most defining, direction-changing and magical moments of my life.

But the all-consuming, intoxicating and optimistic love song can only last for so long. Eventually reality sets in; long-term leases need to be signed, schools are to be selected and steps forward to be settled on. As the pressure to do these things edge closer, a feeling of panic starts to rise like the crescendo of a dramatic a cappella about to reach it’s emotionally charged finale. And so I do the only thing I can. I avoid thinking about them. I push down each note of fright and avoid singing life’s necessary lines, often until the latest possible time.

This avoidance expresses itself in everyday occurrences and conversations. If these are true for you too, they may signify that you are also a country-commitment-phobe:

– Responses to questions about your long-term life plans are littered with language like ‘we’ll see’ ‘nothing is forever’ ‘just going with the flow’ while quietly cursing the uncomfortable feelings the questioner has created.

– You ask the same above questions to every expat you meet, secretly hoping they will give a never-given-before answer and with it an entirely new perspective to your predicament.

– You can’t bring yourself to buy much needed new furniture because you would have to ship them expensively, even though you don’t have any current plans of repatriating. (apart from in your head where it’s happening later in the year; every year)

– You would like a pet but feel it would be unfair to eventually abandon it.

– You have in-depth lifestyle knowledge of almost every country in the world because you frequently fantasize about alternate countries that would be better suited, i.e. closer to home, and regularly research schools, culture and living costs.

– You come away from conversations with other parents of young children that include comments like ‘won’t be long until they’re having sleepovers’ and ‘wait until they start clubbing together’ thinking it’s probably best you reduce the amount of time you spend with these crazy future-plan-making people.

– You frequently consider and conjour up ideas of careers you could carve out that would allow you to live half the year in each country

– You have lived in the same property for years, even though you’d like to move, because you like the easy-exit feeling the month by month lease gives you.

– You refuse to book holidays more than six months in advance.

– You panic when you realise you haven’t panicked about your long-term future in a while.

Committing will set you free

The reluctance to commit to an alternate country is not uncommon. Especially when we fall in love unexpectedly. Because we convince ourselves it’s only temporary.

It’s a state of mind fuelled by a fear of finality – making a decision to be away from our families forever, closing off our options and feeling trapped or making a life-changing error of judgement we feel could leave our lives in ruin. Alternatively, we’re afraid to really go after what we want; petrified it will all go wrong.

Whatever the reason, to shy away from commitment means we actively avoid making long-term decisions. Yet not committing takes more commitment than committing. We become stuck in our head, constantly wondering what could be instead. With one foot in and the other marching around in our minds; we limit our progress by failing to fully appreciate, see and subsequently walk through all our current doors of opportunity.

So if we’re happy and don’t yet want out, we have to make a decision to commit to everything that is happening now. As in actuality, paradoxically, when we commit we set ourselves free, allowing ourselves to live our lives completely, without the burden of avoidance, ambiguity and associated anxiety.

Because the cliche ‘nothing lasts forever’ is true. So to sing a few songs badly is always better than living elements of our lives on mute. We must show up and immerse ourselves fully in every moment we produce.

And that always starts with two simple words; ‘I do’

You probably found my post through Facebook which is an amazing way to share content but also risky as sometimes paid posts and advertising are given preferential visibility  – so if you enjoy reading my free posts on expat related topics and don’t want to miss them visit my home page and sign up by email. 

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Upside Down Expat Upside Down Mind

Fleeting Feelings: The Waiting Game

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attesa

My series of ‘fleeting feelings’ are short articles based on some of the emotions and stages we go through as an expat. This one is about how moving overseas can often feel like the ‘big thing’ we’ve been waiting or working for and why we should never give up creating our own destiny.

I recently reflected, in the first few years of moving overseas and subsequently having our daughter, that I spent a long time reacting and adapting. The changes so sudden, significant and unplanned, I took a tumble down the rabbit hole landing somewhat bruised and confused on the Australian sand with a baby in my hands. Of course finding my feet with the sand between my toes is an enviable position to behold and I was also filled with elation, excitement and gratitude.  Yet still, at some point through it all, I started to believe, subconsciously, that life was happening to me. That I wasn’t in control of my destiny.

In hindsight, I think I was overwhelmed with my reality.  And sometimes when we feel out of our depth, on some level we decide it will be easier if we relinquish some responsibility. So instead of purposefully guiding our lives we decide we’ll just see what happens next. We wait. And while through the ebbs and flows of life there are times this approach might be necessary, as a long term strategy it can cause a great deal of anxiety. Take it from me. Because life still shifts and shapes around us but if we’re not doing the shifting we’re being dragged along or drifting; trying to mold ourselves into the world that surrounds us rather than molding the world to match our desires.

