There is a huge marketing when it’s about being an expatriate, traveling and all this life abroad. You just have to check the Instagram account of travelers and all the video on YouTube. Emotional music and strong pictures recorded with the last GoPro. It’s easy to find an online training that will tell you what you have to do to make any beaches as your office. To leave for a life abroad means that you are brave, curious and open-minded. You are lucky because you live abroad. But why nobody never talks about the bad side of the expatriation?
My friend Ondine is getting married. I really like her. I know her for more than ten years now. She will get married in June 2019, she told me the great news by phone and, she asked me if I wanted to be her bridesmaid. Obviously, I said yes, a big yes and after I cried alone in my bed in Kuwait. I wasn’t able to hug her and congratulate her the way she deserved. So I had to wait for weeks before being able to see her ring and how happy she is.
And then, Ondine started to look for a wedding dress without me, and she tried new wedding shoes without me. I can’t help her with everything she has to do. I only can spend time with her on the phone or giving her advices by voice note.
Ondine works a lot and she has a family life. When I came to France for summer, we manage to organize a day for her to try wedding dresses. I cried when I saw her in one of them. But I wasn’t here anymore when she came back to the shop to check if this dress was the good one. She told me which dress she took by Messenger, sending me a picture. And I have around one hundred short stories like this.
Know everything but never participate.
The first time I realized this was for my brother’s birthday. For his thirstiest birthday. Ma mum called me, telling me she was planning to do a surprise party for my brother. And she is explaining me that this day, I should be home because she would like to call me on Skype to celebrate the birthday.
I hang up the phone and cried. Why did I decide to leave that far? I am just missing everything. My mum is super excited about this birthday and she is telling me who are the guests. And when she is making the list, I am realizing that it only misses … me.
As an expat’, we miss everything. Nobody talks about it, nobody is mad at you, but deep inside, you are guilty. You are guilty of one of the most selfish choice ever : you decided to leave. For my brother’s birthday, I decided to take a flight and come to Paris. I spent more time in the plane than with him. The guilt was too big.
I came because I didn’t want to hear the so sad everybody came, you were the only one missing.
It’s the same for funerals. We have to make a choice : which funeral is important ? Which one can I miss ? We have to organize and think about things we shouldn’t. We need to think about events we can miss.
And for every event we miss, we have to deal with the guilt. My niece was born in February. Beginning of February. My brother called me to tell me that it’s the day, he will be a dad in a few hours ! I cried, I cried because I am happy to be an auntie. But I also cried because of my guilt. Because of my choice, I will never see my niece as a new born.
The guilt of the absent.
The expat is never here and has to think about every moment. He misses all the events, and worst : he misses it in a conscious way. The expat needs to think about which even he can miss and which one is really important.
Talking about my niece, again. If I was in France, I would have come as soon as possible to see her. But at this time, I have to take a flight and think if it’s the best moment or no. Is it important for my brother ? Is it important for me ? And is it important for her ?
I made my choice, I won’t go to Paris at the end of February because it’s not important to her. She will never remember. I choose to spend time in Thailand with my boyfriend. But deep inside, I am not really here, I feel guilty because I am not with my family. I feel guilty because I am enjoying my life alone instead of enjoying my time with my family.
Every day I feel guilty because I made myself as my priority. The expat is selfish as soon as he signs his contract to work somewhere else.
And we have to live with this guilt. The guilt is here, everyday. People tell us about illness by phone and we can’t do anything. We can’t even be here as a support. People tell us by phone about wedding, birth, funerals. And the first thing we do, as an expat, is to make a hierarchy of the events.
To be far from your roots
During the terrorist attacks in Paris, I already was in Kuwait. Alone. Guilty for leaving my country. Guilty for not being here to support my friends. Guilty for not being here to support my country. I felt guilty because I couldn’t go to the Bataclan to bring flowers. I cried innocent’s death and I cried my guilt.
Suddenly, we are not a part of a unit anymore. When you decided to be an expat, you decided to be a free electron. And you have to deal with this choice. Because expatriation is a choice. It means that, conscientiously, you decided to leave. Conscientiously, you decided to live with this guilt. And with this feeling of being selfish.
Expatriation is living everyday wondering with we should stay or leave. It’s not only about dream life, it’s wondering about what are we doing here and why. It’s wondering also if it’s not time to go back home, now. When we are an expat, we wake up often asking ourself if we are still on the right path.
Even if everything goes well, even if every days are good, when you are an expat, something is missing. The expatriate grows up, changes, evolved far from his peers and far from changes in his homeland. He doesn’t share his own changes and he doesn’t share what he learned too. I think expat has to deal with the guilt of feeling lonely.
Expatriation : a lonely life we choose to live.
Loneliness is not only for expatriates. But when we decided to live abroad, we choose to live with this loneliness. How can we complain about something we choose ?
We also choose to not talk about our pains. Because we choose this situation really conscientiously. It’s hard to deal with it. It’s hard because our surroundings don’t understand this. We live things in a really different way.
For example, when someone dies. It’s really hard for everybody, but for us expatriates, it’s really really hard. We mostly can’t say goodbye. Most of the time, we see someone alive and after we see the same person at its funerals. We don’t see them sick or really old. And sometimes, it wasn’t possible to go to the funerals, so they are just not here anymore.
Personally, I live things as if they don’t exist. If I didn’t say goodbye to someone in a proper way, it’s like she is not dead, she just left. It’s like it doesn’t exist. I can’t live my mourning properly.
And it’s hard because I can’t complain about it. It’s a life I choose, it’s a life I accepted. And if one day, I get married in Kuwait, I will do it alone. Also, I will give birth without my family.
Am I allowed to be sad about it ? Of course, I am a human being. Can I complain about it ? I am not sure about it, because it’s my choice and I made it really conscientiously. And I think the guilt of the expatriate is just here. We are the only responsible of our pain.