Dear Expat . . . You Are Normal

Man at the airport

 

Dear Expat,

 

Let’s be honest.  You are weird.  No offense.

It’s not a bad thing.  You’re just — what’s that word? — odd.  No matter where in the world you go, you don’t quite fit.  You’re a foreigner where you live and a visitor where you’re from.

You’re weird.  Just own it.

HOWEVER.

There is a parallel truth that you should know about.  It’s not at all separate from your weirdness.  In contrast it actually works in  perfect tandem.  No matter how odd you feel — how isolated from the regulars — how awkward or confident — how inferior or superior — how irritated or excited  — how incompetent or smooth — how close to the edge of the cliff or on top of the mountain you are . . .

YOU ARE NORMAL.

It’s true.  Write it down.  Soak in it.  No matter what’s going on inside of you — you are far from alone.

 

The numbers don’t lie . . .   

According to the U.N. (who make a it a point to know things like this) there are roughly 232 million earthlings who live outside of their home country.  That means if expats were to declare themselves a sovereign state they would instantly knock off Brazil for the fifth most populated nation in the world.

Brazil would be ticked.

First major conflict.  Way to go Expats.

Point is this.  There are many more like you.  Many.

 

They’re everywhere.  IN every country and FROM every country — and were we to actually form a country of our own it would be the most politically, ethnically, racially, religiously, economically, educationally and linguistically diverse that the world has ever seen — but we would be united by one feature — we are all outsiders. Different — but far from alone.

If only numbers did the trick, right?

If knowing that there are millions more like you out there . . . somewhere in the distance  . . . convinced you that you’re normal, then we could also solve loneliness with overpopulation — and this would be the best blog post EVER.

If you’re like me however (and the numbers suggest that you are) feeling normal is not about them . . . it’s about you.

So let’s talk about you . . .

 

Why don’t we start with your body just to keep it awkward?  

If you got fatter when you became an expat . . . you’re normal.  It’s a shocker to a lot of us who anticipated our waistline might go the other direction when we stepped away from the comforts of home and the junk food that came with it but transition seeks familiar. If the only “normal” food you can find is fat and greasy (golden arches come to mind in my case) then guess what else turns fat and greasy.  You do.  Partner that with the fact that it may be harder to exercise and . . . yeah . . . you’re normal.

Interesting to note . . . if you got skinnier when you became an expat . . . you are also normal.  If you eat better and exercise more you are not alone.  If you got sick — normal.  If you started getting headaches or nosebleeds — If you find yourself needing more sleep —  If your skin is dry and scaly or your face breaks out like you were 14 again — You are normal.

AND — (can we be blunt here?) if your bowels have been doing some funky things . . . trust me . . . you are NOT alone.

When everything around you changes — your body can’t pretend that it hasn’t.  Whatever it is, you are quite likely to be normal.

 

How about your attitude?

Is it not the one you came in with? Not what you hoped it would be at this point?

Normal.

Did your wide-eyed, thrill seeking fascination with your host culture morph somewhere along the line into irritation, or disgust, or boredom, or arrogance, or indifference or downright anger?  Do the little things that you used to take pictures of and put on Facebook annoy the pot out of you now?

Did you have high aspirations of being a better expat than you’re turning out to be?  Thought you would speak more language by now?  Have more local friends?  Grasp more culture?  Explore more?

Have you ever yelled at someone who doesn’t speak your language . . . in your language?

Congratulations.  You are normal.  Textbook even.

 

Piggy backing off of that . . . 

When did you get so judgy?  Whenever it was, you are not the only one.

It’s pretty common (if not inevitable) to go through a stage of enlightenment as an expat.  It’s not so much a spiritual awakening as it is a personal discovery that everyone else is wrong . . . and you could fix them if they would only listen.

  • The culture around you may be thousands of years old but you could teach them so much about so many things.
  • The team that you are working with could run much smoother if they would listen to your ideas.
  • The other expats are SO judgmental (pause to let that sink in).
  • Your friends back home just don’t get it.

Nothing makes you feel more isolated than being right.  Especially when EVERYONE else is wrong.

If that strikes a chord — guess what? (see the title of this post)

 

Let’s talk about home . . .

Do you miss home even when you go home? Have you wrestled with what “home” even means? Do you put the word “home” in quotation marks (either in writing or with your fingers)? Did you go “home” and discover that it changed (and so did you)? Do you wonder if you could ever go home again?  Do you know that you couldn’t?

Have you not left home for two weeks because you have been binge watching 90’s sitcoms?

Say it with me . . . You are normal.

 

Does none of this apply to you?

Maybe you’re THAT one.  The one who loves it all, all the time.  The one who feels untouched by culture shock and sees every day as a new adventure — every challenge as a opportunity for growth.  You love learning language and making friends and sometimes it doesn’t make sense why other expats struggle so much.

