The dream is not as it seems

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girl with multicolored balloons and bag

We are inundated with messages of chasing and living the dream. The exhilarating life overseas, finding our purpose and passion or our undeniable ideal significant other. But this state of mind keeps us running toward an elusive finish line. It’s a dream within a dream. And the dream is never quite as it seems…. 

When I was five, my little Bessie mate and I would stand up high on his garden gate and yell ‘RED BALLOON’ as the ‘rag and bone’ man drove past in his waste collection van.

We had the words wrong but it was a total blast.

 It’s one of the happiest recollections of my upbringing. And when I look back, it was always the small things; digging up worms, making up songs, building dens and playing outside with my sister and friends.

I also loved animals so much that I dreamed of becoming a vet. And, instead of having a baby, I was going to adopt a chimpanzee from the zoo. I was certain this is what I would do.

Until, on the TV, I witnessed a veterinary surgeon slicing through the skin of someone’s pet. Another had his hand up the rear end of a cow, one had a dog die and another got bitten by a crazed cat as he tried to stick a needle in its back.

And just like that my dream collapsed.

For immediately I knew I would never, nor want to, be equipped for the reality. And I also realised how insanely cruel keeping a chimpanzee for a baby would be.

It was my first lesson in life that dreams are not always as they seem. For I’d only visualised the best bits; the affection, redemption and rescuer gratification.

It’s a fundamentally flawed and fatal mistake that we still too often make.

We’re conditioned to be in a constant state of wanting, wondering and waiting for an enigmatic yet elusive place ahead. A happy-ending destination where fortune, feat and fulfilment awaits.

We believe that when we arrive we’ll stride through life with a spring. And no doubt stars will sparkle above our heads while pretty little bluebirds sing.

Yet, while it may be true we have yet to have live the best, the constant quest for something better makes little sense:

The Single Story: We look at those that seemingly have it all and make stereotypical assumptions; the rich; free, parents; fulfilled, couples; content and the successful; set-up for life. We don’t see the struggles that, in addition to the satisfying sections, are also central to the story. The worry and weariness of child rearing, the fights in long lasting love, and the demands and dedication required for great wealth. We assign a single story to situations we’d like to have. But the truth is…

The Unexpected Losses:  For all the big gains in life, there are losses. Sometimes deficits directly relate, often they’re just a consequence of changing times. The dream life overseas; a loss of family stability, the successful career but simultaneous yet unexpected troubles with our friends or family, or motherhood; the loss of independence and sometimes sanity! Achieving our life’s aims also requires that we often too, quite significantly, change. Yet we imagine everything good about our present moment will remain the same. And, while the wins are often worth it, when we’re blind to future stakes we fail to see and appreciate prior states. And we also get things wrong…

The Mismatched Needs. We think we know what we want. Frequently we assume that adding extra will subtract our sadness.  We fail to figure out that fulfilment is fundamentally within us, unaware everything we need is already there. And then we look at others and also inaccurately compare, because…

The Fake Realities: Social media is saturated with streams of stories of success and people supposedly ‘living the dream’. It seems no life is complete unless it’s filtered and plastered all over the screen. But the real filters are the ones we use to disguise our everyday lives. The bulk that is everything in between.  The messy house, the parenting fails; bribes and empty threats, sitting around lazily in our sweats, emptying the bin, getting irritated by our partners snoring and kicking them a little harder than intended, or not, in the shin. But while we should certainly celebrate our success, glossing over the rest dulls what’s real. All we see are manipulated ‘happy endings’ and highlight reels. But…

The Happily Ever After Myth: Even happy endings end. Because the nature of life isn’t so; rather it’s a series of happy and unhappy moments that come and go. Even when our biggest dreams arrive they are only ever mere moments in time. They too will pass us by. But rather than a dismal deduction, detaching from the happy ending destination frees us to depart the speeding train of anticipation, able to wait patiently for other enjoyable rides to stop at our station. But often we’re too scared to jump because…

The Perceived Failure: Frantically focusing on the future can foster feelings of failure, leaving us feeling frustrated. We pervade our own points of view with perceived past mishaps, or fear of forthcoming failures, conversely, preventing us from progress. But failure is purely a perception. Rather it’s the passageway; the practice, progress and pleasure that should be our only measure.  When we’re in it mainly for the process, we’ll still fail, but pay far less notice. Rather we’ll experience daily appreciation able to enjoy our lives free from the shackles of expectation.

