The Joy and Sadness of Expat Life

I have lived in Stirling for 8 years. My life is here. I have family here. My job is here and two of my three degrees are Scottish. What I know how to do as an adult, and in my working life, is based in Scotland. For these reasons and many more, I never feel like I am living anywhere ‘foreign’ in the way that my US family would describe it. Although my daily work is based on working to improve Scotland, I never pause to think that it is all knowledge and experiences of a country acquired within the past ten years. I hear English, New Zealander, South African, American, Canadian, Irish, and many other accents (not to mention languages!) speaking to improve policies, practices and opportunities within this country we love and they are never out of place.

There are times, however, when I see that in living my life here my former or parallel life in the US goes on without me. Usually, it is when my whole family gets together for birthdays, mother’s or father’s days that I feel left out. With phones and technology, I can ‘be’ there to some degree and that is the positive that we focus on. Admittedly, it is never anywhere near as awesome as sitting in the same room as my family, but when I close my eyes and think of home, it is certainly our little home with cats, neighbours, garden, and the hills around us here in Stirling.

Farm fence and sunset in Cornwall, England.jpg
At other times, the distance becomes more painful: when my mom is in the hospital, an extended family member passes away, or my college roommate gets married. At the moment, my passport is out of my hands with my visa application so even if we had the money, these things are not an option. That is what makes it feel further than just living on a different coast: the fact that going to visit family requires a much more formal and expensive process than jumping in a car.

When my family is healthy, I miss the mundane: the possibility that my sister could hang out with me as we do chores or run errands, making a pizza with my nieces and nephews. The things that build memories, histories and connections. Other times, it is friendships that are harder. My family knows that I love them and we speak more often than my foreign (yes, they are ‘foreign’) friends. Even though I am filled with joy to see friend circles in the US continuing, it is hard to know that they’re evolving without my contribution. I feel as though I have broken some unwritten and unspoken contract by uprooting myself from all those networks.

I have so much joy and contentment in my Scottish life and am properly rooted in solid networks around me, that I know I belong here. I just haven’t figured out how to give up the idea that I also belong ‘there’. I think this is the joy and the sadness of the expat: knowing that as much as you want to be giving and loving in everyone’s life, or linking together friends in separate places that you think would really get along, the real world cannot straddle the oceans or Internet for its day to day existence. Even if that is how your heart and mind view your own world.

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