Expat Living: Forever Expat, Forever Grateful

We are a nation of labels. Some hyphenated, some ridiculous. But across the board, in America, we tend to want to put people into boxes, little pigeon holes that tell us how to relate.

Expat Living- Labels : 80s pick up lines- Man in 1980s style suit by a yacht looking to attract women

In the 70’s, the standard opening line for guys with all manner of chains and chest hair was, “Hey baby, I’m a Pisces, what’s your sign?”

In the “Go-Go” 80’s, it was all about “getting in touch with your feminine side,” finding out what made you tick, finding your soul-mate, the yin to your yang, by understanding whether you were sanguine or melancholy, choleric (not the disease) or phlegmatic-
as in, outgoing or quiet, leader or follower.

In the heyday of the 90’s, when America had had, by then, 8 years of continued growth and economic prosperity, it was all about understanding who was the right temperament to get even bigger and better results at work.

Myers-Briggs and others in the same vein told us whether we were ENTJ (Extroversion, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging) or IFSP (Introversion, Sensing, Feeling and Perceiving), or any of the 16 possible personality type labels.

We are a nation of labels. (Did I think that would change while I was away?)

I am still looking for my label, the right label, one that fits me as I am now.

In my earlier post this week, “Who Are We, After We’re Done Being An Expatriate?” I asked what comes next, after we are no longer living as expats. I asked for, and received, great ideas (that I am now looking into, thank you) for how to redefine myself for this next phase- I said I’m not ready to be labeled “Retiree” yet- it just sounds so… final!

Along with the post comments, several friends also chimed in with tweets. (We’ll show you Retired!)

One particularly interesting one came from my English/Canadian friend-from-Baku (another label) who is now living happily in Toronto. Judy, an expat many times over, is English by birth but calls Canada home now. So is she an expat? An immigrant? A nomad?

Wearing several hats metaphor: Man selling many hats by wearing them on his headShe seems very comfortable with wearing all of those hats at any given time.

Judy sent this tweet asking me,

“Can you stop being an ? RT : Expat Living: Who Are We, After We’re Done Being An Expatriate?

Which got me thinking…

“Good question, ! Are made or born, Nature vs Nurture    or, is it a job title we leave behind?

Judy responded with a link that really hit home-

“I don’t think we can leave it behind .  Here’s my take on it  

Here are some eye-opening thoughts that I took away from the Forever Expat  post by Judy Rickatson:

“The harsh reality is that you are forever going to feel like you don’t belong,” says Robin Pascoe in her book Homeward Bound, speaking about the tradeoffs we make for the many benefits of expatriate life.

“That blunt statement hit me right between the eyes with the certainty of an undisputed truth.

“In the Afterword of the same book, Dr Kirsten Thogersen, a clinical psychologist, agrees, “There is no way you will ever again be assimilated with a group of people who have not been travelling like yourself.” 

I wondered how this was supposed to make us (well, me) feel more hopeful, hearing, “There is no way you will ever again be assimilated …” Gaagh!

But, to be fair, as I read on, this began to make sense to my brain. There was good reason to believe this “expat” business was more than just a label, or a job title to be put in the ‘past’ tense.

Judy continued, reflecting on her expat travels and eventual repatriation to Canada,

“For the past 14 years I’ve lived as an outsider and been very happy, so why should I expect it be any different now that I’m home?  I believe it’s an acceptable price to pay for all the amazing experiences I’ve had as an expat.”

An acceptable price? For those amazing experiences? Hmmm… interesting. Yes, ok, I can buy that.

If someone had said to me, “You can go away for a decade, find out who you are, have amazing experiences, learn new languages, find out what you’re made of in a crisis, live on your own and survive… But, there will be a price to pay when you return. What would you pay for such an adventure?”

I’d have been hard put to give a $$$ price for all that I took away from my time in Baku. And I can’t even begin to count the value of each of the young people I worked with in learning English, Business, getting jobs, transitioning to government or private service companies… (that, my friends, was Priceless!) Whatever the price named, I’m sure it would have seemed like a bargain.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t work that way… there was no fine print to the deal. No mention of it being a travel-now-pay-later-plan.

During this Repatriation process, I have learned a lot more than I wanted to about reverse-culture shock, first from experiencing the trials and tribulations of a rough repatriation process, then by looking back and being able to identify (finally) what was happening and why.

Note:  It’s obvious to even the most casual reader here, that I certainly have lot’s more to learn. (sigh…)

I’ve been trying hard to fit in, walk the DC walk, talk the DC talk- even managed to fool myself for a long while.

But, as they say about old dogs (just not “retired” dogs)– sometimes we can learn new tricks.

So, if that’s the deal, if repatriation works out to be the “acceptable price,” an exchange of sorts, I guess I owe the fates at least this: Forever expat, Forever grateful.

That feels right. (I must be getting in touch with my [insert some label] side.)

As a fitting ending for a new beginning…let me wrap up with this quote from The Art of Coming Home  by Craig Storti, 

“Who can imagine astronauts, their space capsule rocking violently at the peak of re-entry, wishing they had never gone to the moon?”    


Craig Storti quote from The Art of Coming Home: space shuttle photo with "Who can imagine astronauts, their space craft rocking violently on re-entry, wishing they had never gone to the moon?"

Quote from “The Art of Coming Home” by Craig Storti



Other Reading/Resources:

Life Lessons Expat Links page (more resource, links and information)


Robin Pascoe – Why is it important to talk about repatriation? – YouTube. (Wish I had seen this then!)






2 thoughts on “Expat Living: Forever Expat, Forever Grateful

  1. Great thoughts here! People are also labelled in Italy and being an expat gives you the opportunity to move away from those labels or at least change it. Or maybe learn to forget about labels and not care about it, not easy I think, but it’s worth trying!

    And about being an expat, I think one can be an Expat in spirit, always looking for the next challenge, even when returned back home…maybe not as easy as when you are at home, but still not abandoning that spirit, always looking for a new adventure, whatever that is. Here my thoughts of a few months ago when reading an article from The Age: http://lavaleandherworld.wordpress.com/expat-life/what-is-the-expat-attitude/


  2. Love this post, Jonelle. You’ve succinctly expressed what it feels like to reappraise one’s sense of identity on repatriation acknowledging that you’ll never fully fit back into the groove of home and that’s OK. In fact, it’s an unsettling yet glorious realisation. Never regret any pathways in life, it’s all part of the journey and for some that means living in one place their whole life, for others it’s exploring the world until they find that one place where they can lay their hat and call it home .


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