So I considered all my life-defining moments and how the really big, exciting and magical times seemed to come as a complete and random surprise. But they have a common denominator. Prior to any big shifts were periods of intention and acceptance; where I wasn’t resisting anything in my present but at the same time preparing for the things I wanted to see in my future. Importantly I wasn’t holding any preconceptions of how I thought my life ought to be. I was chipping away at the things I didn’t like while, overall (life’s never without its problems), enjoying my life.

And I believe that it all comes down to intention. Intent, accompanied with even just tiny steps, surrounded by an infinite space full of potential and possibility takes us to an, often better than we imagined, reality. But if we spend too long waiting to ‘see’, or worse holding onto an idea of how our life ought to be, how will we ever find and create our opportunity?

And so over the past year or so I’ve taken back control. I’ve set new goals. I no longer feel like life is happening to me. I once again feel in charge of my own destiny. And while I now know my intention and manifestation won’t always be exactly the same, for the first time in a long time, I can’t wait to see what amazing things come my way again.

You probably found my post through Facebook which is an amazing way to share content but also risky as sometimes paid posts and advertising are given preferential visibility  – so if you enjoy reading my free posts on expat related topics and don’t want to miss them visit my home page and sign up by email. 

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Fleeting Feelings: Missing Mum

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Mother and toddler

This is part of a new series of short ‘fleeting feelings’ articles based on the thoughts and emotions that often arise when we are living away from our families. This one is about missing our mums and parents, and understanding how it must feel to have their children live so far away from them.

My three year old daughter is growing fast.  I was recently watching her sleeping, as I so often do, and thinking about how watching our children ‘grow’ is a strange sentiment as a parent. The shifts in development are, while significant, so continuous that rarely do we see them entirely consciously.  It’s only looking back on photos, or in spare, rare, moments of reflection, that their leaps in development become so apparent. As I thought about this, I had a strong, yet imagined and momentary, visualisation of my daughter stood facing me fully grown, telling me she was leaving home. For a few seconds it felt like I was really there. I looked at her gorgeous face with her still curly hair. She was taller than me but still so much my treasured, innocent and adorable baby. And in that moment I experienced an intense physical sense of how I will feel when she’s ready to go. I felt a deep ache. But I realised that the real definition of a decent parent is the decision, when the time comes, to let them leave without expecting anything in return. Because if we are really the self-sacrificing, liberating and unconditionally loving parents we think we are, what begins as a largely selfish act must end with an entirely selfless one. We must find it deep within ourselves to let our children go and find themselves. Knowing that, while they will always be the centre of our world, we won’t always be the centre of theirs. And I thought about my own mum, and how it must feel to have your child emigrate. To have all those years with your child so close and then be away from them almost everyday. And I cried a little. Because while our mums (and parents) may not be the focus of our adult lives,  they are the most important and influential individuals of our lifetimes. And it’s the strongest, selfless and most successful mums that know, after many years of giving our guidance; for our grown children to fully grow, we must truly let them go.

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Upside Down Expat

Holding on to home

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Sunset Woman

Holding onto the past takes on a whole new meaning as an expat.

Our home, families and friends become etched into our minds as if frozen in time.

This gives an illogical yet inevitable illusion, of being able to, at some point, return. Yet, while we can once again geographically relocate, the place as we knew it no longer remains. Because what we pine is a period of time; a former feeling, phase and, unfortunately now, a fantasy.

It was on my last visit to England at my grandparents’ house where I considered how we can cling onto the past more tightly as an expat. My sister and I took my daughter upstairs to play with the same toys in the same room we had done so frequently in our infancy. It was the first time as adults we’d done this. After all there had been no need in the absence of a hyperactive child who now, after already having played extensively outside needed a distraction to stop her from going wild.

As we pulled out the familiar teddies, dolls and plastic figurines while reminiscing, I looked around and inhaled the view while trying to imagine how the place and memories would feel had I have stayed.

My eyes stopped on the signed picture still up on the wall of Simply Red singer, Mick Hucknall. A childhood friend of my Uncle Paul, he was a frequent visitor to our grandparents house and our own house was also back to back with his dads. And so his songs somewhat played the soundtrack to our childhood.

Immediately I hummed his song; ‘Holding Back the Years’ in my head. It seemed so aptly aligned with the weight of confusing emotions that accompany me on the journey I now tread; a part of my past; paused, packed away and carried everyday.