Dreaming is an essential and wonderful part of life. It fills us with hope and fire to go after the things we desire.

But to be continuously invested in chasing and achieving ‘the dream’, we can overlook the joy of everything in between.

The time we take to plait our child’s hair, sitting with them and really being there, laughing at silly things, sharing a knowing look with those we truly know, strolls with the sand between our toes, waking up too soon and catching a glimpse of the bright shining moon.

Standing on a gate shouting out red balloon.

For to live life only for the happy end is to yell the words wrong all along. But instead of a minor vocabulary mistake, it’s a critical error of judgement that will be forever too late to mend.

So go after your dreams, but don’t run; tiptoe. Be careful not to trample on the seemingly insignificant things as you go.

They may be the moments that matter the most.

Because you are already the living the real dream, you know.

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The expat phases of friendship

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Group of young people siting and looking outside from yacht. Back view.

One of the most exciting things about moving overseas is cultivating new connections. Yet it can also be one of the most challenging. This post looks at some of the challenges when creating an entirely new set of mates, particularly other expatriates.

Every night since our month long trip to England, right before she falls asleep, my daughter asks ‘tell me my story’

The story goes like this;

‘India crossed the ocean on a big aeroplane from Australia to England to see her family and friends. She saw nanna, grandad, aunty gem gem, nanna babs, grandad bert, uncle ben, aunty jen, cousin libby’…the list goes on.

My precious girl listens wide eyed while sucking her thumb, the corners of her mouth a touch upturned creasing the baby faced cheeks of her beautiful face.

If I forget someone, she reminds me. Her memory astounds me.

She’s only three but the connections she made and maintains, no matter the distance, already form a fundamental understanding of her place in life.

This is her story.

Because it’s the people we connect with and the experiences we share that create our narrative.

But when we start a new life overseas, we leave our backstories behind. It’s exciting, yet it can also cause confusion.

As while bonds back home are developed over decent durations and solid foundations; from neighbourhoods, studies and work, expat connections are cultivated more quickly. And in the depths of social scarcity they carry undercurrents of expectation and uncertainty.

With two moves (Perth & Melbourne) in two consecutive years, I essentially experienced the exhilaration of emigrating twice. Still in my twenties, I formed friendships over drinks, dancing and adventures.  It was fabulous fun and I have fantastic memories.

But riding the waves of elation often lacks deliberation. And I’ve learned more about myself and others than perhaps I ever did prior. Here’s how my journey went;

In the same boat

For expats, quickly cultivating connections is crucial for survival. The easiest way to do this is by making fellow expat mates. Through networking groups, friends of friends or work, if we put ourselves out there we can find ourselves going on, slightly awkward, dates with other expatriates. These friendships form fast. As the need to connect can catapult us into a best friend state of mind in a very short space of time. But unfortunately, when made this fast many are not destined to last…

Choppy waters

When the honeymoon is over and in my case, through pregnancy and childbirth, the party too, life starts to settle and friends are sought on a less superficial level.  The expat association isn’t enough. Conflicting characteristics come into view. And, unfortunately, while we may now share social circles and experiences, many lack the essential elements required for a lasting friendship. Mismatches may have been missed, too much disclosed or individuals ignorantly integrated into our crowd. When foundations are as wobbly as an Englishman perched on a paddle board, fallouts and phaseouts begin. Group gripes can also give in. However….

Your crew

If we’re lucky we’re left with those that we love. And overseas, as our strongest sense of support, they become a substitute for family. These friendships flourish far faster than connections cultivated in our country of birth. Because when we’re stuck in the same sea of solitude, we keep each other afloat.  But then…

Ships in the night

Just when we’re acquiring social circle security, some of our besties say bye.  Because the downside of nurturing expatriate mates is, with a life elsewhere and a once-done now more workable wanderlust, they’re more likely to make another move. Watching them leave can trigger a tidal wave of emotion and homesickness leaving us wading without a life jacket. Because they take with them a sense of our security.  And I’ve found, if they go home, I’ve more deeply doubted my decision to be departed. However…

Smooth sailing

After habituating in my host country a while, I’ve also cultivated harder to break native mates. Formed over a slower duration on a foundation of everyday activities and familiarity, rather than one common-expat- characteristic, they have developed in a more traditional way. These connections have helped me better integrate into my host community, culture and country. And while my British buddies are still my besties, a balance of both has given me an extra sense of stability.

