Why I expat

Doi Suthep, Chiang Rai, 1979
Larry, Mom and Me at Doi Suthep, Chiang Rai, 1979

Perhaps it had to do with visiting Thailand at six years of age. Or maybe it was that German woman who visited us when I was a child. She cooked potato pancakes that were mighty good. I remember flipping through her English/German language book with delight. I thought flugnummer (flight number) was so much fun to say that it’s the only thing I remember.

When I was sixteen we came back to Thailand and on the train we sat across from a German family. I said, Guten Tag! I watched their faces light up.

Back in Hawaii I used to watch the planes overhead crisscrossing, taking off or landing and wonder where the people in the plane were going. When we lived on the Mainland my dad used to take us on weekend road trips. My mom would pack sandwiches and my father would pack us into our white Ford Granada.

So I don’t really know who or what to attribute this desire to travel to, especially given the fact that I suffer from motion sickness (that’s right I said suffer!) and the dis/ease known as I-couldn’t-find-my-way-out-of-paper-bag.

Folks who intuitively know where they are and where they need to go, I don’t think realize what a treasure they possess. People like me have been stuck with the booby prize of compasses and wander in circles, in the rain, with a twisted ankle. When we need to head north we head south. My ex- used to ask me which way we needed to go and then proceed in the opposite direction.

And I’ve thrown up more times from traveling than from drinking. Mind over matter can get me to the toilet or the road side but all the same, I wish I had those seaworthy legs. (Do people in first class ever get as sick as those of us in steerage?) I’ll grimace through the journey because I want to reach the destination.

I don’t fit into the retiree genre either. I’m not a trustafarian. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck. And if you think it’s stressful in your home country, try doing it abroad. I see those expats who are stuck and I shudder at the thought of becoming one of them.

I must then like the idea of being different. My family, who I love and who love me are waiting for me to return home. My friends think I’m some jet-setter. This makes me laugh because I’m not well-travelled. I’m working on it through.

Jet-set by definition means a rich person who travels for pleasure. Hmmm. Maybe my friends are right. By conventional standards I am by no means wealthy or well-off, maybe off-well. I moved all over the US it seems in hopes of finding home, a place where I belong and then I finally reached the point where the map looked flat, felt flat and I got exhausted from looking.

Sometime during my first month in Bangkok I decided I would never go back. If life is about experiences, if you can’t take your house and car and clothes to heaven then why would I want to live in the country that reveres those things? I was giddy over how little I needed and could travel with. And since I moved so frequently back home I had continually lightened the load.

Every single time I go back to the States I mentally tick off more things to donate to goodwill. Stuff is starting to look like junk and when that happens, you know that it is. This ain’t the Great Depression although my fellow citizens are greatly depressed and maybe that is another reason to get away from the herd.

During my 20s I watched friends go to Europe to backpack, heard about this adventure and that while I worked 2 sometimes 3 jobs. I felt like life was passing me up. Then when opportunity brought the boat by I realized I had to try out the dream of living and working abroad. I got in. This wasn’t my first attempt mind you.

But when I did I knew this was home. Not SE Asia specifically (although I knew Thailand was closer than Ecuador) but the expat lifestyle. I love meeting people from all over the world, hearing their stories and making new friends. When I think about Vancouver BC or New York City I think about the people not necessarily the sights. (Although a place can be beautiful because there are no people.)

It comes down to my philosophy or purpose in life; I believe we are here to be the best people we can be. And traveling takes me out of my comfort zone. If I already have motion sickness and am directionally challenged, why not go with it? Why not accept these are the things that I have to work with? Your shortcomings are the baggage you can never leave behind.

Because I don’t think you can be the best person you can be physically, spiritually, socially, intellectually without stepping outside your zones of comfort. Obviously there are many ways to achieve this goal but being an expat for me is the greatest way to experience life.

9 thoughts on “Why I expat

  1. Very nice Lani, I moved away from Ireland when I was eighteen. My friends and family tried to talk me out of it. Those who had lived abroad themselves warned me that things would never be the same afterwards; I would feel like a stranger wherever I lived. This has turned out to be true. When I visit Ireland I do feel like an outsider, and I also feel like an outsider here in Thailand. Despite this though I’m so glad that my life took the direction it did. You are right about life as an ex-pat; it does keep you out of your comfort zone. If I’d stayed in my home country then my life would probably have been fairly predictable. One thing I noticed during the early years of living abroad was that I seemed to be changing a lot faster than my friends back in Ireland. I’d go back and they would still be talking about the same things they had been talking about years before. In some ways this is comforting but it just wasn’t for me. I don’t believe that my life is necessarily better than those who choose to never leave their home county, but it was the only choice for me. I am proud of where I come from, but it is great to discover that humans are the same wherever I go. It means that I feel part of something a lot bigger than just a nation. If it wasn’t for the fact that some of us have itchy feet we would probably all be still living in caves.

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  2. Just discovered your blog via Chicky Net Thailand. I like your take on being an expat!My American parents are Europhiles, they studied in England & France, would go on trips for school. I always wanted to taste life elsewhere. Finally during uni I devised an affordable study abroad program, and kept going back to study and travel year after year. Then moved to Asia, and found the pace of change here intoxicating. The people you meet from all walks of life are what keep me here. The 19th century had Paris as a cultural hub, the 20th had NYC, the 21st has cities all over Asia.Love this life, it gets more exciting and challenging every year.

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  3. @Paul: Thanks, I feel like you brought up a very important point that I did not. Life seems to go by faster (?) abroad. Maybe it is that everyone is talking about the same things back home. I dunno. But I love the richness that living abroad seems to bring and ironically I appreciate the States much more when I do go back. Perhaps through in a different way.Itchy feet, I like that. Yeah I have that problem too.@Ebriel: Never thought of Asia as the new Paris!! I love it. I'm glad you found my blog, yours looks great ~ I agree art for everyone 🙂

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  4. Hi, I just found your blog too. I wish I had found it earlier when you were still in Cuenca. I really enjoyed this post.

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  5. Lani, I think our mentality is a lot alike. Being comfortable is being bored and made me feel like a lamb waiting for slaughter…be it good or bad there is nothing like just doing it.”I see those expats who are stuck and I shudder at the thought of becoming one of them”Me too…but it motivates me to make it work.

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  6. I definitely recognize myself in this post…my friend and I joke that the reason we move around so much is that we believe in geographical solutions to personal problems. Sometimes I feel like I'm still trying to find a permanent home…

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  7. @Talen & BKK Smackdown:I guess that is why I enjoy living abroad. There is a high chance that the people you meet will have similar interests and life style.@BKK: I've moved so much that if moving solved problems I'd be sitting on a butterfly rainbow lotus cloud of serenity sipping bubble tea. (Or am I?)

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