But when we hold on to the past we hold ourselves back;

The place

We can idealise our image of home in our head. Alternatively, we view things worse than they were. Or we might jump between the two, sometimes simultaneously, which is of course the place resided by those of us undecided. This manifests as excessive comparisons of circumstances, culture and country. Yet holding on tight to either belief can cause unnecessary grief as our now shifted perspective prevents us from being accurately reflective. As we’re unlikely to ever again experience the place as we once did. So rather than branding one place as  bad or better,  acknowledging, accepting and appreciating the benefits of both abodes brings a level of peace and gratitude we have two perfect places we’re fortunate enough to call home.

The people

Memories of the way we interacted with our families and friends at home can create a deep sense of loss that those times are now lost. Subsequent steps forward, such as settling, can feel like a betrayal; as if we’re somehow stepping further away. Yet its driven by a skewed view that everything is just as we knew. Its important to remember even had we stayed, their lives and ours would have changed anyway. And while they’ll always be a pull from our families and friends at home, instead of longing for the way things were, we can embrace the way things are more easily by making our families an everyday part of our experience in alternative ways.

Our prior selves

Quite often what we miss about our past life is our prior self. Largely because without uneasy expat emotions it was easier. Feelings like loneliness, longing, insecurity and guilt can sometimes feel intolerable, leaving us negative and vulnerable. In these instances it is tempting to trick our minds that before was perhaps a better time. But vulnerability is a pathway to resilience and personal progression. And it’s only when we become comfortable with being uncomfortable, rather than clinging to our prior in-the-comfort-zone personality, we allow ourselves to grow much more dramatically.

Moving countries can create a divide that runs far deeper than the ocean that lies between them. It disconnects us more definitively and distinctly from our past, creating a gulf of emotion that can leave us feeling heart wrenchingly detached.

We cling to yesteryear, a part of us longing for the way things were. It’s a notion rooted in fear; of feeling further away from our prior selves and our families. But the past is gone regardless of where we live, so holding onto this fear only holds back our years.

We must instead find a way to fully integrate our yesterday into our today.

Because just as the beautiful colours created by the sun are only seen when night and day convene, and the rainbow only appears when both rain and sun are here; we can only find inner happiness and peace when we allow our past and future to meet; in our present.

Its only here, no longer holding on, that we find release.

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Upside Down World

My breasts and I

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Beauty

After many happy years of hanging out together, my breasts and I are tired.

We’re tired of the ongoing debates amongst men and women we’ve never met about how we appropriately dress; what’s too tacky, erotic or exposing.

That our daily wear is dictated by society, causing us to cast even fairly conservative clothes aside to ensure we don’t confuse conversations, perceptions or intentions.  We’re tired at the shops, when the size of our ample ‘rack’ often means putting top after top back on the rack, despite them flattering our figure, for fear of showing too much and being viewed as ‘just’ an attractive or unclassy woman depending on who’s looking.

Breasts are hard to hide.  We’re wondering why we even feel the need to try?

We’re tired of somewhat subconsciously glancing down to ensure our fleshy femininity is hidden from view before commencing a businesslike chat with a chap. You know, just in case we distract the discussion away from our voice, intelligence or opinion. And we’re tired of the segments of society that give masses of men a one dimensional reputation of being so superficially obsessed with breasts they can’t cope with a woman wearing a cleavage showing dress. We know many men with more substance than that.

We’re tired of the breastfeeding debate.  Tired of it being made an extraordinary act, both by the ones unusually uncomfortable with a baby feeding from a breast, and those flaunting feeding our offspring as if the alternative is they fend for themselves. For my breasts and I fed our child too.  But my hands and I also went on to make up several bottles a day, yet we never felt the need to take a proud and poignant snapshot of our fingers in the act. Funny that?

We’re tired of panicking when our toddler pounces in public and in the process pulls down our top.  We halt the fun not because it hurts, but because we’re stressed someone might catch sight of our supposedly solely sexual skin.

My breasts and I are tired of covering up the absurdity of the continued conditioning starting at school age, affecting innocent confidence through unnecessary cleavage self-consciousness. How are we ever going to teach our girls to embrace their natural curves?

We’re tired that breasts are objectified because of the sexual role they play. We can’t understand why our lips, necks or hands are not made to feel self-conscious outside of the bedroom in the same way.

We’re tired of people not getting it; it’s not about flaunting, flashing or far out feminism. It’s about all sexes being free to wear what we like whether at work, a funeral or a party and still being viewed as an equal member of society, regardless of any flesh we can see.

My breasts and I are really really tired. Because, no matter the amount of cleavage we display neither our objective, nor presence, aims to deflect, attract or distract.

But if I do, we all need to ask, whose issue is that?

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The dream is not as it seems

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We are inundated with messages of chasing and living the dream. The exhilarating life overseas, finding our purpose and passion or our undeniable ideal significant other. But this state of mind keeps us running toward an elusive finish line. It’s a dream within a dream. And the dream is never quite as it seems…. 