There’s an irrefutable impermanence when creating a new life overseas.

Friendships form, flourish or fail far faster than in our hometowns. And the transiency of life is also more frequent in a foreign land.

Yet while we may sail through many choppy waters, the more changeable and challenging they are, the more we learn how to spot capsizing risks, our anchors and sailing budddies from afar.

It can be an uncomfortable ride but forever opens our minds to new people, places and possibilities. We also better select and appreciate those we would like to stay for a long time.

And we all want an amazing plotline.

So write it well and if it lacks love, laughter or a feel good factor, never be afraid to edit, re-write and repeat.

After all, you never know which characters you have yet to meet.

The End.

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Yearning for yesterday’s yuletides

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christmas tree on the beach

Tis the season to be jolly. But for many, the festivities lead to feelings of longing and loneliness. This post is particularly written for expats but applies to anyone feeling a little dread this Christmas.

My memories of Christmas are magical.

Common customs of stockings stuffed with satsumas, carrots and mince pies for a Santa and Rudolph snack and whopping piles of presents made the festivities as a kid the absolute best.

And as an adult I maintained the festive zest.

I loved the build-up; the Christmas markets, parties and everything sparkly. And the day; excitedly exchanging gifts, munching the much loved merry meal and, later, gathering at my grandparents’ for games, nibbles and more merriness.

I was so resolute in retaining this ritual with relatives I would react with dismay at any suggestion of an overseas getaway.

Until I left life in England for Australia.

And now, after five years, as the season descends, starting to surface is an all too familiar feeling of dread.

Every year a wave of homesickness seems to sneak up whacking me hard across the back of my head.

However, after four years of family-free festivities, I’ve found ways to dissipate the dull ache:

Remove the rose-tinted glasses: While I still desire much of the tradition now missing, it’s easy to view memories with glasses that are partially pink. It’s a flawed way to think. Because, while the family part still fully claims my heart, the reality of England includes chaotic Christmas shopping and, after the day is over, miserable months getting darker and colder. So it’s important that when reminiscing your spectacles project a clear and transparent visual. Because in Australia you get to enjoy a sunnier and more relaxed ritual.

Embrace the differences: Lifelong traditions are hard to let go because they’re all we know. It’s strange to see sun-drenched Christmas trees. And the hot weather, light nights and boring build-up is a disconcerting disparity to the British sea of festivity.  However, a sentimental state of mind will cause you to try and re-create Christmases gone by. Yet this only cultivates the contrast. It makes more sense to create new traditions and embrace alternative events. And in Australia with free festivals, long breaks and wicked weather, it’s the season to sparkle in the sun!

Lose the guilt: The guilt can weigh on you as heavily as Santa’s sack. Especially when you know your family wants you back. However, unlike Father Christmas, it’s not always possible to fly around the world to hand deliver gifts. And worrying about everyone else’s experience is a waste of energy that will only impact the ones you’re with.  Importantly, remember you’re just one little elf who’s main responsibility is yourself.

Be thankful for your family, no matter where they are:  Frankly, I’ve found no way to fend off feelings of missing family. And I’ve realised I don’t want to. I miss them and the family festivities gone by. So I honour my emotions and have a little cry.  But I remind myself while we won’t be near this year, we will still share some Christmas cheer, exchanging gifts and speaking over skype. And it won’t be long before we set another date to celebrate.

Think of those alone:   The recent John Lewis ad featuring an elderly, lonely man on the moon looking longingly at earth struck a chord. Because half way round the world where the merriments are minimal we can look in at the festivities on facebook feeling faraway and forgotten.  If you listen hard enough right now you can probably hear Santa’s elves feebly fingering the scrawny strings of their super small violins. Because it should also remind us, if we’re spending it with just one person we love, we’re luckier than a lot. And while I don’t believe comparing is constructive since struggles are implicitly individual, the notion can help rationalise emotion.

Erase expectations: Expectation at Christmas, and in life, creates discontent. The festive season especially can shroud us in a thick fog of ‘should be’s’ and woeful wishes.  But when we focus on how it ought to be, we resist our reality and become trapped in a gap of turmoil. Yet by erasing expectation, the gap goes, setting us free to enjoy reality.

And so being on the other side of the world away from loved ones and treasured traditions can cast a dark cloud over a light and sunny season.

