Outgoing, extrovert, a social creature. All words that I would have used to describe myself six years ago. Between my Myers-Brigg assessment and my (totally accurate and credible) Libra horoscope, these words have been used to label me since I was young.
Even my mother (another credible source of information; see point 7 further below) can recount story after story in which I had no problem meeting, engaging, and sharing with others, both younger and older than me. I just grew up considering myself best expressed outwardly and in social circles.
Then I moved halfway around the world to a part of the wall map that does suggest that a bit further and I would fall off the face off the Earth. It is surprising how many people live that close to the edge of the world.
So far removed from my sense of normal and locked inside myself with little ability to verbally communicate with others, a funny thing happened. I re-evaluated the words that had been categorizing me since birth.
I was actually enjoying time alone, being in my own head walking down a street with conversations I could neither understand nor desire to. I liked going for walks while everyone else was at work and school and then being back in my own apartment during their free time. Nothing was as sweet as completely being the observer and not the initiator. What relief and relaxed comfort! And yet I felt more engaged than I had when I was in the center of it all.
Even now, expats are objectified as rowdy, outgoing, adventurers flinging themselves into the great unknown like modern day Indian Jones explorers. We like risky and we only want the reward if it comes in the form of a completed end-of-life bucket list. Give us tiger, lions, and bears! Oh My!
But If I absolutely had to label myself (which I thoroughly hate doing), I would describe myself as an introvert who just happens to be great at socializing and immersing.
I do enjoy risks and being in the center of it all, pushing the boundaries further than I should. Yet, I also enjoy the silence of solitude and the breaths that come with not having to be “on” all the time. I like to return to the company of myself as storyteller when the adventure winds down.
This shift in mentality isn’t the only one I have encountered as an expat. Inevitably several others occur:
Thoughts that happen when you’re stuck in an expat’s body:
Tuning Out is Easier
Remember how as a kid you would cover your ears and hum a little tune when you simply did not want to hear what someone else had to say. I still do that. Well not the obnoxious display, but I do tune out the language and people I cannot understand and inside have inner conversations with myself. I quite literally become my own companion and, remarkably, no one seems to get me better than I get myself. As an expat, tuning out is not only acceptable, but it is also easier.
Easy-going, Adjustable, Dependable
These three traits are some of the most highly valued qualities we seek in those we chose to spend our time with. Back in the States, I would look for fun, unique, hardworking, and maybe also outgoing. Now, those who are worth my time tend to be as easy-going and adjustable as I encourage myself to be. However, their flexibility has to be equally matched by their dependability. Applicants with great cooking skills or good tastes in widely cultural food, movies, music, dress, and design will also be highly valued. (Please apply in the comment section below!)
Age is Only a Time of Day
We travel like we’re 12: full of energy, deliriously curious, and prepared to overindulge. Yet, we spend the nine o’clock hour as if we’re 60: mug of (spiked) tea/coffee, nightly entertainment on in the background, dishes rinsed in the sink, and feet on the same level as the rest of us. We grow up simply to acquire new day activities to put into the rotation to keep things interesting.
Scales are Determined by Location
This isn’t just an expat habit, but travelers are guilty too. Instead of rating things from a scale of good-to-bad or 1-to-10, we use locations.
“Well, the traffic wasn’t as bad as Bangkok, but it was worse than Taipei after work.”
“I’d say the weather was not as dreary and cold as Dublin but not as clear as Amsterdam in the fall, maybe October in London? Yeah I’d say about London in October.”
Mondays are the Best Day of the Week
This doesn’t apply to all expats, but more specifically for those that teach English abroad. Since most English programs and classes are offered as afterschool programs or weekend classes, teaching English abroad requires squeezing all of the week’s working hours into a few choice timeslots. Week nights are mostly manageable as there is really only a three-hour window of time available between school letting out and students returning home. The weekends, on the other hand, have 12 hours that will surely be busting at the seams with working hours. Mondays mean survival and recovery time. Plus, recovery brunch occurs while the rest of society is at work complaining about the Monday Blues. I have pancakes and my pillow!
Planning Doesn’t Make Life Routine
There’s nothing routine about playing Tetris with everything you want to accomplish. I do not fully understand where the concept originated from that if you plan then you live your life according to routine. Yes, there is a chance that if you plan, your life might become routine, but this would only be true if you schedule the same activities and time structure. I would surely be lost without planning my daily life abroad or when traveling and, arguably, there is very little in my life that is routine. Some days I can’t even find parmesan for my spaghetti! That is a drastic shift from routine, my friends!
Mothers’ Wisdom Remain a Mystery
At what point in life mothers learned all of that wisdom is still a mystery…I’ve traveled the world and still don’t know how to substitute shortening in a recipe without the aid of Google. Or how to tell the difference between a sinus infection, a cold, and the flu? Where do they learn this and at what age? I’m still searching. Is it a blessing from a gypsy woman that comes in the guise of a salesman to your front door? Is this why I don’t know it; I’m never home to answer the door for him. As an expat, I’ve just resolved that this will be one mystery I will never be able to discover. King Tut and Stonehenge, maybe, but never motherly wisdom.