When I was five, my little Bessie mate and I would stand up high on his garden gate and yell ‘RED BALLOON’ as the ‘rag and bone’ man drove past in his waste collection van.

We had the words wrong but it was a total blast.

 It’s one of the happiest recollections of my upbringing. And when I look back, it was always the small things; digging up worms, making up songs, building dens and playing outside with my sister and friends.

I also loved animals so much that I dreamed of becoming a vet. And, instead of having a baby, I was going to adopt a chimpanzee from the zoo. I was certain this is what I would do.

Until, on the TV, I witnessed a veterinary surgeon slicing through the skin of someone’s pet. Another had his hand up the rear end of a cow, one had a dog die and another got bitten by a crazed cat as he tried to stick a needle in its back.

And just like that my dream collapsed.

For immediately I knew I would never, nor want to, be equipped for the reality. And I also realised how insanely cruel keeping a chimpanzee for a baby would be.

It was my first lesson in life that dreams are not always as they seem. For I’d only visualised the best bits; the affection, redemption and rescuer gratification.

It’s a fundamentally flawed and fatal mistake that we still too often make.

We’re conditioned to be in a constant state of wanting, wondering and waiting for an enigmatic yet elusive place ahead. A happy-ending destination where fortune, feat and fulfilment awaits.

We believe that when we arrive we’ll stride through life with a spring. And no doubt stars will sparkle above our heads while pretty little bluebirds sing.

Yet, while it may be true we have yet to have live the best, the constant quest for something better makes little sense:

The Single Story: We look at those that seemingly have it all and make stereotypical assumptions; the rich; free, parents; fulfilled, couples; content and the successful; set-up for life. We don’t see the struggles that, in addition to the satisfying sections, are also central to the story. The worry and weariness of child rearing, the fights in long lasting love, and the demands and dedication required for great wealth. We assign a single story to situations we’d like to have. But the truth is…

The Unexpected Losses:  For all the big gains in life, there are losses. Sometimes deficits directly relate, often they’re just a consequence of changing times. The dream life overseas; a loss of family stability, the successful career but simultaneous yet unexpected troubles with our friends or family, or motherhood; the loss of independence and sometimes sanity! Achieving our life’s aims also requires that we often too, quite significantly, change. Yet we imagine everything good about our present moment will remain the same. And, while the wins are often worth it, when we’re blind to future stakes we fail to see and appreciate prior states. And we also get things wrong…

The Mismatched Needs. We think we know what we want. Frequently we assume that adding extra will subtract our sadness.  We fail to figure out that fulfilment is fundamentally within us, unaware everything we need is already there. And then we look at others and also inaccurately compare, because…

The Fake Realities: Social media is saturated with streams of stories of success and people supposedly ‘living the dream’. It seems no life is complete unless it’s filtered and plastered all over the screen. But the real filters are the ones we use to disguise our everyday lives. The bulk that is everything in between.  The messy house, the parenting fails; bribes and empty threats, sitting around lazily in our sweats, emptying the bin, getting irritated by our partners snoring and kicking them a little harder than intended, or not, in the shin. But while we should certainly celebrate our success, glossing over the rest dulls what’s real. All we see are manipulated ‘happy endings’ and highlight reels. But…

The Happily Ever After Myth: Even happy endings end. Because the nature of life isn’t so; rather it’s a series of happy and unhappy moments that come and go. Even when our biggest dreams arrive they are only ever mere moments in time. They too will pass us by. But rather than a dismal deduction, detaching from the happy ending destination frees us to depart the speeding train of anticipation, able to wait patiently for other enjoyable rides to stop at our station. But often we’re too scared to jump because…

The Perceived Failure: Frantically focusing on the future can foster feelings of failure, leaving us feeling frustrated. We pervade our own points of view with perceived past mishaps, or fear of forthcoming failures, conversely, preventing us from progress. But failure is purely a perception. Rather it’s the passageway; the practice, progress and pleasure that should be our only measure.  When we’re in it mainly for the process, we’ll still fail, but pay far less notice. Rather we’ll experience daily appreciation able to enjoy our lives free from the shackles of expectation.

Dreaming is an essential and wonderful part of life. It fills us with hope and fire to go after the things we desire.

But to be continuously invested in chasing and achieving ‘the dream’, we can overlook the joy of everything in between. The time we take to plait our child’s hair, sitting with them and really being there, laughing at silly things, sharing a knowing look with those we truly know, strolls with the sand between our toes, waking up too soon and catching a glimpse of the bright shining moon.

Standing on a gate shouting out red balloon.

For to live life only for the happy end is to yell the words wrong all along. But instead of a minor vocabulary mistake, it’s a critical error of judgement that will be forever too late to mend.