But battling the blues is not just an expat experience. Christmas for many frequently fosters longing, lamenting and loneliness.

Because it’s a painful reminder of loss and what once was.

Yet, while we should never suppress our sadness, if we let memories of yesterday’s yuletide take over, we wash away our today with the tide.

And how do we know this year we’re not more fortunate than in the future?

Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon at Christmas to be feeling a little blue. So the one gift we mustn’t forget to give this year is happiness.

And make sure the recipient is you.

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Me and my little sis loved Christmas as kids! 

meandgemxmas

sishamstermexmas

Making Memories Down Memory Lane

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beautiful hipster young women sisters friends in the city

Expat sprees to see friends and family are surreal.

As after a while away our home and histories feel familiar and foreign simultaneously.

For me, stepping into my native Manchester feels like walking onto a set of Coronation Street.

The strong accents, terraced streets and grey skies are a stark contrast to the life I’ve adapted to in Australia. It’s weird because the place is constantly on my mind. Yet suddenly it’s like seeing it for the first time.

This destination disparity is new emotional territory.

As it’s not just the country contrast between our motherland and adopted place that makes it at first feel unreal.

Visiting the place now in our past to see people that are still so much a part of our present is a strange situation that can evoke unsettling sensations.

Because expats lead a double life.

Our feet are walking a new path yet we keep a constant hand in our old lives. Rarely does a day go by without thinking of home or some contact over Skype, Facebook or the phone.

So while amazingly exciting, going back can bring forward overwhelming emotions of nostalgia, homesickness and uncertainty of where we belong.

Here’s what I’ve found on my three trips over five years to the UK:

Stage fright: No matter who and where you’re meeting there’s a build-up to the first greeting. And at the airport gate there’s an air of anticipation that can make it feel a fraction like a first date! It’s a paradoxical place to feel a little apprehensive to face the friends and family you’re most comfortable with. But it’s always short lived regardless of the length you’ve been away. And it’s a remarkable revelation to find with most you’re just as close. And in many cases even more so.

A new set: Viewing a different town for a time means you see your old city through a new lens. And visiting England from Australia is like stepping out of a library into Primark on a Saturday afternoon! As while once entirely normal, England’s dense population, narrow roads, stacked buildings and grey skies against Australia’s stretched out residents, open spaces, wide roads and blue skies can feel chaotic, claustrophobic and closed in. Not to mention cold!

A changing cast: Much like the place, you see your old crowd and community with fresh eyes. Suddenly your dad looks 60[1], the dog got fat and your brother is an irritating prat. But you view the virtues and quirky qualities in people as if they were new too; your sister’s chirpy chattering and your unique union, the panacea of your parent’s and grandparent’s presence and the fabness of your friends. When you live half way round the world you gain a whole new appreciation of the traits of your most treasured.

Under pressure: Under the spotlight, on a short timeframe and battling jetlag, there’s a little stress when you want to be and make it the best. You maintain a mental tally of missed milestones and who you’ve not yet met. All the while you want to maximise your time resulting in running round like a tourist in your traditional town. Particularly as, while it doesn’t feel like a holiday, you’re likely using all your holidays!

High expectations: You realise that, while less visible since you’re no longer near, problems don’t just disappear. The first time you may find it difficult to deal with dynamics when you are set on savouring the specialness. But it’s important to note you’re having a temporary experience in other peoples’ permanent place rather than a holiday escape!

Feeling like an extra: You can feel like an outsider. Because you’re a guest in everyday lives you’re no longer a daily part of. And your expat life suddenly feels non-existent! However when your presence is infrequent you also receive fantastic special treatment! And it’s a relief to replace intermittent expat isolation for the constant and calming company of your clan.

Fantasies of returning: Whether decided your new place is permanent or frustratingly fixed on the fence you can’t help but have fantasies of how you would fit in once again. Buts it’s impossible to accurately judge the place while living out of a case!

Nostalgia: While away, past times replay like an old sitcom in your mind. The melancholy can be painful as you ponder if you’ll repeat old patterns again. Absorbing it back on old ground can bring days gone by to the surface. Yet the ache dissipates. And instead you may start to feel a trace of longing for your new place.

