Friday, April 17, 2015

Expat Musings... "No Place Like Home"?

They say travel broadens the mind....  What they really mean is "The Expat Experience will  probably rewire entire parts of your brain.". 

The Expat Blog of the Wall Street Journal, features an  opinion piece by this week by  freelance writer Debra Bruno, entitled;  Repatriation Blues: Expats Struggle With the Dark Side of Coming Home.

The article is her very interesting take on the reverse culture shock, many people face when returning home from living and working abroad.  How the experience of living as an Expatriate can change how you see both yourself, and the country and culture you came from.

I had my first "expat" experience  when I was 15 and did a student  foreign exchange program to Germany.  It is not an overstatement to say  it fundamentally changed me, my outlook on, and future path in life.     That lead to spending my gap year studying in Germany, and then  spending all my Summers in college working  at a Summer Camp  in the Wetterstein Alps in  Bavaria.   Then after graduation from University,  to my first expat work posting to Asia, in South Korea.

Now I live in London,  not because of a work assignment ,  but because I fell in love with, and then married  a Brit.  And at the time,  the Defence of Marriage Act, (DOMA)   forced us, and many other same sex couples to leave the US in order to simply  be with our legally married spouses.    Now that DOMA has been partially overturned and those legal barriers to spousal immigration are gone,  we are getting asked one question  repeatedly..

"So.. When are you guys moving to the U.S?"

That is a difficult question,  for a lot of reasons.  Not the least of which is purely logistic.   The lengthy, and complicated process  of my move  from the US  to London nearly 5 years ago was physically, emotionally and financially  exhausting.  So the prospect of packing up our lives all over again to move  half way  across the world is a bit daunting.   Yet the question  keeps being asked,  don't I want to come home?

Like many of the other commenters on that WSJ piece,  I  find visits back  to the US, can  be at times a surreal experience.   You will find there are  people you know  who never moved way   from where you  all grew up.  Or  for whom a trip to another State is considered a far flung journey, at times will  ask you  odd questions about living abroad like it's another planet.     

But for many  expats, the awkward sense of displacement that would accompany returning home, goes far beyond,  struggling to explain how you miss those   evening walks in the Beijing night market, or  the  convenience of Paris being just a Eurostar hop away.    Imagine  returning "home" to find some of those same  friends and even some  family members, having a huge debate over  whether or not some Religious beliefs should outweigh your civil rights.   Gee, that sounds fun.

For many Americans living overseas, the expat life was not a work assignment,  or a really great career opportunity,  but a necessity,   that resulted from being treated as less than full citizens by our own country.   A country that still  is arguing over whether or not  we are, or should be,  treated equally under the law.

 Where CNN gives equal time to people who claim their particular take on sundry laws written tens of thousands of years ago  for an nomadic tribe living in a desert, should be used to determine my civil,  and even human,  rights.

Even if  we moved back to a state that has marriage equality,  that state may NOT have workplace discrimination protection.  (California thankfully, has both., so kudos to CA,.)But elsewhere we would not be so lucky.  If we moved to say, Florida, or Virginia  then sure, we can visit each other in hospital,  but also can be fired at anytime for no reason other than who we are.   Nice. Huh? 

It makes the idea of "going home" not only fraught  with issues of cultural adjustment,  but one  where living in the United States of America  becomes a situation  of adjusting to having fewer civil  rights and freedoms than you had as an Expat, instead  of having more. 

The  "Tea Party" faction of the base of the Republican Party likes to invoke imagery from the Revolutionary War to show how committed to the cause of freedom they are.

Ironic that in their ideal world,  it is people in Great Britain  that are  treated far more fairly and equally under the law than Americans are by our country.

1 comment:

biki said...

So it is true, you really can't go home again! I've wondered about how easy it would be to come back to ones home country/state/city/town after living years away. When I moved to Alaska from Indiana, and then went "home" again, I found that I didnt fit into that world very well. Then I moved from Alaska to Arizona, and found that I no longer was a good fit for Alaska either. I can imagine the culture shock would be worse coming back from a foreign country.

As we near retirement, the one thing I've wanted to do my entire life becomes a possibility, world travel. Travel in the sense of several months in one area/town, not a day or 3 here and then off to a new country. But a way to learn the culture, their sensibilities, to really dive into their world. Needless to say, we need to do this on the cheap, as we are not wealthy.