So to go after our dreams, we shouldn’t run, but tiptoe. Careful not to trample on the seemingly insignificant things as we go.

They may be the moments that matter the most.

Because we are already the living the real dream, you know.

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Upside Down Expat

The expat phases of friendship

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Group of young people siting and looking outside from yacht. Back view.

One of the most exciting things about moving overseas is cultivating new connections. Yet it can also be one of the most challenging. This post looks at some of the challenges when creating an entirely new set of mates, particularly other expatriates.

Every night since our month long trip to England, right before she falls asleep, my daughter asks ‘tell me my story’

The story goes like this;

‘India crossed the ocean on a big aeroplane from Australia to England to see her family and friends. She saw nanna, grandad, aunty gem gem, nanna babs, grandad bert, uncle ben, aunty jen, cousin libby’…the list goes on.

My precious girl listens wide eyed while sucking her thumb, the corners of her mouth a touch upturned creasing the baby faced cheeks of her beautiful face.

If I forget someone, she reminds me. Her memory astounds me.

She’s only three but the connections she made and maintains, no matter the distance, already form a fundamental understanding of her place in life.

This is her story.

Because it’s the people we connect with and the experiences we share that create our narrative.

But when we start a new life overseas, we leave our backstories behind. It’s exciting, yet it can also cause confusion.

As while bonds back home are developed over decent durations and solid foundations; from neighbourhoods, studies and work, expat connections are cultivated more quickly. And in the depths of social scarcity they carry undercurrents of expectation and uncertainty.

With two moves (Perth & Melbourne) in two consecutive years, I essentially experienced the exhilaration of emigrating twice. Still in my twenties, I formed friendships over drinks, dancing and adventures.  It was fabulous fun and I have fantastic memories.

But riding the waves of elation often lacks deliberation. And I’ve learned more about myself and others than perhaps I ever did prior. Here’s how my journey went;

In the same boat

For expats, quickly cultivating connections is crucial for survival. The easiest way to do this is by making fellow expat mates. Through networking groups, friends of friends or work, if we put ourselves out there we can find ourselves going on, slightly awkward, dates with other expatriates. These friendships form fast. As the need to connect can catapult us into a best friend state of mind in a very short space of time. But unfortunately, when made this fast many are not destined to last…

Choppy waters

When the honeymoon is over and in my case, through pregnancy and childbirth, the party too, life starts to settle and friends are sought on a less superficial level.  The expat association isn’t enough. Conflicting characteristics come into view. And, unfortunately, while we may now share social circles and experiences, many lack the essential elements required for a lasting friendship. Mismatches may have been missed, too much disclosed or individuals ignorantly integrated into our crowd. When foundations are as wobbly as an Englishman perched on a paddle board, fallouts and phaseouts begin. Group gripes can also give in. However….

Your crew

If we’re lucky we’re left with those that we love. And overseas, as our strongest sense of support, they become a substitute for family. These friendships flourish far faster than connections cultivated in our country of birth. Because when we’re stuck in the same sea of solitude, we keep each other afloat.  But then…

Ships in the night

Just when we’re acquiring social circle security, some of our besties say bye.  Because the downside of nurturing expatriate mates is, with a life elsewhere and a once-done now more workable wanderlust, they’re more likely to make another move. Watching them leave can trigger a tidal wave of emotion and homesickness leaving us wading without a life jacket. Because they take with them a sense of our security.  And I’ve found, if they go home, I’ve more deeply doubted my decision to be departed. However…

Smooth sailing

After habituating in my host country a while, I’ve also cultivated harder to break native mates. Formed over a slower duration on a foundation of everyday activities and familiarity, rather than one common-expat- characteristic, they have developed in a more traditional way. These connections have helped me better integrate into my host community, culture and country. And while my British buddies are still my besties, a balance of both has given me an extra sense of stability.

There’s an irrefutable impermanence when creating a new life overseas.

Friendships form, flourish or fail far faster than in our hometowns. And the transiency of life is also more frequent in a foreign land.

Yet while we may sail through many choppy waters, the more changeable and challenging they are, the more we learn how to spot capsizing risks, our anchors and sailing budddies from afar.

It can be an uncomfortable ride but forever opens our minds to new people, places and possibilities. We also better select and appreciate those we would like to stay for a long time.

And we all want an amazing plotline.

So write it well and if it lacks love, laughter or a feel good factor, never be afraid to edit, re-write and repeat.

After all, we never know which characters we have yet to meet.

The End.

You probably found my post through Facebook which is an amazing way to share content but also risky as sometimes paid posts and advertising are given preferential visibility  – so if you enjoy reading my free posts on expat related topics and don’t want to miss them visit my home page and sign up by email. 

