Many people are left with mixed feelings about living life as an expat. Often times we go through different phases throughout our journey. However, sometimes there can be a difference of opinion (regarding feelings and phases) because not every experience is the same.
Then you also have various motivations that led people to leave their home country or why they continue to remain overseas. I think most expats can agree that this type of lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, depending on where you now call ‘home’.
If you were to tell me that I would have spent more than 10 years living abroad when I was a child, I’d have thought you were crazy. Yet, if you’d have approached me in my 20’s, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. I can’t quite pinpoint when my curiosity started to evolve and I began to think about the possibilities of seeing the world, but I know there was a moment when I realized that I no longer wanted to stay inside a bubble.
There are plenty of people, no matter where they call home, who are perfectly content with living out the rest of their life inside of their home country. Matter of fact, there are some who couldn’t even fathom leaving their state, province or hometown; whether big or small. And to that I say, to each their own. However, what I can’t wrap my head around is the bewilderment some people seem to be overcome by or a necessity to try and persuade me to return ‘home’ (the US).
While I understand that most of the time those people are just trying to express how much they miss me and would like to see me again or feel that I’m not taking full advantage of “the land of opportunity”, I’m often put off or leave away from the conversation or call perplexed. It can be rather exhausting having to continually answer the same questions over and over again, or state my opinion on why I’d rather live outside of the States – even more so when it’s coming from a person of color, especially black Americans.
I can slightly see how someone who is a first or second-generation immigrant might have difficulty grasping why I don’t want to live or return to “the greatest country in the world”. They may have either left their home country for a better life or fled because of human rights issues (war, civil unrest, genocide, political upheaval, etc.).
They might very well consider me spoiled, privileged or ungrateful because I left a country where “anything is possible”.
You also have individuals who come from other countries who wish they were a US citizen or had the ability to live there.
However, while I can agree that the US is a place where someone can potentially turn something into nothing, I stopped prescribing to the American Dream a long time ago. Not because I’ve ignored all of the cases in which people have risen from lesser status and built a nice life for themselves or attained wealth. I oppose it because it’s not backed up by the system and mechanisms in place, or rooted in reality.
You see, I consumed the propaganda and lies I was told as a child because I didn’t know any better. I wholeheartedly thought that if I simply followed the rules and worked hard that I could ultimate achieve the American Dream (a great job with a high salary, a nice house, status and comfort). Even if a person was able to fight through obstacles to obtain those things, all rights and privileges aren’t afforded to everyone.
Still, if you’re lucky enough to reach the pinnacle of that dream, with a good job, money, a nice house and car, it’s then, (more likely before), that you begin to see how much of a farce the American Dream really is.
You begin to dig even deeper into the history of the US and find out that everything ain’t copacetic. You realize that what you were taught in school wasn’t the truth and sometimes not even half of the story.
Your eyes and ears start to see and hear the nuanced language and terminology that is constantly being spread through radio, TV and film without consequence or accountability. The actions and behavior of a few are no longer seen as isolated incidents, but rather quite common with a longstanding history that isn’t logged. You discover why people are forced to live in certain areas, are given different consequences to their actions and are unable to access similar resources because the system in itself is plagued with corruption and racist ideology. You decipher the term ‘melting pot’ to learn that the US isn’t a jambalaya, but a simple stew served on a sectioned off plate; one in which the rice is dried out and stale, the ham can’t stand the chicken, the shrimp or oysters are often times forgotten or not included, and out of all the possible spices one can add, only salt is used. You find out that you aren’t a valued human being, but a dispensable pawn given a 9-digit barcode as soon as you pop out of the womb. You start to notice that a democratic system, with an inexplicable electoral college, is made up of two parties that behave in a manner that remind you of school children. You become enraged at the infrastructure of the “wealthiest country in modern history” as you haphazardly commute to work and maneuver around your locale.
Basically, you start to see the country for what it really is, not how it’s commercially marketed and sold, both domestically and internationally.
There is this incessant need to automatically assume that I’m running away from something. Well, I see it more as the feeling that I’m LIVING FREE
Yet and still, even when someone agrees with me, there is this incessant need to automatically assume that I’m running away from something. Well, I see it more as the feeling that I’m LIVING FREE. There is pretty much nowhere on this earth that I think I could go without experiencing some type of racism or discrimination as a black American. Even if I was to return to the ‘Motherland’, I still wouldn’t be considered one of, and I get it. I’m so many generations removed from my African ancestors that I think it’s impossible to assume I would fully be accepted and able to assimilate into society. There are so many layers that have been built up over 400+ years that I would probably need another lifetime to shed.
All I know is that when I first left the US in 2008 (when Obama was the front-runner and eventually became president), I was starting a journey to discover the world. Not necessarily my place in the world, but what other corners and sections of this planet had to offer. And in doing so, I’ve come to realize that even though I still experience racism and discrimination while living abroad (currently in Japan), I have certain privileges as an American. I have access to job opportunities that other people who are as or more qualified aren’t offered. I’m able to freely move around the globe with little to no restrictions in obtaining a visa. More times than not, I am able to live a comfortable lifestyle because of a higher salary than many of the locals.
I’m not one of those foreigners who is looking to become one of or assimilate to whichever country they reside in. I don’t have an empty void that I’m hoping to fill when deciding where I want to go next. The only goal I have during this expat journey is to go where my heart and curiosity takes me; as well as my pocket book since money still makes the world go round unfortunately.