Living abroad is an incredible experience. Whether you view it as a positive or negative time in your life, the skills and stories you’ll gain from being an expat will be plentiful. Naturally, when you return home either for a flying visit or for good, you’ll have a lot of stories to tell. The problem is that making the link between your expat life and your “home” life is no easy feat.
To help you understand the sighs and eye rolls of your loved ones back home, we have drawn up a list of the top five things they are probably sick of hearing.
You’ve been away for a long time and your friends have moved on with their life, so, naturally, you have a lot to catch up on. The problem is, while you most likely know the majority of the places and people they mention, your life abroad might be completely foreign to them. Of course, they want to hear about your life too, but after the phrase “one time in…“ arises one too many times in a conversation, your constant anecdotes really do start to get on their nerves.
While their irritation doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in your life at all, it is just difficult for them to listen to your reminiscences. They can’t put a face to the name of the friends you talk about, nor can they imagine many places in Singapore if they have never visited Southeast Asia. Just remember: expat envy really is a thing, and they will most likely be jealous of the adventures you’ve been having that they aren’t a part of.
Defining “home” is never an easy task for expats, and there have been many debates over the place that an expat really should call home. But as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. To your friends and family who you left behind, your true home will always be where they are. A quick conversation with your sister about how you cannot wait to go back home to Paris will quickly confirm this, as she gives you a glare and asks you to repeat what you have just said.
A word of advice: leave the word home out of it! Your expat location will never be your true home to your family, so be prepared to change your definition of home depending on who you’re talking to — even if it’s just to keep a smile on a dear person’s face.
So an old friend from school has invited you over to her house, with dinner starting at 17:30. Here’s the thing, though: after spending the past two years living in Spain, you can’t get your head around the fact that you might actually have to eat dinner while it’s still light outside. Or having just returned to the US from an expat assignment in Germany, you find it genuinely hard to watch your brother throw that waste paper into the regular trashcan.
So you quickly bring these differences up in conversation, politely interrupting to say, “That’s not how we do it in…”. Big mistake. After all, you’re not there anymore. Although bringing parts of your expat life back to your friends and family can be a really positive thing (good recipes are always appreciated!), sometimes they are sick of hearing about how their daily habits are wrong, especially since you used to do things in the exact same way!
You have a completely different life abroad, which means you have a completely different group of friends as well. Obviously their names will come up in conversation once every so often and, when this happens, don’t be surprised if your close childhood friend rolls her eyes. To you, these people are part of what makes your life abroad really enjoyable, but to your friends and family at home, they are just random names.
Jealousy is often described as an ugly trait, but you have to try and remember that your friends and family from home might be jealous of the fact that you have got to know and love other people that are mere strangers to them. On top of being slightly jealous, they are probably confused! Throwing in random names that pepper your anecdotes is almost useless when your audience doesn’t even know who you’re talking about.
To make matters even worse, your friends in your expat destination probably understand some parts of your life better, considering they are expats as well, so is it any wonder that your loved ones at home may start to worry that you’re growing apart?
Of course your family and friends back home are happy that everything’s going well for you, but while they’re most likely living the same life as before you left, you’ve got a whole new one abroad. Even if you’re not completely happy, they are probably still a little envious — after all, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Your constant anecdotes probably give them the impression that expat life is one big adventure. Yes, you may still have a nine-to-five job and the daily monotonous chores are still necessary; however, you’re doing it all while experiencing a completely new and different culture — is it really surprising that they might be envious?
Although there are a few things that may bother your friends and family about your constant stories about living abroad, don’t let this put you off telling them all about your new life. Once they get over the initial jealousy, they’ll be thrilled to know that you’re enjoying it — and having the perfect excuse to visit your exotic new home won’t hurt, either. Just remember: when you see their eyes start to glaze over, maybe it’s time to change the topic!
Laura Kernaghan is a language student from Northern Ireland, currently living in Munich, Germany. She works for InterNations as an intern in the Content & Communications Department.