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Upside Down Expat

Yearning for yesterdays yuletides

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Tis the season to be jolly. But for many, the festivities lead to feelings of longing and loneliness. This post is particularly written for expats but applies to anyone feeling a little dread this Christmas.

My memories of Christmas are magical.

Common customs of stockings stuffed with satsumas, carrots and mince pies for a Santa and Rudolph snack and whopping piles of presents made the festivities as a kid the absolute best.

And as an adult I maintained the festive zest.

I loved the build-up; the Christmas markets, parties and everything sparkly. And the day; excitedly exchanging gifts, munching the much loved merry meal and, later, gathering at my grandparents’ for games, nibbles and more merriness.

I was so resolute in retaining this ritual with relatives I would react with dismay at any suggestion of an overseas getaway.

Until I left life in England for Australia.

And now, after five years, as the season descends, starting to surface is an all too familiar feeling of dread. Every year a wave of homesickness seems to sneak up whacking me hard across the back of my head.

However, after four years of family-free festivities, I’ve found ways to dissipate the dull ache:

Remove the rose-tinted glasses: While I still desire much of the tradition now missing, it’s easy to view memories with glasses that are partially pink. It’s a flawed way to think. Because, while the family part still fully claims my heart, the reality of England includes chaotic Christmas shopping and, after the day is over, miserable months getting darker and colder. So when reminiscing our spectacles ought to project a clear and transparent visual. Because, in Australia for example, we enjoy a sunnier and more relaxed ritual.

Embrace the differences: Lifelong traditions are hard to let go because they’re all we know. It’s strange to see sun-drenched Christmas trees. And the hot weather, light nights and boring build-up is a disconcerting disparity to the British sea of festivity.  However, a sentimental state of mind can cause us to try and re-create Christmases gone by. Yet this only cultivates the contrast. It makes more sense to create new traditions and embrace alternative events. And in Australia with free festivals, long breaks and wicked weather, it’s the season to sparkle in the sun!

Give up the guilt: The guilt can weigh on us as heavily as Santa’s sack. Especially when we know our family wants us back. However, unlike Father Christmas, it’s not always possible to fly around the world to hand deliver gifts. And worrying about everyone else’s experience is a waste of energy that will only impact the ones we’re with.  Importantly, we should remember we’re just one little elf who’s main responsibility is ourselves.

Be thankful for your family, no matter where they are:  Frankly, I’ve found no way to fend off feelings of missing family. And I’ve realised I don’t want to. I miss them and the family festivities gone by. So I honour my emotions and have a little cry.  But I remind myself while we won’t be near this year, we will still share some Christmas cheer, exchanging gifts and speaking over skype. And it won’t be long before we set another date to celebrate.

Think of those alone:   The recent John Lewis ad featuring an elderly, lonely man on the moon looking longingly at earth struck a chord. Because half way round the world where the merriments are minimal we can look in at the festivities on facebook feeling faraway and forgotten.  If we listen hard enough right now we can probably hear Santa’s elves feebly fingering the scrawny strings of their super small violins. Because it should also remind us, if we’re spending it with just one person we love, we’re luckier than a lot. And while I don’t believe comparing is constructive since struggles are implicitly individual, the notion can help rationalise emotion.

Erase expectations: Expectation at Christmas, and in life, creates discontent. The festive season especially can shroud us in a thick fog of ‘should be’s’ and woeful wishes.  But when we focus on how it ought to be, we resist our reality and become trapped in a gap of turmoil. Yet by erasing expectation, the gap goes, setting us free to enjoy reality.

And so being on the other side of the world away from loved ones and treasured traditions can cast a dark cloud over a light and sunny season.

But battling the blues is not just an expat experience. Christmas for many frequently fosters longing, lamenting and loneliness.

It’s a painful reminder of loss and what once was.

Yet, while we should never suppress our sadness, if we let memories of yesterday’s yuletide take over, we wash away our today with the tide. And how do we know this year we’re not more fortunate than in the future?

Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon at Christmas to be feeling a little blue. So the one gift we mustn’t forget to give this year is happiness.

And make sure the recipient is you.

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Me and my little sis loved Christmas as kids! 

Upside Down Expat

Making memories down memory lane

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Expat sprees to see friends and family are surreal.

As after a while away our home and histories feel familiar and foreign simultaneously.

For me, stepping into my native Manchester feels like walking onto a set of Coronation Street. The strong accents, terraced streets and grey skies are a stark contrast to the life I’ve adapted to in Australia. It’s weird because the place is constantly on my mind. Yet suddenly it’s like seeing it for the first time.

