Expat: a person who temporarily lives outside their native country. Usually in one place, for an extended amount of time.
In January I left Boston, USA, for South-East Asia. Over the course of five months we visited Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and back to Thailand.
It sounds like backpacking because it is. We are living out of a 65L bag and often don’t spend more than 3 days in one city. But, despite my trip to Asia being mostly backpacking, I still consider myself both a traveler and an expat.
Though different in some ways, they are not mutually exclusive.
A traveler is usually someone who moves locations frequently while living abroad for short bouts of time. An expat is usually someone living long-term in a foreign country, often making it their home.
I’m not a good backpacker.
I hate moving quickly and I usually don’t over stretch my days with activities. Traveling slow, staying in one place, having a morning to do nothing, that is how I love to travel.
Why do people get addicted to the expat lifestyle?
I think being abroad gives you the opportunity to have no fear. When you are abroad it’s easier to let your true colors shine. But, when you are at home there’s this push to be socially accepted.
When you live at home you are staying in place. You live here. You have friends here, you probably own a house or have a lease, and usually, you’ll have a steady job.
So, it’s harder to expose yourself to the people you are friends with or coworkers that you see every day.
Usually, we hide. Hiding could mean anything. At home, people steer clear of political conversations. Why? Because what if you find out your best friend and you have conflicting ideas on abortion? Or the death sentence?
Could you really stand to see them every day if you don’t actually agree with their core values? You live here, permanently, remember?
When you are overseas, you can dive headfirst into those conversations: politics, life, love, depression, fears, and not feel regret or fear. Because you may never see them again. So, why not?
When living abroad, you don’t have the same pull to be socially accepted because you are traveling, you don’t permanently live here.
Therefore, you have the ability to be genuine and you don’t have to hide anything.
Especially when traveling alone, I find it is much easier to meet other people. You aren’t tied to another person, so you can meet whomever you’d like. Also, you can avoid whomever you’d like.
And when you may or may not see them again, don’t you truly wonder who they are? What makes them tick?
I am passionate about uncovering stories. I love listening to understand the person. Luckily, everyone has a story. There are a million out there – which is why I love being an expat.
Since we all experience sadness, depression, success, and hardships, why don’t we all talk about them?
Cambodia was the first country on this trip where I really had the chance to meet other travelers and expats. Beforehand, Larry and I spent most of our time interacting with locals, often with language barriers.
Influencers from Abroad
Once in Cambodia, I can genuinely say I met some people who I hope to stay in touch with for as long as I can. This conversation about living the expat lifestyle was sparked from a conversation in Kampot.
I was talking to Beth from Portland, OR, about how quickly our conversation became intimate. She told me about her recent divorce and emotional abuse and I spoke about fears of failure.
Knowing conversation is therapeutic, we realized these conversations may not be something we can have with friends back home. What if they don’t agree with our choices? What if our friends don’t support our decisions?
Do we jeopardize losing the friendships we’ve cultivated throughout the years?
It’s a tough subject. Most of my friends back home can get intimate and aren’t judgmental. That’s why we are friends, duh. But, I know there are some relationships I have where I wonder what that person really believes.
Changing Face at Home: have no fear
I’m not trying to say people are faker at home for not getting into heart-to-hearts every 24hrs. Or for not discussing their fears to you. But, I’m asking you to remember the last true conversation you had with someone.
When was the last time you talked about environmental issues and your stance in the election? What about love and loneliness, have you talked about your parents relationship? Are you curious how your boss came to be where they are today?
I challenge you to be an expat in your own town. Don’t just go to drinks and talk about work or the latest shopping trend.
Try to understand the person you are with. How did they get to where they are today? What was their biggest failure?
Living an expatriate life opens you up to meeting people from all over the world. This brings opportunity to meet new people, empathy to ask questions to understand, and genuine honesty to talk about life.
And I believe when you are living an expatriate life, you are living without fear of failure.