Ready for an ironic twist?

You may be THAT one . . . but you are not the ONLY one.  I’ve seen you before and you’re actually very normal.

So there.

 

There is SO much more that is normal about you . . .

I could bust the internet writing about the things that make you normal but I hope you’re starting to get the point.

  • If you’re an expat parent and you think you’re breaking your children — you are normal.
  • If you’re married and it feels like you’re never on the same page as your spouse — you are normal.
  • If you feel like your host culture thinks you’re a superstar — you are normal.
  • If you recently discovered that, actually, they don’t — you are normal.
  • If you pretend to know more language than you do — you are normal.
  • If you laugh at your hosts but get mad when people back home do — you are normal.
  • If you’re a bumbling, homesick, culturally baffled, communicationally challenged, adventurer who is slowly learning how to love something deeply that drives you insane — you are 1000% normal.

 

Lest we confuse normal . . .

You are NORMAL.  Unfortunately that doesn’t automatically make you right . . . or good  . . . or less toxic to your host country . . . or your team . . . or your family.  Just because a lot of expats gain weight and stop exercising when they move abroad doesn’t make it healthy.

Sometimes (but not always) “normal” isn’t such a great thing.

Fight the urge to justify bad habits or bad behavior with your normalcy.  On the contrary, find grace in being normal that gives you the space to move towards something better.  You’re not the only expat with issues.  We’ve all got issues.  Cut yourself some slack and while your cutting don’t forget to cut off some healthy chunks for the people around you.

They need it.

So do you.

 

What would it look like for you to go beyond normal? Better than normal?  Abnormal in a beautiful way?

 

I’ll tell you what it would look like.

It would look weird . . . and wonderful.

Own that.

 

What else have you discovered makes you a normal expat?  Comment below so the rest of us don’t feel so off.

Wondering if you’re actually normal?  Take the leap and ask below.  I’m betting you’re pleasantly surprised.

Know an expat who is feeling weird in a bad way? (translation — “know an expat?”)  Please share this with them.

 

15 Comments

  1. Thank you … That’s it, that’s all, just merci, obrigada, gracias, cheers

    Reply
  2. Ah the eternal expat problems! I don’t feel normal when I go home either. I only feel normal talking to other expats. It’s all relative! Thanks for making us all feel normal.

    Reply
  3. Everyone else has BFFs and I don’t connect with the other ExPats

    Reply
  4. I think you covered everyone. lol

    Reply
  5. Wow so true! 🙂

    Reply
  6. I wish I would have read this article 8 yrs ago when I first became an expat! It really puts things into perspective! Thx for writing …. Suddenly I feel “normal”! 😉

    Reply
  7. LOVE IT! Thank you for putting all of this into words.

    Reply
  8. Would like to share another side to expat life please email me

    Reply
  9. This is exactly what I needed to read right now – thank you!

    Reply
  10. Great insight…….suddenly feel normal

    Reply
  11. brilliant read im normal thanks

    Reply
  12. I didn’t think expats are normal ; to start with they are a breed apart, they seek adventure, novelty, excitement.they are curious by nature ” normal comes with staying too long in one place and when that happens then atonal transformation takes place – the expat ( technically still an expat ) is adopted or adopts the culture, the country he/she lives in.

    Reply
  13. Loved it. Thanks.

    Reply
  14. C-J S I think what is written above means that in the most common lifestyle of an expat, there is also a normality shared by expats the world over. We feel like outsiders wherever we go in the end to some extent at least …but THAT is normal…a normal reaction, normal feeling – it’s not necessarily a bad feeling and it’s a feeling some people crave, but it is still a marked and normal reaction “feeling”…and I do feel better after reading the above because although always feeling on the “outside” looking in, feels so abnormal, turns out we are part of a much greater whole…in other words, there are at least two main, common varieties of “normal” ah ha! Of course, not all expats want to be expats of course, but are driven to be through dire economic/political etc need….but I’m betting the same reactions can be applied to them as well…down to the being judgemental, anger etc etc Very interesting.

    Thanks Jerry – you’re good at your job…and by the way, you have a job I feel entirely qualified to do. And as a related aside, don’t you think it’s funny that such little store is officially given to taking world travelling experience into consideration as a type of “qualification”. THAT is what really gets me! A piece of paper from a University or two under the belt of fresh off the conveyor belt graduate can count more than years of experience teaching, surviving and adapting in (in my case) 8 countries, and that is just for living and working…I’ve been to around 45 in total. I’ve just been forced to complete a Master started back in the day despite my life experience described above and working in the same field for 15 years that demands the Master piece of paper. What a joke :((((((( Oh, that got me going! 😉

    Reply
  15. Where was your blog when I was living overseas!?! love your content!! I feel understood! Currently reverse culture shocking!

    Reply

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