This destination disparity is new emotional territory. As it’s not just the country contrast between our motherland and adopted place that makes it at first feel unreal.Visiting the place now in our past to see people that are still so much a part of our present is a strange situation that can evoke unsettling sensations.

Because expats lead a double life. Our feet are walking a new path yet we keep a constant hand in our old lives. Rarely does a day go by without thinking of home or some contact over Skype, Facebook or the phone.

So while amazingly exciting, going back can bring forward overwhelming emotions of nostalgia, homesickness and uncertainty of where we belong.

Here’s what I’ve found on my three trips over five years to the UK:

Stage fright: No matter who and where we’re meeting there’s a build-up to the first greeting. At the airport gate there’s an air of anticipation that can make it feel a fraction like a first date! It’s a paradoxical place to feel a little apprehensive to face the friends and family we’re most comfortable with. But it’s always short lived regardless of the length we’ve been away. And it’s a remarkable revelation to find with most we’re just as close. And in many cases even more so.

A new set: Viewing a different town for a time means we see our old city through a new lens. Visiting England from Australia is like stepping out of a library into Primark on a Saturday afternoon! As while once entirely normal, England’s dense population, narrow roads, stacked buildings and grey skies against Australia’s stretched out residents, open spaces, wide roads and blue skies can feel chaotic, claustrophobic and closed in. Not to mention cold!

A changing cast: Much like the place, we see our old crowd and community with fresh eyes. Suddenly our dad looks 60[1], the dog got fat and our brother is an irritating prat. But we view the virtues and quirky qualities in people as if they were new too; our sister’s chirpy chattering and our unique union, the panacea of our parent’s and grandparent’s presence and the fabness of our friends. When we live half way round the world we gain a whole new appreciation of the traits of our most treasured.

Under pressure: Under the spotlight, on a short timeframe and battling jetlag, there’s a little stress when we want to be and make it the best. We maintain a mental tally of missed milestones and who we’ve not yet met. All the while we want to maximise our time resulting in running round like a tourist in our traditional towns. Particularly as, while it doesn’t feel like a holiday, we’re likely using all our holidays!

High expectations: We realise that, while less visible since we’re no longer near, problems don’t just disappear. The first time it may be difficult to deal with dynamics when we’re set on savouring the specialness. But it’s important to note we’re having a temporary experience in other peoples’ permanent place rather than a holiday escape!

Feeling like an extra: We can feel like outsiders. Because we’re a guest in everyday lives we’re no longer a daily part of. And our expat life can suddenly feels non-existent! However when our presence is infrequent we also receive fantastic special treatment! And it’s a relief to replace intermittent expat isolation for the constant and calming company of our clan.

Fantasies of returning: Whether decided our new place is permanent or frustratingly fixed on the fence it’s hard to fantasize of how we would fit in once again. Buts it’s impossible to accurately judge the place while living out of a case!

Nostalgia: While away, past times replay like an old sitcom in our mind. The melancholy can be painful as we ponder if we’ll repeat old patterns again. Absorbing it back on old ground can bring days gone by to the surface. Yet the ache dissipates. And instead we may start to feel a trace of longing for our new place.

Homeless at home: On the first or second visit, there’s realisation and regret there’s a part of us we’ll never regain. That feeling of comfortableness, contentedness and community, a presumed disposition we don’t predict will be misplaced, is now as obscure as Gail Platt’s chin.  Even if we were to return there would always be a yearn. Because, although a pleasure and privilege, when we have two homes we become inevitably incomplete in both.

There’s no doubt expat expeditions to see friends and family are exhilarating. Yet they can also be daunting, exhausting and emotional.

As in our adopted countries we’ve adapted to new roles. And while attributes comprise homesickness, nostalgia and displacement, we’ve played the part so many times we’ve learnt the lines by heart.

But at home we play a cameo role. On a set we’re now less comfortable with, leaving us stumbling over the script.

Yet that’s the price we pay once we’ve opened our hearts and minds to a new life and way. As we experience more than one wonderful world.

So with a lump in our throat we say goodbye while trying not to cry.

But we take with us a magical memory reel of taking tourist trips, swapping sentimental gifts, snatching special squeezes and sharing treasured chats and precious laughs. Not forgetting getting downright Deirdre Barlowed!

We hold on to these moments hoping they’ll compensate for lost time.

And we play them on repeat…

Until the next memorable time we meet.

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[1] I suspect my dad doesn’t read these, but just in case; I’m only joking!!!

Upside Down Mind

A whingeing pom’s week without whining

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Labelled ‘whingeing pom’s’ by Aussie’s, the English get a bad rap for being bad tempered. But while the grey skies in England may have left us lacking a year round sunny disposition, it’s not just us. People all over the world are partial to petulance. And since common culture carps on about complete negativity avoidance, I wondered when it stops being harmless venting and starts being something more serious, affecting our outlook on life. So for a week I decided to stop whingeing. Here’s what I found.

