It’s funny how people can share the same experience but feel it completely differently. Like when you embark on your expat wanderings, it’s entirely your own journey of discovery, no matter who you’re sharing the experience with. That was how I felt arriving in India – such a crazy combination of grasping the language, finding my feet, creating a space to call home and just taking it all in. Breathe. I threw so much of my heart into the process that along the way I gradually and surprisingly fell in love with it; the cultural nuances, ways of life and of course the people. And still these connections, like a carefully woven shawl, hold me tight. It’s hard to go, harder to come back.
I have a wonderfully spirited circle of friends overseas, mostly women, all of whom stand out as incredibly strong – after all, being an expat is not for the faint-hearted. I espouse truly the theory that making friends quickly is an essential ingredient in your expat happiness. The weight these friendships carry is akin to a type of sisterhood; their roots are deep and they blossom quickly. They’ll help you find a language tutor, recommend a good doctor, find classes for your kids and point you in the direction of a decent coffee. Many women I know immerse themselves in the culture and achieve amazing things living abroad bound by a common thread to connect deeply and experience the expat chapter fully.
Overlaying this emotional shift to a new country come the everyday challenges of settling your family, which often falls to us gals. We’re either supporting a partner by creating a home away from home or skyrocketing our own career. Often, we’re doing both. Thank goodness for staff! Well, sometimes. It’s tricky stuff trying to navigate how you look after the people who look after you. I don’t know that I ever got it right but one of the greatest ironies wasn’t that I didn’t want staff but that I couldn’t get in track pants or take my bra off until my (male) driver left for the day. One morning he turned up wearing a playboy t-shirt with its signature bunny on the front; it was most disconcerting. I couldn’t look at his chest either.
The real challenge comes when you’re trying too hard to be your former self. Life is simply so different and there comes a time when you’ll pop the expat bubble and say “Ok, you got me, I’m in.” Then the fun begins. You’re liberated from your old routine with the chance to recreate yourself, taking all the beautiful fragments of your new life and measuring how much of your old self you’ll keep. Most of the way you lived back home won’t fly in your expat world and people will sometimes take advantage, labelling you an expat wife and playing on your vulnerabilities. You’ll get preferential treatment for most services but often walk away wondering why you paid more. Mostly, you’ll spend your day engaging in things completely foreign. Because now you’re the foreigner. You’ll stumble and trip along the way until you become a local yourself. Just as it starts to make sense, you’re moving again. A common line in the expat circle is that you cry when you arrive and cry when you leave. But I guess that’s what we do so well, adjust, create, love and survive. It’s in our nature.
Lee Grewal has recently returned to Australia after 3 years living in India and regularly travels back to Delhi. Lee formerly worked in the corporate sector within multi-nationals as a Human Resources Manager and left to relocate to India with her family. While in India Lee pursued her passion for writing and now has a travel blog with her Delhi based best friend, Bhanu Uttam, a keen travel photographer. Their blog www.adventureinourteacups.com tells the story of their travel experiences with a focus on South East Asia. Lee is based in Sydney and will be on a plane back to India soon!