If you choose to live the dream, to move to a new country, you will become an expatriate, an expat. I have been one, on and off, for most of my life.
I left school and went to live in France and was away for seventeen years. After thirteen years back in the UK, Cyprus beckoned.
Living abroad presents challenges. Everything works differently, often in a foreign language. Seeing a Doctor becomes a major project of its own, riven with anxiety. Fellow expats, those here longer, become your guides. They tell you where to go, who speaks your language, what to expect, how much it costs, and how to best go about it. In my experience, a large percentage of the advice received is selective and flawed, but it is almost always firm and definite.
If you are not careful, the self-appointed experts can end up curating your life. “Don’t eat there, so and so got food poisoning. She was in hospital for months.” Or “George’s? Don’t buy a car there. He’s a bandit.” Before you know it, you find yourself parroting this advice to the new person you meet in the “expat-approved bar”, without ever having had any dealings with George at all. An entire world is built by these interactions; you become assimilated into a collective consciousness. Everyone shops in the same places. Eats and drinks in the same bars and restaurants, uses the same banks, medical services and contractors. Wherever you go, you meet people you know, reassuring yourself that you are in the right place.
By its nature, expat-life is transient. People come and go for work, or return home, or even decide to go be expat somewhere else. Sometimes, this can be tough, and quickly expats become inured to goodbyes. This promotes self-reliance, but can make us seem cold and uncaring. I have forged deep relationships as an expat, but I have forged many, many more temporary ones, that were close, intense even, but always temporary.
There is a joy in being an expat. A feeling of kindred spirits, but it is artificial too. If I were to give advice…
Be curious. Make friends of every nationality, listen to their advice but test it for yourself. Be on the edge of expat circles, not in the heart of them. I know of some people whose life is so expat, that they effectively live in Britain but with better weather. Hey, I’m not judging, each to their own, but for me, one of the joys of being somewhere different is that, well, it’s different.
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