Well, the time has come for my first ever ‘Ask Jenny’! Welcome!
‘Ask Jenny’ is a series where you can ask me about our travels, logistics, parenting on the road, my life before travel, or whatever else you have a question about. My plan is to post a call for your questions on Twitter and Facebook and of course here at the end of my post. In two weeks, I will write a post to answer one (or more) of them. The only rule I will have is that the questions be kind.
Two weeks ago, many of you asked me excellent questions that made today’s decision on what to answer a difficult, but exhilarating task. Please know that if I did not choose your question today, I have a list and will answer it in future ‘Ask Jenny’ posts. So keep asking, I won’t forget about you!
The first question comes from Terri at The Homeschooling Doctor:
“What’s an expat circle like? The kinds of people in them. Why they’re commonly expats. Etc.”
I am sure that there are differences in every expat community, so I will just answer what ours have been like. (All you other expats, please feel free to leave a comment and join in the conversation!)
Chad and I were expats in Taiwan when we were childless English teachers, and are now in Thailand as travelers and parents. Depending on which place we were, not only in location but life, our expat circles were different in many ways, but similar in some. There are some things I love about being in an expat circle, some others, not so much.
First, let me say what I have found true about being an expat no matter what my life situation was at the moment: I have left myself open to be friends with people I normally would not. The sole reason being that we had one thing in common-we are living in a foreign land by choice. Some of my dearest friends were made because I was happy to hang out with people who had different hobbies, or music tastes, or personalities. I love this aspect of being an expat. I have learned so much, grown in my beliefs so much, and matured so much because my views and beliefs are often different from my friends.
One thing that I have experienced on the negative side of expat communities, is that not many of us have “roots” here (i.e. extended family, friends from younger days, etc.). This means, you must use your gut to figure out who is trust worthy and who is not. We have met a few people along the way that had wild stories about their lives and we had no way to back up what they said, so we’d believe them for a while. We have found that eventually their lies start to contradict themselves and their stories change and they don’t last long in our group. Sometimes people leave their home country because they want to, some do so because they have to. It’s important to be a bit more wary of trusting someone completely right away than it would be back home.
There are many different types of expat: the travelers that loved a place so much they never went home, the people who are there because their employer made them, the opportunist that knew their talents would be better suited in another country, and the independently wealthy. This is by no means every type of expat, I am sure the list goes on and on… these are just the types that we have met. The kind of expats we are usually determines the type of expat circle we are in. For example, when we lived in Taiwan, we were childless English teachers, working part-time and often hanging out in bars and clubs on our off time. So our expat circle was mostly people doing the same things as us. Those friends were from all over the world, and had different values, hobbies, and tastes, but we all got along because we were English teachers, without children, and looking to have fun.
Presently, here in Thailand, we have a great group of expat friends. But they are very different from our expat friends in Taiwan. The way that we met many of our friends here in Phuket was through play groups, or by our children hitting it off in a restaurant, or something along those lines. Most of our friends are married, most have children, and so that makes what we do together a bit different. I somehow don’t think that the clubs in Patong would welcome a group of mommies and their toddlers (although I have heard of tourists occasionally bringing their children to the bars until late at night… poor kiddos). We have play dates at the beach and at the nearby pool. We have barbecues at each others houses instead of going to fancy restaurants (that does happen, just less often). It’s like settling into suburban family life, but on an island paradise. Not too bad really.
There are so many differences between us and our expat friends, from the slang we use, the jobs we hold, the backgrounds we emerged from, or the faith we hold dear. But, despite all that we make each other our family because our real families are (usually) so far away. They are our emergency contacts, our help when we are sick, and our encouragement when we struggle with cultural differences and life events. Thailand is an amazing and beautiful country, and our expat circle has just enhanced our time here. It’s a wonderful thing.
Terri, I hope that answers your question. And for all you expats out there, PLEASE leave a comment and let me know your opinions and experiences with being part of an expat circle.
For those of you that are not expats, would you like to be one someday? If so, where?
And if you don’t want to answer my questions, feel free to ask one (or more) for my next ‘Ask Jenny’ in two weeks!