The whingeing pom.  An arguably unfair stereotypical characterisation.

We can’t even whinge about the injustice and discrimination lest we prove a point.

So after five years of being branded a narky knickers in the Land of Oz, I tend to beat them to it god forbid a moan escapes my miserly mouth.

For example;

Me in 40 degrees cant-breath heat ‘ gosh its hot today…

Aussie; ‘Isn’t that why you moved to Australia?

Me. ‘ha yes so I did, I’m such a whingeing pom’!!!

Me in 1 degree temperatures ‘I’m freezing’

Aussie: ‘Surely you’re used to it from England’

Me ‘yep you’re right I’m just a whinger!!! You know what us whingeing poms are like!!!!

Nevermind the half-baked attempts at heating this side of the hemisphere leaving us ‘where-are -the-radiators’ poms feeling the chill twenty four seven throughout the ice cold (yes it does get cold) winters.

However, despite my weariness at the whingeing pom label, there is some justice in the jesting. You only have to be away from the UK a few months to grasp the degree of grumbles so easily exclaimed by the English.

And while overall I believe it to be a harmless habit, I wondered if at times it can cross the line from light-hearted haughtiness and have a detrimental effect on well-being and happiness.

So for a week I decided to stop whingeing. I failed. I found the frequency of my unfortunate fables would require some further finessing before I completely fling the habit. I did however become considerably more conscious of complaining.

These were the top whines I noticed from myself and others;

  • Weather whinges: While I believed constant climate criticism was a mainly English affliction stemming from unfortunate home country conditions, the weather is a worldwide whinge. I shared a mutual moan with Aussies, Brits and even an American over the phone. Because this hot topic is an ice-breaker. Small talk. And small talk leads to friendly talk making it a worthwhile whinge.
  • Sick stories. Feeling under the weather during the week, I noticed I repeatedly verbalised over the top grievances relating to my symptoms. I was, shamefully, searching for sympathy. But unless you’re in the vicinity of your mum this one only serves to reinforce our sickness. And can cause more discontent if we don’t get the pandering we’re pursuing.
  • Kid kvetches: There’s no denying parenting is challenging. But the trials are trivial when weighed with the wonders. So I was surprised I griped a great deal more than I’d have guessed. Although in my defence almost entirely about bedtime battles. However, this was also a healthy venting and bonding exercise between fellow parents and accompanied with plenty of praising for our cheeky cherubs too.
  • Road rages: Unavoidable. Especially in Australia!
  • Grub gripes: I found myself bothered by a breakfast portion size complaining it too small. Since I reside in a rich nation with an abundance of fancy food at my fingertips, this gripe was ungrateful, ignorant and gratuitous. I vow never to verbalise this vex again!
  • People protests: Many protests among people are, unfortunately, about people. And while we all seek expression and support, I observed much complaining about situations or altercations seemed not to have, nor want, reasonable resolutions. But unless constructive, aiming for change, these moans are meaningless and only feed unfortunate feelings. Or worse, they’re malicious, judgmental or manipulative!
  • Work woes: Cranky colleagues, bad bosses and wild workloads; with most work weeks 40 hours long, irritations are inevitable. And while common complaints can cement colleague connections, non-stop narking about job dissatisfaction is not only annoying but a hallmark of responsibility avoidance.
  • Country comparisons: Constant comparisons to our motherland can seem ungrateful. But between expats complaints cultivate connections through mutual understandings and shared longings. They help us feel closer to home. That said, persistently pessimistic people can cast a shadow over a bright adventure. And also annoy the Aussie’s. So keeping the whinges for our expat associates is advised!

Of course, throughout my conscious complaining phase, there was much positivity too. Importantly, I found it’s not the complaining that’s the problem per se, but the reasons behind it.

The key is whining awareness.

As while small scale sniping shields us from the rain, summoning support and allowing us to seek solace in our social networks, when it comes to steering somewhat stormy weather chronic complaining can perpetuate the cycle.

Regardless of the conditions outside, if our complaints of less than satisfactory situations are common, constant and coupled with inaction, we’re handing power to our environment. Akin to being whipped by the wind while shunning shelter or soaked to the skin yet refusing to brandish our brolly, eventually we’ll be swept into the eye of the storm, left saturated in irritability, indecision and injured victim mentality.

And we’re not named Dorothy.

So while I maintain some moaning is a must, I vow to complain less and celebrate more. After all, compared to some, the forecast is always pretty mild where we come from.

I’ll be a positive pom.

Unless it’s bloody raining.

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