Are you going back to the house you lived in before?
Have you sorted out school for the kids?
How do you feel?
As we delicately wove our way through the challenges churned up by any move, we talked a little about her family’s willingness to test the repatriation waters to see if the temperature was right before committing to anything permanent.
You know those Homer Simpson “Doh!” moments when the light bulb clicks on above your head? I had one. Because in her statement, bold as brass, was the truth about the greatest gift I’ve been given on this topsy turvy expat journey: the willingness to turn and face the strange.
Seven and a half years ago when my husband brought up the prospect of leaving my beloved NYC, I was more than slightly terrified. The fear stemmed from a multitude of reasons, but the biggest was questioning my ability to successfully move myself, my little nuclear family and our belongings 7,000 miles away from family, friends and incredible take-out options. The plan was to stay out in the field for two to three years. Two turned to four, then six, now here we are going into our eighth.
Even though moving again is a near certainty, even though I know it will be one giant pain in the ass, I now no longer doubt I can do it. The time we’ve spent abroad has taught me that nothing is permanent, and I mean that in the best way possible.
I’ve loosened up. Sure, I still like a good spread sheet. I still like plans A through F lined up like ducks in a row. But our time as expats has taught me that if one way doesn’t work, there’s sure to be another one that does. I’ve learned to accept the change, to face the strange.
As my own life get ever so closer to words like pension and retirement and further from ones like boozy brunch, we will be faced with certain decisions. Seven years ago, those decisions may well have paralyzed me into indecision. Even three years ago. But the longer we’re out, the more clear it becomes that everything doesn’t need to be clear, not immediately anyway.
I wouldn’t call our life nomadic, we are rooted to a large degree, but living outside our comfort zone has, strangely, only widened the zone in which I feel comfortable. I think most expats feel the same.
This is the gift that moving has taught me: nothing has to be forever. Change is not to be feared. If it isn’t working, we’ll pick up and find a way to make it work. I’m not saying it won’t be uncomfortable or scary. It will almost certainly be a huge pain in the ass. I mean I don’t feel like we have to lock ourselves into a decision that is forever and ever until death do us part.
On the surface it doesn’t sound like a big thing, but stop for a minute and think about all the things fear of change may have stopped you from doing–quitting a dead-end job, leaving a deader-ender relationship, moving, even trying a new dish at your favorite restaurant. Our time as expats has taught me the importance of flexibility as well as the courage to face change.
When our second son was born, we named him Reed. One of the very first comments someone made to me was how wonderful it was to be named after a part of nature which has the ability to bend and sway with whichever way the wind changes, but never lose its strength. It’s a characteristic I think many expats discover on their journeys, and one in which I am only now truly learning to appreciate.
Here’s hoping it’s one I can remember for a long time to come. Maybe even over a boozy brunch in a place I never thought I’d find myself.