Homeless at home: On your first or second visit, there’s realisation and regret there’s a part of you you’ll never regain. That feeling of comfortableness, contentedness and community, a presumed disposition you don’t predict will be misplaced, is now as obscure as Gail Platt’s chin.  Even if you were to return there would always be a yearn. Because, although a pleasure and privilege, when you have two homes you become inevitably incomplete in both.

There’s no doubt expat expeditions to see friends and family are exhilarating. Yet they can also be daunting, exhausting and emotional.

As in our adopted countries we’ve adapted to new roles. And while attributes comprise homesickness, nostalgia and displacement, we’ve played the part so many times we’ve learnt the lines by heart.

But at home we play a cameo role. On a set we’re now less comfortable with, leaving us stumbling over the script.

Yet that’s the price we pay once we’ve opened our hearts and minds to a new life and way. As we experience more than one wonderful world.

So with a lump in our throat we say goodbye while trying not to cry.

But we take with us a magical memory reel of taking tourist trips, swapping sentimental gifts, snatching special squeezes and sharing treasured chats and precious laughs. Not forgetting getting downright Deirdre Barlowed!

We hold on to these moments hoping they’ll compensate for lost time.

And we play them on repeat…

Until the next memorable time we meet.

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[1] I suspect my dad doesn’t read these, but just in case; I’m only joking!!!

A whingeing pom’s week without whining

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Woman with black umbrella in heavy rain

Labelled ‘whingeing pom’s’ by Aussie’s, the English get a bad rap for being bad tempered. But while the grey skies in England may have left us lacking a year round sunny disposition, it’s not just us. People all over the world are partial to petulance. And since common culture carps on about complete negativity avoidance, I wondered when it stops being harmless venting and starts being something more serious, affecting our outlook on life. So for a week I decided to stop whingeing. Here’s what I found.

The whingeing pom.  An arguably unfair stereotypical characterisation.

You can’t even whinge about the injustice and discrimination lest you prove a point.

So after five years of being branded a narky knickers in the Land of Oz, I tend to beat them to it god forbid a moan escapes my miserly mouth.

For example;

Me in 40 degrees cant-breath heat ‘ gosh its hot today…

Aussie; ‘Isn’t that why you moved to Australia?

Me. ‘ha yes so I did, I’m such a whingeing pom’!!!

Me in 1 degree temperatures ‘I’m freezing’

Aussie: ‘Surely you’re used to it from England’

Me ‘yep you’re right I’m just a whinger!!! You know what us whingeing poms are like!!!!

Nevermind the half-baked attempts at heating this side of the hemisphere leaving us ‘where-are -the-radiators’ poms feeling the chill twenty four seven throughout the ice cold (yes it does get cold) winters.

However, despite my weariness at the whingeing pom label, there is some justice in the jesting.

You only have to be away from the UK a few months to grasp the degree of grumbles so easily exclaimed by the English.

And while overall I believe it to be a harmless habit, I wondered if at times it can cross the line from light-hearted haughtiness and have a detrimental effect on well-being and happiness.

So for a week I decided to stop whingeing.

I failed.

I found the frequency of my unfortunate fables would require some further finessing before I completely fling the habit.

I did however become considerably more conscious of complaining.

These were the top whines I noticed from myself and others;

  • Weather whinges: While I believed constant climate criticism was a mainly English affliction stemming from unfortunate home country conditions, the weather is a worldwide whinge. I shared a mutual moan with Aussies, Brits and even an American over the phone. Because this hot topic is an ice-breaker. Small talk. And small talk leads to friendly talk making it a worthwhile whinge.
  • Sick stories. Feeling under the weather during the week, I noticed I repeatedly verbalised over the top grievances relating to my symptoms. I was, shamefully, searching for sympathy. But unless you’re in the vicinity of your mum this one only serves to reinforce your sickness. And can cause more discontent if you don’t get the pandering you’re pursuing.
  • Kid kvetches: There’s no denying parenting is challenging. But the trials are trivial when weighed with the wonders. So I was surprised I griped a great deal more than I’d have guessed. Although in my defence almost entirely about bedtime battles. However, this was also a healthy venting and bonding exercise between fellow parents and accompanied with plenty of praising for our cheeky cherubs too.
  • Road rages: Unavoidable. Especially in Australia!
  • Grub gripes: I found myself bothered by a breakfast portion size complaining it too small. Since I reside in a rich nation with an abundance of fancy food at my fingertips, this gripe was ungrateful, ignorant and gratuitous. I vow never to verbalise this vex again!
  • People protests: Many protests among people are, unfortunately, about people. And while we all seek expression and support, I observed much complaining about situations or altercations seemed not to have, nor want, reasonable resolutions. But unless constructive, aiming for change, these moans are meaningless and only feed unfortunate feelings. Or worse, they’re malicious, judgmental or manipulative!
  • Work woes: Cranky colleagues, bad bosses and wild workloads; with most work weeks 40 hours long, irritations are inevitable. And while common complaints can cement colleague connections, non-stop narking about job dissatisfaction is not only annoying but a hallmark of responsibility avoidance.
  • Country comparisons: Constant comparisons to your motherland can seem ungrateful. But between expats complaints cultivate connections through mutual understandings and shared longings. They help you feel closer to home. That said, persistently pessimistic people can cast a shadow over a bright adventure. And also annoy the Aussie’s. So keeping the whinges for your expat associates is advised!

