Why Expats Hate June

Life as an expatriate is tainted by a single word.

“Goodbye.”

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.

 

 

30 Comments

  1. So true, my friend. So true.

    Reply
  2. I miss you guys!! Maybe one June, you will move to TX and be our friends again!! And next month, I get to hug 2 good friends from QD, so that gives me hope for future possibilities of lives intertwining… I don’t really miss QD, but I miss my expat family intensely… Great post!

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  3. Its true, every word of it. And I am so glad I left before you did! But seriously. We’re feeling a little homesick now.

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  4. So true. In little over two weeks we get to reunion with 4 other QD families who’ve also left. This reunions are the best!!!
    Bernice

    Reply
  5. Great post. December and January seem to have been my upheaval. Unfortunately I will be a lifer. Therefore I hide.

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  6. So true! Fortunately nobody close to us has moved this year, but it’s been a hard June because of a wedding of someone close back home today, and we’re missing it. 🙁 I haven’t been this homesick since our first Christmas in China over 9 years ago. It’s not the initial goodbyes that get me, it’s the special days we miss that come now and then.

    Reply
  7. My moment of brilliance (the briefest flash of a moment) regarding this was when dear friends were relocating…again. My hands were in the literal garden when I realized that certain plants have one long, strong root that made them easier to transplant. Others had a mess of tangled, tiny roots and I wasn’t able to bare-root them out of their original soil well enough to make successful transplants of them (sans a huge bucket of their soil go with them.) Such were our friends; they were not ones to make many “surface” friends, but a few, deeply personal “roots.” I think it may make some people more suited to the metaphorical transplant. (which does NOTHING for the ones left behind!)

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  8. Great post – thank you. We are also expats in China, struggling though the goodbye season. Hoping for some fun times this summer in China, and we totally celebrate over good bacon 🙂

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  9. Lived and worked in 6 different countries over more than 20 years. Much of what is said is valid, but there is much more. there are many indigenous friends that fill in the voids of life and add to its beauty.. It makes us all a better people and we have loved it:) -Roy

    Reply
  10. This post is spot on. After 10 years in China we know what you are talking about. We left for new adventures last year it was so much easier than being left behind.

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  11. These are very valid experiences that some expat kids have dealt with many times. When will third level colleges acknowledge the value in this for tomorrow’s global citizens? Instead of looking for longevity in extra curriculum activities, such as “I’ve played soccer with this club since I was 4”, why not applaud, “I bounced back from a life changing event every three years”?

    Reply
  12. Last June I said goodbye to so many friends as I was left behind once more, though quite happily so, sadly 3 days later we were evacuated and only got back for a few days to pack up later in the year. No farewell parties, no final shopping sprees etc but you know off to do it all again very soon. June the month of farewells, acquired park products, strange alcoholic drinks etc. Loved it all

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  13. Yeah the goodbyes are a bit sad, but I gotta say that I love June. It is the time of change and new starts. It is also the start of summer!

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  14. you’re absolutely right. it was the part of being an expat that i never thought about until it happened. it all seemed so glamorous until the first tear fell. darn it. it’ll never get easier, huh?

    Reply
  15. I totally understand celebrating bacon!! We often celebrated cheese when I lived in China. (China doesn’t really understand cheese.)

    I have been a stayer both in China and in Korea. In between I repatted to the US for 6 months (pretty much as long as I could handle being there). I will be transitioning either to a new school or job, or even another country within the next 6 months. I hate change, but it is part of life. Transitions and goodbyes just make me realize how much sweeter heaven will be! We won’t have to say goodbye to anyone ever again! So many of our goodbyes are not permanent.

    Reply
  16. I was an expat in a country for 26 years, but now being back in my “passport” country, I still feel like one somewhat. How do those bonus point cards work? Where is the passion fruit and really really good mango? Where is the really good coffee? Why is the traffic so orderly? I want to go deep with someone but all that is talked about is the weather and sports teams. I get the good-byes and when one returns to the passport country, the adrenalin level drops, too and reality sets in….ouch. But how thankful I am for a rich 26 years, and now the opportunity to build and re build some things here….It is time.

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  17. So, I am one of the parents who have watched their kids and grandchildren go overseas – who have said our “see you next summer” insead of “goodbye” at the airports, who DO skype almost weekly but for sure twice a month. We all agree not to cry at the airport as we watch our loved family members go out for another adventure for 9 months knowing we will see them again and knowing that the adventures and opportunities they have had and will continue to have are something we only dreamed of during our younger years. We are SO proud of them all, we are SO happy they all have wonderful jobs and careers and we are SO grateful to be blessed with children who were not afraid or who didn’t let emotions keep them from living a deam. We make the MOST of our summer time – yes, we miss them every day but for me, I love the journey they are on MORE than I allow myself to miss them. They will “come home” again but this time when they do, I might be the one on my journey of retirement and it will be my turn to venture out into the world and live a dream I never did in my young years. I know they will be happy for me as I am for them and I know we both wll make sure we send a lot of quality time together no matter where life takes us. Be happy for all those who are “expats” don’t be sad for yourself. Help them live and love the adventure by saying, “see you next time” and not goodbye!!! Love to all my expats overseas!!!!!!

