Life as an expatriate is tainted by a single word.
By nature, the move to a foreign country is launched with a massive, painful farewell that is partially numbed by anticipation, excitement, adrenaline and sheer exhaustion. It’s an all out frenzy, as the days are counted down, to spend an appropriate amount of quality time validating every significant relationship (and some that aren’t so significant) wrapped in the chaos of arranging visas, making travel arrangements, finding a home for the hamster, cramming suitcases to just over the allowed weight limit, selling your old Tupperware, your bowling ball, your car and your house.
Honestly . . . and I mean this in the best possible way . . . the initial goodbyes aren’t so bad. Not because we won’t miss those people horribly. We will. But four things make it easier.
1. In the chaos there is no time to breathe, let alone process reality.
2. We knew this was a part of the deal when we decided to move.
3. It’s always easier to leave than to be left.
4. We’ll probably see those people again.
Come on fellow expats – don’t leave me hanging . . . “Did you see what Jerry wrote?! He said leaving his family and friends was easy . . . and wonderful.” Not what I said. But if you’ve been through it you know I’m right. Horrible as it is, the worst of the pain gets overshadowed by the madness.
But that’s only one set of goodbyes.
What you don’t expect when you move to a foreign country is that every June will feel like you’re taking a metaphorical golf club to the metaphorical teeth. Metaphorically speaking of course.
What is really cool about our particular expat experience is the people we meet. The other expats around here are amazing and we’re all in the same expat boat. Actually maybe it’s a submarine because we tend to go a little deeper really quickly. We come from all over the world but we are all sharing the joy and pain of China together. All of our kids are getting stared at and photographed every time we go out. We’re all faking Chinese every time we get in a taxi. None of us knows where to buy good bacon or milk or DVD’s or get our hair cut, or permed or straightened, or dyed (at least without dire consequences). We all know nothing together, but when one of us discovers something there is excessive jubilation. Like warriors returning from a great victory we come together in the expat village square to celebrate and divide the plunder. The children laugh and play games while the men and women riverdance and parade around with hand sewn banners reading, “WE . . . HAVE FOUND BACON!!”
Ok . . . still speaking metaphorically but the points are genuine. We like these people. We connect on a level that is deeper than the surface. We help each other. We laugh with each other. When something horrible happens to one of us we all understand the pain of going through it away from home so we all try to fill in the gaps. Our celebration may take place through email or text messages but when we find something new, we pass it on . . . and we all feel a little bit better.
And in June . . . we say goodbye.
Expats aren’t lifers. There are very few deep roots here. Our kids don’t graduate with the same kids they went to Kindergarten with. Most people stick around two to five years and just a handful stay longer. There are constantly newcomers and constantly outgoers but June is the worst month of all.
Literally, in the course of two weeks we have said goodbye to more than 25 of our friends and that’s a typical June. Ranging from acquaintance to neighbors to close friends it’s a bit surreal to walk through our community and realize, “Oh, the Blabla’s are gone . . . and they’re not coming back”
We’re expert farewellers but with every goodbye there is an ignored reality that we don’t dare mention out loud. We cover it up with overly optimistic and misguided statements like, “We’ll come visit you” and “We’ll skype every week.” Those well wishes help us feel a little better but they don’t come true. The sad truth is that when we say goodbye (with a few beautiful exceptions) we will never see these people again.
So to all of you dirty jokers who have moved on in the past few weeks . . . Thanks for ruining June for the rest of us.
Seriously . . . the kids are out of school, the weather is gorgeous and the smell of barbecue is in the air. It’s supposed to be a happy time. But no. You had to leave and you took your kids with you.
You’ll be missed. Thanks for being expats with us.