Nine (More) Expats You’ll Meet Abroad

Victoria the Veteran Victoria has seen generations of expats come…and go. She’s been around long enough that she’s practically part of the furniture. She knows her way around, navigating not only the place, but the relationships that make up the place. Vic has ten different toes dipped in ten different circles–because she knows just how fleeting expat friendships can be. Some think she’s ice-cold because the constant goodbyes don’t seem to faze her, but it’s more that years on the scene have hardened her….just a little.

Freak-out Frannie. Frannie finds it hard to breathe deep and…relax, no matter how many hot yoga classes she signs up for. It doesn’t matter how smooth things seem to be going, there’s always cause for a freak-out. If it’s not the math curriculum, it’s the school lunches. Or something on the news. Or the cost of living. Or the way the traffic light doesn’t give you enough time to cross. The local propensity for liberally dropping the f-bomb into conversation sends her into convulsions. Her heart’s in the right place–it’s just always beating too fast, set to semi-permanent outrage mode.

Homesick Harriet  Harry gets monthly parcels sent from home, keeps up all her magazine instructions at exorbitant prices, and subscribes to whatever local cable package that lets her watch her favorite shows. She travels home at every given opportunity and brings food back in her luggage. She shops online–from stores in her own country. First-year Freyas are usually half-Harriet by default, but true Harriets never really embrace living abroad, they always have one foot where they’re living and another one firmly planted at home.

Traveling Tony It’s a stretch to call Tony an expat, as he’s usually not in town long enough to sleep in his own bed more than three nights in a row. Tony usually heads up family of ‘lifeboat expats’–women and children only–who stay behind in one place while he plies his trade all over the globe. Sometimes it’s hard for Tony’s spouse to convince others he actually exists. Perhaps those wedding photos you see when you go to their amazingly furnished house are just props after all?

Never-Going-Back Niamh. Niamh, like many expats, was skeptical at first, but took to expat life like a fish outta the Atlantic and relocated to the Pacific. So much so that Niamh never plans on going back home. Ever. In fact, Niamh will do anything, including moving internationally three times in a year, just to avoid it. Whether it’s the life, the opportunities, or the bonds, Niamh has embraced life as expat to the fullest extent and you’ll have to pry it out of her cold, dead hands.

Repatriating Rena–While Niamh settles in for a life of transient relocation, Rena is getting ready to move home and experiencing the nausea of the repatriation rollercoaster. Whether she’s been gone one year or ten, life outside has made her question what life will like back ‘inside’. Will she re-fit in? Will her kids be ok? Rena’s worries often gets lost in the two-step expat shuffle because people assume going home is easier….but as Rena worries, it may be anything but.

Pam the Polyglot A round in Russian? Да! A stint in Shang-hai? 好! A post in Paraguay? Si! Pam picks up the local language wherever she lands–and not just enough to order a coffee and a cup of the Bolshoi borscht. Pam can carry on conversations with the locals, understand and answer when folks stop her on the street, and get around by taxi no problem. Pam’s linguistic gymnastics often make her English-speaking compatriots feel guilty for not trying harder-the ones who rely solely on their mother tongue to get by without making much of an effort beyond nej, tak…

Superiority Complex Sam Sam never has a good word to say about the place she’s landed. Not one. Oh sure, there’s nothing an expat coffee klatch likes more than a little bitch about little annoyances and cultural quirks, but Sam’s insults take a much broader focus. There’s nothing about her adopted country that suits her, everything is better where she comes from.

Fay the Fantasy Fay is the expat we all aspire to be…and fail miserably at. The one who settles in with ease. Who speaks the language within months. Who has no trouble finding the expensive cheese she likes at the market in Uruguay that doesn’t even sell cheese. She travels extensively, her kids are involved in local sports programs, and she still Skypes her family back home twice a week. She takes every shock that a new culture sends up her spine with a smile and can pack up her family and move at the drop of a hat. With grace. Fay doesn’t really exist outside our collective expat imagination–but it doesn’t stop us from wanting to be her anyway.

Since I penned  Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad a few years ago, and watched it circulate the globe itself, I’ve cycled through a few more of these stages myself. And some of these as well…Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. As for where I am now…well, it depends on any given day, really.

More importantly though, which expat are you?



Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

vintage_victoria_star_wars_portrait_art_prints_3When I heard the news that a scion of our school, the original impetus for Greta the Guru, was packing up and moving at the end of term, I was at a momentary loss. It felt like our community was losing it’s wise, information-rich Yoda. Then I got to thinking (always a dangerous prospect): when it comes down to it, the Star Wars universe is basically just a world full of intergalactic expats. Sure, they move between planets rather than countries, but substitute a heaven for an ocean, the Millennium Falcon for a Maersk Shipping container, and the same principles apply.

Here are nine expats you’re likely to meet in a galaxy far, far away.

Yoda, the all-knowledgable. The grande dame, Dowager Countess of your international galaxy. Yoda has been around so long no one remembers when she got there, she’s just always been there, sitting in a corner. Sometimes she talks in cryptic Yoda-talk, referencing a time long gone populated with strange names you don’t recognize, i.e., before your time. But she’s the one who’s got all the dirt on expats past, present, and possibly future.

Han Solo, the too-cool-for-school rebel. Han’s been around the galaxy a few times. No stranger to long-haul moves, Han’s used to moving at warp speed on short notice, or in the dead of night. A bit cock-sure, a bit swag-a-licious, Han comes across as a little aloof, but the teflon attitude is usually just a by-product of a life hopping from one place to the next. Han doesn’t get too close to others, because at the end of the day, leaving folks behind is tougher than you think.

Darth Vader, the evil head of HR.  You know Darth, the one who wants you to move to Burundi. Tomorrow, in the middle of your kid’s senior year of high school. The one who needs your spouse on the ground in East Timor next week, which is Christmas. The one who seems to be lacking in any humanity in regard to moving small children, pets, and teenagers across borders and seas. Soulless, bleak, and an easy villain to hate.


R2D2, the fun expat from the country you can never remember the name of. You introduce them as Russian when they’re really Ukrainian, or Czech when they are really Slovakian. Azerbaijan? Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan? Tajikistan or was it Turkmenistan? Often their name is a confusing strings of letters you are not used to seeing together and so in your head, you develop a coded nickname. It’s not lack of caring as much as the fact R2 holds a passport from a country that didn’t exist when you were studying 8th grade World Geography.

Obi-Wan, the do-gooder. Obi-Wan is the expat who travels to places most of us have never heard or of have no desire to visit, all in the name of good. Usually attached to an NGO or other international organization, Obi-Wan packs up and heads her family to the deepest jungles and barren plains of places you vaguely hear about on the news–usually related to pandemic outbreaks and civil wars. A slight aura of virtue hangs above Obi-Wan’s head, but most of us happily allow it—because we’re glad it is her and not us.

Princess Leia, the spoiled expat. Chef, gardener, maid? Check. Check. Check. Leia has usually  done at least one stint in Southeast Asia where household help is part of the contract. Sometimes Leia finds herself at a bit of loss when she’s posted someplace where the gardener doesn’t come with the lease. She also looks pretty damn good in a gold, lamé bikini. This is usually due to devoting her days to looking her best.

C3P0, the know it all. Whether c3 has been in six countries or one, this opinionated expat will insist there’s one right way to do things, from moving to assimilating, what to eat or dealing with local custom. Armed with books and articles and surveys and lists, C has processed all of this information and filtered it down to black and white, right and wrong. C is just waiting for someone to slip up to offer an “I told you so.” There’s little room for nuance in C’s bubble, but if you can stomach the sometimes righteous attitude, there’s a whole lot of info in there too.

Rey, the rookie. Rey vacillates between bug-eyed amazement and practiced nonchalance. Her first time out, Rey is desperate to experience everything but doesn’t want to seem too eager. She’s heard the stories, and only half-believes what life as an expat is like. But just because she’s young and green don’t sell her short. Dismiss the new girl and it’s likely you’re missing out on something special.

il_570xN.740908068_ien1Boba Fett, the mercenary. Boba is the expat who takes postings based primarily on the money. Ruthlessly planning their global journey based on the exponential growth of their stock and retirement portfolio, the Fett family bounces from post to post chasing the cash. Hardship duty stations, war-zones, the far-flung corners of the globe. There aren’t many places Boba won’t go if the price is right.

I’m guessing whether your expat time has been somewhere cushy or in a country far, far from home, you’ll recognize a few of these folks from your own journeys, whether they are intergalactic or just plain intercontinental.