I frequent a cafe on a quiet, busy street. That seems to be an oxymoron, but if you were here, you would understand. Cars and people are constantly coming and going, and yet the street is small and stays peaceful. This particular street has it’s own ecosystem of sorts- a bazar, shopping center, restaurants and lots of apartments. It’s the kind of street where you can expect to see the same people doing the same thing everyday. The same people pass by the cafe window, and the same patrons come everyday at the same time.
Most days, interesting things do not happen here but every once in a while, something unexpected or at least interesting may pass by. Today a little girl dressed in WWII garb (with the addition of bows in her pigtails) walked holding the arm of her mother. She couldn’t hold her hand because her mother was carrying a tiny cage, just big enough for the guinea pig that it carried. I have seen all kinds of pets here, but that was the first guinea pig.
I am still waiting for something extraordinary to pass by my cafe window, but until then, I will enjoy the quiet busyness that I can observe.
Lesson Learned: Find a familiar place, sit a while and see what there is to see.
Around the world, a lot of expats (people who live outside their native country) live in a wide variety of countries and cultures for a wide variety of reasons. If you have a loved one who is living abroad, here are some communication tips.
- Tell us that you miss us. We miss you too, and we understand that our leaving may have left a glaring hole in your sense of normalcy. In many ways, the separation is harder for you. Know that we left everything that we consider normal and have begun to build an adjacent set of normalcy. This means that for us, there are less glaring holes and more an overall feeling lostness (at times).
- Tell us about your day to day life and funny things that happen to you. Tell us about medical concerns or other important things that happen. Even though we can’t physically be there, we want to be involved.
- Come and visit if you can! Visas, plane travel, taking time off work can all be a pain, but we welcome the opportunity to introduce you to our adjacent life/home.
- Know that holidays won’t be the same. They aren’t the same for us either. Often, we are in places that have no idea what Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day are about, but they are still important to us. Also, gift giving will be different. We won’t always know the perfect present to order off of Amazon, but we try!
- Communicate through any means necessary. We love getting texts, e-mails, facebook messages or skype calls. As technology increases, the world becomes smaller, and we can communicate more easily. Can you believe that 30 years ago, the main way of communicating with someone living abroad was through snail mail?
- Keep asking when we are coming home. Believe me, there are days when we are so ready to hop on a plane and return to normal, but for some of us living abroad, we are setting up another, different home. We have made commitments to work, school or other responsibilities, and most days we want to fulfill them.
- Give a guilt trip. We absolutely hate that we can’t be there for you the way that we were before, and it hurts to be reminded of that fact.
- Assume the worst. Every culture and context is different, but in case you have never traveled, the rest of the world is not as bad as you imagine. There are dangers and stressors that come from living in America that we don’t have to live with, and each place has its own set of troubles. Additionally, even people in poor and remote areas have cell phones. We may not have all of the luxuries and conveniences that you have, but it doesn’t mean that we are living in a cave with a dirt floor.
Overall, stay in communication with your loved ones. Don’t forget us because we don’t forget you, and we can’t wait to be reunited with you.
For those of you living abroad, what do you think? Other tips?
Lesson Learned: Life abroad is rarely as romantic as we thought it would be, but it is the life we chose.