Dear Fellow Expat,
Let me first introduce myself to you. My name is Anna and I’ve lived abroad in England, Germany (two times), and Dubai. I originally am from the USA but the travel bug bit me a long time ago, and I don’t think it will ever go away! Currently, I am living abroad in Bonn, Germany, where I work as an English teacher.
I started living abroad in my early twenties. Back then there was no way I would miss Christmas and New Year’s with my family. It didn’t matter that I lived abroad; I had to find a way to be back in time for these events. Sure, I knew I would miss other celebrations like my birthday or the 4th of July, but Christmas was such a magical time of year that I had to be home for it.
That all changed when I was twenty-four and got a job working as a as a cabin crew for Emirates airlines. Living in Dubai was the first time that I was really faced with being super far away from my family. It was a sixteen hour flight back to the closest airport in NYC and then another three hour drive to get to my parents’ house in Connecticut. That is literally a twenty-four hour journey! On top of that, I began working a job where I couldn’t easily take off holidays, particularly during Christmas time.
I spent my first Christmas in Dubai working a turnaround flight to Dubai-Saudi Arabia and back. I still can remember the pain I felt during that day. While most of my friends were posting their pictures on social media with their family and friends, I was up in the middle of the night working. My second Christmas was the same thing. I did a middle of the night turnaround flight to Dubai-India and back. I celebrated New Year’s on an A380 with crew I had just met several hours before. I left all of those flights feeling totally exhausted and so sad. I wondered if I had made the right decision by moving abroad. Were the sacrifices worth it?
A lot of people view our lives of living abroad as glamorous. Our friends and family see us traveling the world and exploring different countries. They comment on our pictures of how wonderful our lives seem. But, what they don’t know is the pain we experience—which we cannot explain to them—because it is a unique feeling of loneliness that we face as expats. It is one so strong that it can wash over us like a tsunami leaving us feeling totally empty.
After that rush of emotions leaves us we sit there questioning why we chose to live abroad. There are times we struggle so much with the cultural differences and language barriers we wonder if we made the right decision. We sometimes question things so much that we are nearly ready to pack up all our bags, getting a one way ticket back to our home country. As expats, we’ve all faced those feelings before.
I struggled with living abroad for many years as you can now tell. I cried a lot the first years I was abroad. I deeply felt the urge to live abroad, but I never quite knew if I made the right decision. I especially cried during the first two Christmases I missed. But, over time the tears waned.
Today is December 22nd, and as I walked to work today I felt a strange sensation come over me. As I peered down the street by my office, I saw the lights of the beautiful Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market), which will end in two days, I realized that by living abroad several times I’ve left a piece of my heart in so many places—like I am sure many of you have as well—that I feel I have a home in many different places. I’ve built up relationships with people, especially with other expats who are in the same position as me. There are so many things I love about living abroad that I can’t experience in my home country. This year I don’t feel the same sense of loneliness that plagued me for so many years.
Of course I miss my family still. There is nothing that can fill that void of being without them. But, there are so many wonderful things that I can experience abroad that I don’t want to miss out on them. Each of us has a reason for why we moved abroad in the first place. Most of us are united by our love of travel, adventure, and following our dreams. We already made the bold move to pack our suitcases and move away. So, what is the point of questioning things all the time? If we spend our time feeling homesick and questioning our decisions to move abroad then we are never truly living our lives. We are just living in the land of ‘what ifs’ which we all know doesn’t end well.
Maybe some of you already enjoy your life abroad and don’t get so many feelings of homesickness. But, if you do sometimes get homesick I just want you to know you can always reach out to me. I’m here for you. We are more than just fellow expats—in some way we are already friends. Maybe we haven’t connected yet in person, but I hope someday our paths will cross.
So, friend, I wish you a happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!