I recently read this article about the ‘expat bubble’. It’s a weird thing being an expat, between cultures.
My expat life is made up of three social parts: the expat bubble that comes with my husband’s job and a ready-made British community; the Brits whom I have met outside that bubble who live in the USA and who are usually ‘forever expats’; and my American friends, work colleagues and community.
1. The first group I’ve struggled with slightly because I find it to be an unnatural community. I think many forces wives might understand this community. The men (mostly) work together and the women (‘trailing spouses’ – ugh!) are left to their own devices to either be stay-at-home mums, to find some work or volunteer, clean the house, organise stuff, and to ‘get a life’. For some, it’s a struggle, and I get that. It’s not easy. It’s also a small, tight, cliquey community that thrives and feeds on building friendships, gossip and some forced social occasions for that group only. I’ve tried the coffee mornings and the craft nights, but they’re just not my thing. I always feel like there is so much more out there I could be doing and experiencing! For some, though, they are a lifeline to talk about British culture and things in the USA which are happening to them, discuss issues and problems in a supportive home-from-home environment, which is great. However, my problem with this expat bubble, in my humble Desperate Housewife opinion, is that is very much a bubble and it separates out the genders far too much. It also made me realise that just because people are British doesn’t mean you will automatically have a natural affinity to them! And I guess I appreciated through experiencing this bubble I didn’t come all the way to the USA to recreate a Little Britain! The article says that this expat bubble can be ‘the least challenging option’. Like the author of the article, I appreciate the bubble, but I don’t want to be STUCK inside of it. He says, and I agree: ‘To live cross culturally and never genuinely experience (deeply) your host culture is a BIG miss. To be surrounded by people who are SO different and could teach you SO much and never find a friend, is a sad thing.’
2. The second group is a really interesting and diverse group and one that has been a fabulous resource for me. These are Brits (and some Aussies whom I’ve met!) who have been here ages, love America, get the culture, have an affinity still for the UK, and who are getting on with their expat lives with work, integration and adventure. I love these expats of all races, gender and ages. In fact, I try and see at least 4 or 5 of them a week for class, social occasions and fun, and I meet up with them if I’m in any other place in the USA. Boy I’ve networked! I admire and respect them. They have a lot to say and share, have open minds, and are willing to step out of any expat bubble that may exist. I’ll be popping off on my holibobs with one of them in a few weeks. Woohoo!
3. The third group is my lifeline and the heart and soul of my experience here in the USA. The community in Columbia, MD, has been amazing. Friends and colleagues (co-workers to you Americans!) have given me a richer, more rewarding experience, showing me a real slice of American life. They’ve given me opportunities, allowed me into their homes and their lives, shared experiences with me and taken me on adventures that I never dreamed of. The expat article says this about going cross culture within your host country: ‘….you can’t know [if they really love you] until you stick around and build a real relationship. That’s where the good stuff is. The real stuff.’
It’s the real stuff that has worked for me. I’ve developed real, full, proper relationships with my American friends. That’s the good stuff, the real stuff, and that’s what’s made my expat experience so bloody brilliant. We’ve just connected through blogs, theatre, sports, wine, politics, food, parties and fun. I love them all and I feel very, very fortunate to have found them in my USA life!
Hoorah for cross-cultural living!