Oasis Magazine Articles

Life as an Expat

By Deepti Rana

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“When you are a nomad, nowhere is home and everywhere is home.” - Anonymous

Somehow and very often, I find  my friends and aquaintances complaining about their life in a foreign country. Yet, I see no desire of theirs to return to the home country. This seems to be  true for all, no matter which part of the world you come from. I think  as an expat or an expat spouse, there is much to be thankful for. For me, it is particularly the opportunity to connect and bond with people from different parts of the world. I have made everlasting connections and learned so much from each of them  I can say with some experience that this world is truly full of wonderful and unique individuals.

Expat life opens our doors to truly distinct experiences. Here are a few of my personal favorites, which I share with the hope that we all start to really cherish the chance to feel like we are residents of the world and not mere nomads with fancy shelters. 

You regain a long lost sense of wonder
As Bill Bryson puts it, I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.

You discover yourself. 
In the process of discovering an unknown land, you discover more about yourself. I have often witnessed expats developing interesting hobbies and finding renewed passion for existing ones. You will always find something inspirational about the country or its people to admire. Witnessing new architecture can aspire an architect, interior designer, and artist equally. Stumbling upon unexplored works of new authors can excite any literary enthusiast. For women who enjoy organising their house in different styles, the move every now and then is a boon. They can fulfill their desires without having their spouse complaining. In short your  creative aspirations come to the fore.

Live life as if there is no tomorrow.
This profound saying as much as it is admired is equally hard to live by. As an expat, you are compelled to live life as if there is no next year in the same place. There is always an uncertainty of the move prevailing. For this reason, you are always on the look out for the opportunities and experiences you might miss tomorrow. What could be more enriching way to live?

Your life is full of funny little incidents
Very often, one experiences something really amusing. For instance after moving to the UK, when I first went shopping, I was greeted by this zealous store owner, “Hello, How are you today?” I was perplexed thinking about how he could possibly know that I wasn’t well the previous day? In Cairo, you must learn to drive looking in front of you, in the rear view mirror, but more importantly on the sidewalks. You never know when someone might sprint to cross the high-speed motorway. It is also not unusual to find motorists and pedestrians competing with each other. All of us continue to have experiences that bring smile to our faces every now and then.

Daily adventures fill your soul. 
I totally agree with Reannon Muth when she says “What makes expat life so addictive is that every boring or mundane activity you experience at home (like grocery shopping, commuting to work, or picking up the dry cleaning) is, when you move to a foreign country,  suddenly transformed into an exciting adventure. Try explaining your problem to a doctor, or finding mustard oil in a grocery store in Cairo, or explaining in broken Spanish to the Guatemalan pharmacy that you need cough drops and you’ll understand. When abroad, boredom, routine and ‘normal’ cease to exist. And all that’s left is the thrill and challenge of uncertainty.” 

You are inevitably never at a fault 
You can make terrible mistakes and easily get away. “Sorry …. It’s  the Indian thing.” Person looks at you sympathetically ready to apologise on your behalf. You also often escape the burden of what happens in your own country. I witnessed my British friends in the UK, as well as in Egypt at the time, when Brexit results were declared. Despite having exactly the same opposition to it, the impact on both was visibly different. One felt total responsibility and the other felt “If I was there..”

At the same time, you are also not responsible for what happens in a foreign country where you live. The thought often is, we work in the country and are deserving of the benefits. And one tends to feel hardly any moral responsibility to do anything for the country. It is only a matter of choice. Is this thought process really justified? I think not..

You are always a guest
Even after completing two years in Egypt, I am still being welcomed by strangers. Most conversations inevitably end with a “Welcome to Egypt”. If I could be treated by every country that I live in with such enthusiasm, I don’t know if I would ever want to leave! On the other hand, after a while, the natives start to treat us as one of their own. But in our minds we are still guests, therefore, we want to be treated as such. Unfortunately at the same time, we behave as if we own the place, making a fuss when we are required to renew the visa and produce legitimate documents. You want to have best of everything, and in many instances you are successful.

You are not a refugee.
My heart fills with gratitude and I remind myself very often of what Pico Iyer said in one of his talks, “Movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to.” 

We must not forget thousands of millions of refugees who are in a foreign land without having a home to go back to. It is time to count our blessings and do our bit! After all, home is of course not just the place where you sleep. It's the place where you stand.




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