Of course, throughout my conscious complaining phase, there was much positivity too. Importantly, I found it’s not the complaining that’s the problem per se, but the reasons behind it.

The key is whining awareness.

As while small scale sniping shields us from the rain, summoning support and allowing us to seek solace in our social networks, when it comes to steering somewhat stormy weather chronic complaining can perpetuate the cycle.

Regardless of the conditions outside, if your complaints of less than satisfactory situations are common, constant and coupled with inaction, you’re handing power to your environment. Akin to being whipped by the wind while shunning shelter or soaked to the skin yet refusing to brandish your brolly. Eventually you’ll be swept into the eye of the storm, left saturated in irritability, indecision and injured victim mentality.

And you’re not Dorothy.

So while I maintain some moaning is a must, I vow to complain less and celebrate more. After all, compared to some, the forecast is always pretty mild where we come from.

I’ll be a positive pom.

Unless it’s bloody raining.

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Different country; different you

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Jump to the freedom, Asian woman jumping on the bridge at the sea

When you become an expat, suddenly you are away from all you know and everything you used to be. But it’s in the reconstruction of your identity that you can discover your authenticity. This article is for anyone who has moved overseas and felt lost from loss, only for it to set you on a path of self-discovery. 

Stifling howls of laughter at my three year old daughter endearingly howling Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen I couldn’t help but relate the song to the expat journey.

Just in case you have been hiding away on a cold icy mountain, the story of Frozen and signature song ‘Let it Go’ goes like this: two princess sisters; one (Elsa) has a special power to freeze things with her fingers. Following an accidental misuse of her powers when they are kids she’s forced to hide herself and her icy fingers away. Until one night in front of the whole town she rows with her sister and exposes her hidden power. She freezes the town by mistake, runs away to a big icy hill, unleashes her powers and sings Let It Go.

On the mountain away from it all, she can finally be herself without judgement or fear. She’s freezing, but it’s worth it because she’s free to finger freeze whatever she feels like! She’s liberated. And the cold never bothered her anyway.

After hearing the song somewhere in the region of seven hundred times, I started to think how taking off from everything you know can take you closer to knowing yourself.

Because being an expat produces profound questions of your identity. Overnight everything you used to be (career, family, friends, home, possessions) is gone suddenly.

But it’s in the dissecting of your self-definition that can lead to new decisions about who you want to be.

There are a few things that can trigger this avalanche of self-discovery;

No-one knows you

A strong sense of self is somewhat reliant on alignment between your ‘self’ belief and how you believe you’re perceived. So it’s virtually impossible not to have some of your identity defined by the people around you. But when no-one knows you, there are no long-held perceptions or misconceptions of how you ought to be. Which can give the freedom to portray perhaps previously prevented parts of your personality.

Faraway family

Losing constant connection with family can leave you feeling occasionally lost. Especially if an integral part of your identity. However, flying far from home can give you freedom to find your feet. Away from the beliefs you bear, position you play or expectations you exert; distance can dissect the difference between traditional roles you play and a truth that can only be ascertained from total independency.

Familiar friends

Long-held forever friends give you a strong sense of safety, security and stability. However, when long-term dynamics don’t differ you’re probably not perceptive of parts you play.  Overseas, cultivating new connections catapults you from your comfort zone. And while striving to find your new social identity can instill some insecurity, navigating unaccustomed conducts creates a consciousness of your character.  So you may uncover concealed qualities you may not have before shared, or have even been aware.

