Wow, a lot can happen in a month. A lot has happened in my last month. My mother in law passed away, I met my new niece, I ran the NYC Marathon, I’ve been to 3 countries, and I bought a horse. In my husband’s last month he probably spent the equivalent of 5 days worth of air travel time. We’re all exhausted. But I wrote this post on my flight back to Scotland the day after my MIL’s funeral (when I was utterly exhausted but couldn’t sleep). I’ll do my best to get fill in the big gap of how the NYC marathon went and how did I think now was a good time to buy my first horse. Spoiler alert: his name is Hamish, he currently has a cut above his eye, and he really fancies a fur trim hood.
When looking to title this post, I found this WSJ article that makes me feel a bit better…that I’m not alone in this.
Although it may be difficult for others to understand or agree with our choices, and we expats may feel guilty at times for missing out on important events back home, the decision to return can only be made by us, those living this unique lifestyle. As Ms. Clark says, “Guilt is a natural part of life, a result of making decisions that are best for you but cannot please everyone. As an expat, this guilt may be heightened because we already get a sense from some people that living away from home is in itself a selfish choice. But you can’t please everyone, so I try not to dwell on the guilt.”
It isn’t the long flights (and accompanying jetlag and dry skin), it isn’t the different time zones with late night and early morning calls (and accompanying bags under the eyes), it isn’t the weakness of the dollar compared to the pound (and accompanying credit card bills), and it isn’t saying goodbye to friends at a summer camp rate (and accompanying hangovers, heartbreak, and tears).
By far, the worst part about being an expat is the guilt. The guilt of leaving your family.
I can only speak from my experience. And my experience is that I lived roughly an hour away from my parents for the better part of my (albeit short thus far) adult life. And my experience is that my father passed away leaving my mother living alone. And my experience is that they found a tumor in my mother in law a few months before we were set to move, and the subsequent 2 years or so she fought, and eventually lost a battle with cancer. And my experience is that if I hadn’t had become an expat there’s a possibility that I would be living an hour away from my little niece and nephew. And my experience is that although both E and I have some years, miles, political views, and lifestyle choices between our families… we are very close to them.
And that’s why in my experience, the hardest part of being an expat is the guilt. Whether or not that’s all self imposed or there’s influencing factors, it’s there and it’s hard. It’s hard when someone tells me they could never be abroad because they’re close to their family (as if I’m not.) It’s hard every time we say goodbye (even if I’ll be seeing them in less than a month). It’s hard when we miss important days or can’t be there where someone needs us (it’s not FOMO, it’s wanting to be there for those I love to celebrate the good and comfort in the bad). It’s hard being happy and loving life abroad (because it feels as though it diminishes our longing for and missing of those we love). It’s just hard.
Expat life seems like a dream. The possibilities of great travel, new and interesting friends, changes in finances, sabbaticals from work, finding yourself. But there’s a price to pay. And although I can only speak from my experience…I don’t know anyone that isn’t a little sad when they say goodbye.