The Ex-pat Phenomenon

Why is it that I have met so many Ex-pats who say that although they love their “home” country, it is now a place to visit vs a place to live in again?  Most of my friends here (from many different Countries) say that they don’t think they can return home to live.  In doing a quick search on the Internet, it appears that my local findings mirror a global trend – over 60% of British Ex-pats do not want to return home (sources: Daily Telegraph survey October 2010 and  Lloyds TSB survey November 2011).  69% of the estimated 5.5 million Brits living in other Countries have no plans to return “home”.

‘Expats have an enlightening view of the UK, having experienced life both home and away, so it’s worrying that life in Britain appears so bleak when viewed through their eyes,’ said Lloyds TSB’s Expatriate Banking Managing Director Tony Wilcox.

Having left the UK for the first time in 1995 and extending what was then a 2 year assignment into 15 years, returning “home” in 2010 was a difficult transition for me and my family.  The Britain we returned to was vastly different from the Britain we left, and in my humble opinion, not for the better.  Everything is so expensive, taxes are high, crime (and violent crime) is up (or maybe it is reported more sensationally) and the sense of hopelessness I felt in the younger generation was depressing.  Even the brilliant British TV seemed to have sunk to the lowest levels of society.  When did British comedy have to be so crass, rude and mind numbing to be funny?  We could only find QI to save us!

The problem was that living in America we had found ourselves split in 2 and torn between 2 worlds.  We often said that we wished we could “import” our family and friends and then we never would have left.  People become Ex-pats for many reasons – work, a fresh start, a new experience, or in a bid to leave something behind; and although you miss home, the longer you are away, the more your mind creates a memory.  Home in that sense becomes something that it isn’t.

So, in 2012 when I was presented with the chance of a brilliant professional challenge as well as a huge cultural learning opportunity in China, the whole family jumped at it.  1 year on and it has been a roller coaster ride and one that I would not change.  1 year to go and we have no idea what is next.

So, what is next for me and my family?  I believe that we are all now “Global Citizens”.  As such, we no longer fit in anywhere 100%.  We are jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are coloured in so many different shades.  My children have friends from different Countries around the world and could tell you about the traditions and culture in at least 4 or 5 of them.  Diversity is valued and celebrated at their school.  Their passports have more stamps in them in 7 short years than in the first 30 years of my life.  They have seen and experienced more than their peers in either UK and USA.  Will “normal” life seem boring and bleak to them after this experience?  Will their beginning grasp of Mandarin fade into a distant memory?  What do we do with our careers?  Where is the next BIG opportunity for either of us?

So many questions with many possible answers.  And none of them will be right or wrong.  Such is the life of an Ex Pat, such is the life of a Global Citizen.

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5 responses to “The Ex-pat Phenomenon

  1. simon langford

    Hi Sara – so many of your points here are so true and as an Ex Pat I have been thinking about them for years. Whenever I have family visit in Canada it just confirms that I made an excellent choice some 40 years ago. Just one example would be that my uncle could not believe that I leave my BBQ outside in my back yard – he told me it would be stolen within a day in England. The sad part is that I think this is in part due to England being such an old country and decay is bound to set in to anything that is that old. Canada is not old enough yet for basic infrastructure to break but in England you have had the subway, sewers, bridges, railways etc for years and that is bound to break down as well over time.

  2. And, here I was expecting you to have the answer! It is very different when you look at your “home” Country with outsiders eyes. It is also very different when you look at your “host” Country with almost local eyes. The China that you read about and hear about, is a very different China when you are living in it. For example, the Party here is very open about corruption (and trying to stop it), but I think that maybe Western Governments have just achieved the ability to hide it well or legitimise it through “lobbying” or “specialist interest groups”. Just one observation having lived in different continents now 🙂

  3. I live in England – never lock my car when it is parked at home – have a variety of bikes, bbq’s and garden furniture left out in my garden and have never had anything stolen or damaged. I think you shouldn’t judge the whole of England by what sounds like the opinion of a town or city dweller – where you could be in most developed countries in the world and suffer the same problem. That isn’t just a British issue – and is somewhat worse in some American cities, most of South America and a large part of South Africa

    I spent most of my years between 18 and 30 living or travelling extensively overseas with work, but came to appreciate the good things (as well as understanding the negatives) about my “home” and ended up living back in England. That is the other side of the expat coin – you can move back (assuming personal circumstance and everything else in aligned) and appreciate it more – or take the opportunity at a local or national level to try and change some of the not so great things and take your family to visit all of the wonderful places you lived in, or visited, or have friends in.

    Neither option is right or wrong – it’s what suits you at that time in life, and for your family – but please don’t assume your grass is greener than those that have chosen to return to their country of birth.

    Rànt over!

    • simon langford

      Great rant by the way and always great to hear a different view. Maybe my family in England live in the wrong places. Good to hear that you enjoy being back in England. My opinion may also be swayed by the 3 children I have here – and I even like the cold winters. But thanks anyway for the laternate point of view

  4. as you suspected, it would appear that it is, in fact, just down to the reporting… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22275280

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