Changing career

It’s not uncommon for a career loss to cripple. Not surprising as many glean their self-esteem from work.  And while for expats a relocation arrangement is a likely step up, for travellers or partners it’s a possible step down. Either way, there’s likely to be vast variation. But it’s change that challenges your choices. And you may discover a passion you need to nurture, no matter the nature.

Home and possessions

While it’s often not difficult to detach from houses and possessions, quite often they are an internal expression. So when you leave behind your things and place, you can at first feel a little out of place. But we can hold on to things for too long. So starting again can mean you apply some invigoration and inspiration to your external manifestations.

Doing things differently

Stuck in the same city can see you in a subconscious cycle of activity. You may rarely ruminate if life’s a real reflection of what you’d really like to be. Yet in the early expat days of exploration and excitement you’ll likely try new things and may uncover neglected pursuits. Or ones you never knew. And with some self-identification based on the things we do, just doing things once can induce a different self-view.

Culture

At home, emerged in everyday culture, you experience a sense of belonging. But navigating the nuances of a new nation can leave you feeling like an outsider. New social etiquettes, expectations, demeanours, and perceptions; you can misunderstand and be misunderstood. However, experiencing a new society can make you more forward thinking as new ways challenge your traditional traits.

Alone time

Spending time alone is an expat-inevitability. Even with constant company, with your inner circle on the opposite side of the globe, there’s a lack of unconditional back up. But it’s during these periods you can look within and become comfortable in your own skin. And while an equal balance of interaction and introspection is important, solo situations give you space for self-reflection.

Expat association

Everyone who emigrates immediately earns the expat identity. And with this you adopt identity enhancing associated traits and perceptions; courageous, adventurous and independent. When we identify with traits we tend to repeat more of the same. So you will likely be encouraged to do braver and bolder things again.

Of course you don’t have to be an expat to question your identity. Losing things no matter your location can often take away a part of you.

But when you’re an expat you can lose several segments simultaneously. And since a strong sense of self provides security and stability, this can take you into a void of vulnerability.

Yet the flipside of the coin is the freedom to live life with a different currency.

Because overseas, away from familiar roles and what you think others think you should be, you become conscious of the construction of your identity.You discover what lies at your core.

And as you rebuild your reality, you’ll strive to feel whole so seek out situations that stimulate your soul.

Above all, you’ll recognise that it’s maintaining balance and detachment that keeps your identity secure.

Because the winds will change again as they always do, and your exterior will break away. But while you may crack, you won’t collapse. Your foundation won’t sway.

You will let go.

You’ll have learned to live life authentically.

And finally, you’re free.

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  1. A couple of good articles on what it means to live life authentically http://www.howtolive.com/live-authentically/#.VhGuCfmqpHw.    http://psychcentral.com/lib/ways-of-living-an-authentic-life/
  2. Expats, as anyone, can also go the other way and live even less authentically as they try to fill the void they feel with things (people, activities, general busyness) that aren’t a true reflection of their personality. Of course we’re all guilty of doing this sometimes.

Cattle Class Carnage

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cattleclasscarnage

For distant expats, visiting friends and family can mean long, frequent flights. And, unless you’re one of the lucky few to afford first class, the journey in economy can leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Cramped conditions, hostile hostesses and pissed up passengers; this article takes a look at some of the stresses in cattle class.

In the cattle class cabin, time, space and social status temporarily lose their meaning.

And when you’re in it for the long-haul, you can also lose your sanity.

Trapped in a vacuum of constricted space, artificial air and inactivity[1], intense boredom and exhaustion ensues causing thoughts to become foggy and social norms unclear.

It seems on every flight there is at best a little disquiet, at least one fright, and at worse, a fight.

At least according to my experiences.

Returning from India, I animatedly argued with a hostile holidaymaker; going to Mexico I accidently knocked red wine onto a passengers pale pants; and, after a 12 hour flight to Thailand, my legs swelled so severely I truly believed it was game over.

But the best was in 2010 when emigrating to Australia. Toasting the trip with too much champagne and wine, I subsequently swallowed a strong sleeping pill in a bid to beat the lethargy on landing. Not recommended; I have zero recollection but was apparently rather raucous for some time.

Fast-forward five years; less uptight and with multiple 24 hour trips under my seat belt, including several solo sprees with an infant, I can finally class myself as a composed and accomplished commuter. Well for the most part.

