If you haven’t already done so, you should read the interesting piece by Aisha Ashraf who argues that expats are born, not made. [Incidentally, if you haven’t read her blog before, you should. Her conversion to Islam makes her world view particularly interesting.]
I tend to agree with her. I think there are people who are born curious. Who get itchy feet on a regular basis. Who are innately bored by the boundaries of the world they are born into, both literal and in terms of other people’s expectations about what you should do with your life.
I also agree with her that even the most introverted, self-conscious and delicate amongst us can feel this way and still summon the courage to move out of their comfort zones, such is the pull of ‘the Other’ for us.
I still find myself surprised when I speak to friends who remain contentedly in my home town. They may have gone abroad once or twice after saving up. Some see it as a treat they’d love to do more often but know it is unlikely. Others have no desire to go again.
Likewise, I met a colleague last week who has been given a job in Africa I would give my right arm for but he is desperate to find an alternative that would mean he can stay local instead.
It does take a lot to leave family and friends behind. It takes a huge amount of adaptability. It takes a lot to trust; to feel that any relationship will be able to stand the challenges and stress and adjustment, especially in the period when you first arrive. It takes a lot to give up a career to move around and to redefine yourself.
I fully believe expat life is addictive. We’re certainly hooked. Always searching for the next fix. The thrill of the new. The caché of being ‘different’ to those around you and yes, I admit it, of feeling ‘special’. The priviledge of learning for yourself about other cultures to an extent that goes beyond the normal glimpse you get on a holiday. If you’re lucky, the lifestyle that you wouldn’t be able to afford if you’d stayed put. The chance to reinvent yourself if that’s what you want and you still believe it’s possible.
So yes, expats are born but each adventure, each experience we have, each good that cancels out the bad is a reinforcement of the calling we feel deep down inside.