Being an Expat – The Real Deal

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being an expat. You see these world travellers, people out there “living their dreams” and it seems like the most romantic, fulfilling life in the world. I’m not here to tell you it sucks. I’m here to tell you it’s just another way of living life.

Expats get a lot of, “Yeah, but you live in London!” or “Yeah, but you live in Oman!” or “Yeah, but you live in Bali!” The key word there being live. We live in those places. We have jobs in those places. We pay rent in those places. We get stuck in traffic jams in those places. It’s life. It’s our actual life. We don’t spend every minute of every day gallivanting about barefoot on the beach or backpacking our way through the countryside. We do those things on the weekend. When we have enough time and money. Like everyone else in the world who has to work for a living.

And another thing. We don’t just plop down and live somewhere. No, no. There are visas. There are papers that need stamping. There are rules that change at the drop of a hat. There are hidden fees and shady deals and who-you-knows. We have to purposefully commit to being the places we are. We have to decide that we want to be somewhere badly enough that we are willing to put up with all the shit that comes as part of the package. Visa runs. Hiring moratoriums. Regulatory chaos.

I put up with more crap, more bureaucracy living abroad than I ever did or ever would at home. In many, many ways it’s far easier to stay home where you know the system, where you are part of it and not an outsider, where your voice might actually have an impact on the rules that govern you.

It’s not an easy life. It’s not a stable life. Friends come and go in waves. You will come and go, having to get your feet under you again every time. Places that were easy to live in, full of opportunity and growth can turn. The industries propping up the country can break down and the whole game can change over night.

Being an expat isn’t a wonderful, magical escape from the frustrations and inequalities of life at home. If anything, there are more of both. Enough more to sometimes make you question why you do it at all.

But then you remember that every day you meet people who make you see the world in a new way. You laugh with them about how you’re completely different. You smile with them about how you are exactly the same. And every once in a while you have enough free time to explore the majestic landscapes that brought you here in the first place.

Those are the things that make it all worth it.

Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.