Because there are several things in the questionable conditions of the cattle class cabin that can still rouse a reaction;

Aviation agitation: Most airliners carry an air of anxiety.  While once I flew without fear, excessive media coverage of rare catastrophes and perhaps some parental vulnerability have left me a little shaky. Sure, I still manage to look like a relaxed, rational and fearless flyer – in fact, I still enjoy the turbulence. But now I start the journey checking out people at check-in; deliberating their destinies and pondering potential terrorists. And I’m not the only anxious one; once on-board strong turbulence or strange sounds spark a surge of suspicious, stressed out glances as some silently pray for their survival.

Reclining seat etiquette:  The front runner of in-flight fiascos. On a recent night flight to Dubai, the passenger behind not so passively protested the reasonable reclining of my seat through forceful kicks and hard to ignore loud-mouthed objections. Something of a showdown arose. But when I realised the drunkenness of the people I was dealing with, I quickly backed down. Indignantly though, I kept my seat low. And while leg-room is already too confined[2], I hold the view that particularly on a red eye, that’s what it’s there for you to do?!

Sleep stresses: Gawping, drooling and snoring side by side with strangers. Anyone would think it’s an everyday occurrence. However, I have absolutely nothing but envy for the slobbering sleepers. Because on a plane, noise and neck pain make nodding off near impossible. I’ll often wake elated that I napped. Then sadly see I fell asleep for all of 40 seconds. It’s a fairly frustrating affliction to scan a sea of snoozing passengers when you’re desperate to be dozing too!

Provoking passengers: By the end of my Melbourne to Manchester expedition, two families felt like long-time friends. They chatted with me, helped entertain my toddler and saved my sanity! Alas, on the return from Manchester I wasn’t so lucky. Half the passengers were plastered. And tanked up travellers are a tad irritating unless you’re one of them. But it’s not just the intoxicated that can aggravate. Toilet tardiness, stinkers, sprawlers and loud talkers are common causes for complaint. It’s no wonder that in the air, under a guise of anonymity, tempers often flare.

Trolley torture; The cuisine carrying cart can be a highlight of the flight. And while the food is low quality, it’s a welcome break from the monotony up high. You pop your head into the aisle, but are disappointed to see it’s going to take a while. Worse, your parallel passengers are triggering further tension by already tucking in! And when at last it finds your row, it can be a real blow when those in front choose the last of your first choice, leaving only a dish you despise.

Hostile hostesses: Air stewards; the pedigree of hospitality[3]. The majority of carefully coiffed cabin crew are genial, gracious, good-looking and glamorous. Especially on Emirates.  Yet on every leg, one is sure to sport a sour face. Whether passenger contempt, job dissatisfaction or an oddly overblown ego; when you’re stuck on a plane reluctantly reliant for your requirements, it can only take one hostile host to add an extra strain.  

Screaming kids: These in-air disturbances can be intensely annoying until you have your own. Then they’re even more annoying. Because being disturbed by someone else’s screaming child is nowhere near as stressful as dealing with one. People who hold the notion that parents’ should, and can, continuously control their kids are clearly childless. Or old enough to have blocked out the bedlam. So while smug solo sky surfers are free to drink wine, watch films, listen to music and nod off when the feeling arises, albeit uncomfortably, poor parents are captive to the needs of bored, overtired and wired maniacs. And they are probably on the verge of losing it. So for those not so subtle sighers; lose the attitude before we lose our temper!

So, in cattle class, as we are propelled across multiple time zones and continents at 35,000 feet, we can sometimes lose our head.

Until finally we reach our final destination. And as quickly as we were sucked into the chaos of the cabin, we are swiftly spat out, disorientated, dishevelled and despondent.

Suddenly, any commotion that occurred in the clouds is downgraded to a distant dream like memory.

You made it.

The only thing left to worry about is death by Deep Vein Thrombosis.

What do you find annoying or amusing about cattle class? And what’s your view on the important topic of reclining seat etiquette? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!  

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[1] Some airlines are making improvements for herds of travelling cattle http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-are-airlines-making-economy-class-flights-more-comfortable-2015-6

[2]This new plane could mean more leg-room for cattle customers and could also help aggressive cows keep their cool http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/boeing-777-9x-biggest-passenger-9996175

[3] I appreciate air stewards are more than ‘hospitality’ but I liked the phrase so i kept it.