View from the Other Side

Ok. I admit it.  I’m jealous.

Our dearest friends just accepted an assignment to Hong Kong, and I find myself wishing I could go on another expat adventure.  Logically, I know that I’m looking through rose colored glasses. I can only see the fun of living in another culture: the opportunities for meeting new and interesting people, the chance to develop new skills, the desire to challenge what I think of myself and those around me. And most of all, the travel.  “Oh, the places they’ll go.”  In my mind, I see all of these on a big billboard flashing “FUN! FUN! FUN!”  She gets to be an expat, and I’ll be the one getting the postcards. “It’s not fair. I want that,” I’d like to yell as I smile and listen to her talk about the upcoming “Look, See” trip to find an apartment.

I’ve been where she is.  I know the complex thoughts racing through the soon to be expat brain, considering the move, thinking about how your lives will change, questioning if you want the change, excited and scared by the opportunity for your partner, yourself and your children, worried about the impact on friends and the distance from family, etc. 

Yet, I’m still envious. 

I do have moments when I can avert my eyes from the bright lights and glitter. And then I see the anguish on my friend’s face as she considers leaving the place she has called home for the last 24 years, the place she has raised her 3 children and developed a thriving therapy practice.  She and her husband are deeply ensconced in our community; and while he is an ardent traveler and former expat and she a willing go-along on tame and less tame adventures.  They wonder if this is the time in their lives for this particular experience.

“GO!” I shouted with enthusiasm, when she told me of the job possibility.

“If the children were younger, it would be easier,” she said. “Leaving 3 children in the US in college, while we are so far away, doesn’t seem right.”

To which I replied, “Going with younger children would have meant pulling five people away from their lives, worrying about schooling and new friends. That wouldn’t be easier. Now it’s just the two of you.”

I tried to show her the view through my rosy-Google lenses. And while she could see some of the excitement and fun, her eyes stayed focused on what leaving would mean; endings of chapters of her life and her family’s, loss of the daily glue that binds and supports her, erosion of the professional commitments that have come to create a large piece of her identity.

I watch her think this through, consider different options for how it could work, talk to people who have been where she finds herself now.  I begin to recognize that I am choosing to avoid and put in small print a huge piece of the expat experience, the one that I have built my own professional life around addressing: feelings. Messy, uncomfortable, oft changing, sometimes debilitating emotions that need to be looked at, taken out and sorted, either as part of the decision to stay or go, or to understand their role and place in making such a big transition. 

So now my own eyes are focused on my friend and I see clearly the difficulty she is facing. I ask myself, “If this were my choice, would I just jump up and say, GO, without hesitation or thought?” I think back on the 10 years I have spent in the US building my own personal and professional life, the struggle and mistakes, the happy life I have built. And one part of me says, “Oh, indeed, that would be a tough choice.” And another part slips on the rose-colored lenses and realizes; I’m still envious.

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