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  18. I so agree with the last posting. I miss my kids and grand kids everyday, but are so happy they are having this experience. It’s tough to see friends with their kids and grand kids weekly, but we make the best of it! We look so forward to them coming home to spend time with us!

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  19. I’ve been abroad for 12 years now and recently left Kenya to live in China, so I so get the saying goodbye thing. My mantra to get me through the years of goodbyes was from Winnie the Pooh, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. Leaving is hard, friends leaving is hard, but I feel so lucky that I do feel so bad, it means that I had a wonderful time and met wonderful people and people in my ” passport ” country just don’t get that. I know I won’t see some people again, some I don’t want to, but the people I do want to meet up with always find a way. I find expats always make the effort. Fantastic blog x

    Reply
  20. Booo! My wife & I are about to make our first overseas move to China & this article has just made me more depressed. This was completely opposite of what I hoped the article would be, encouraging. Well now I’m going to think even more about saying goodbye to everyone important in my life. Thanks for nothing.

    Reply
    • Hey Anon – There’s no way around it, the goodbyes are really hard -BUT- that’s only because the relationships are SO good. What you’re about to do has the potential to be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have. It was for us . . . but it was also hard . . . but it was also good. Don’t be discouraged (especially not from this). I absolutely loved my time in China. I think you will too.

      Reply
    • I can see how you might see this as a negative thing if you are just about to make your first move overseas. The thing for me is that the reason the goodbyes are so hard is because the relationships are so very deep. I guess we all have a decision to make, especially if we choose an expat life – is it worth it? I bet you are already overwhelmed with the preparation and impending goodbyes you will be saying so maybe its a good time to just tuck this post away in a special place for a few years from now. I bet in a few years from now, if you read it again, you will laugh about how finding bacon can be such a monumental and rewarding experience, you might marvel at how getting lost on a bus with a new acquaintance can quickly turn them into a new best friend, and if you’re anything like me, you might even cry over the goodbyes you’ve said in the first few months and years of your time overseas. Is it worth it? I can hardly imagine anything that is more worth it. I can so identify with this post. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me reflect on my past several years as an expat and I’ve found it tremendously encouraging! I hope you will too eventually.

      Reply
  21. I hate June (ok, dislike) because its full of short termers who are coming out for American summer. Does that make me a horrible person?

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  22. Jerry, my wife and I are 14 months back in our home country after ten years of living in Hong Kong. She asked me to read this aloud to her and caused me to “have a moment” … thanks for sharing your insight – anyone living the expat life should be reading this to help them understand why they go through a roller coaster ride of emotions at this time of the year.
    Compulsory reading, expats!!

    Reply
  23. Thanks for this. It helps me realize why everyone in my household has been extra stressed as of late, as we prepare to leave our first 2 year overseas teaching post.

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  24. Thanks for this; you articulated it so well. It’s only our second year as expats, and this June is much harder than the first. But I am reminded that the reason why it is so hard is because of the deep relationships we’ve made with our friends here. And for that, we will always be thankful.

    Reply
  25. Why not try and make friends with the local people. We do expats always stay together in their bubble of expats and international schools. You miss out on a greater experience.

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  26. A simpatico non-expat friend just alerted me to this wunnerful piece. I recently came back (against my primal wishes) to the US after 10 years in mainland China with lively stays also in Hong Kong and in Hua Hin, Thailand. Reentry to PassportLand is another form of cross-cultural confusion, although most of my friends are still tolerant of my ignorance of basics ranging from Who’s Dead and gas prices to “What is this game you call “Thrones?”

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  27. I’m enjoying following your blog Jerry. This post is a really timely one and reminds me of one that I wrote 2 years back http://saigoneldred.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/that-time-of-year/ This June (actually late July), we’ll be leaving our home and friends and starting a new life where we’re just a family unit of 4 and will be for a few months until we start putting down roots again.

    Reply
  28. I’m an expat (4 years and counting) and June is my favorite month. I countdown to our June departure date all year (216 days) because June means going to the motherland, and to family. Sure, there will be goodbyes, but there will be even more hellos. This is what we signed up for….this is what we knew would happen. I think anybody with any sense at all knows this, don’t they? It’s really no different than moving around in your home country, is it? Life is change. People are born, people die. And in the mean time, they do life.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Expats: Saying Goodbye | Novel Benedictions - […] We like these people. We connect on a level that is deeper than the surface. We help each other.…
  2. It’s that time of year again… | Pachamama - […] of the farewells happen in June, when school ends. I can totally understand why expats hate June. Whether you’re…

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