“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
– Freya Stark
Everyone has their people; their ‘peeps’, their posse. You know, the people to whom you can talk in vague terms with and just know that you’ll intuitively be understood. The Grateful Dead have the Deadheads. Clay Aikan has the Claymates. And Jesus has about 1/3 of the planet.
Well I had the expats. Those were my people, my support group. Or at least they were until I decided to move back to the US….Now I’m back to being an island of one and feeling a little like Britney singing without a voice synthesiser; lost and vulnerable.
It’s funny because on the surface, my expat friends in Japan and I had nothing in common. Our group consisted of actresses, engineers, embassy translators, English teachers and grad students and we hailed from drastically different corners of the planet; countries like Iran, Italy, China, Scotland and Kansas city. We’d moved there for different reasons too (college scholarship, job opportunity, a boyfriend, an anime collection), and held opposing opinions on everything from religion to beer. Honestly, sometimes I wondered why I was friends with them at all. And it wasn’t until last weekend that I was able to put my finger on exactly why that is.
I spent last weekend with my friend Tyler. Like me, Tyler’s lived in Austria and Germany and like me, she’s taught English abroad (in Spain) and like me, she’s having a tough time coping with ‘a suburban-American existence’. And I think that she hit the nail on the head when she said:
“I just can’t handle people who don’t step out of their comfort zones.”
That explains my love of expats precisely. Expats are risk-takers. They’re adventurers. And they’re willing to risk failure, shame and embarrassment in order to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new and scary. And I’m not just talking about moving to a foreign country either. They were the people who consistently chose the uncomfortable over playing it safe. Maybe it was something small, like seeing a movie in the cinema alone or asking out a perfect stranger for a cup of coffee. Or maybe it was something big, like quitting a job to
pursue their dream of starting their own business.
Not too long ago a famous expat in Japan made a list of things she’d felt she’d miss if she ever left Japan. It surprised me to realize that if I ever made a similar list, the only thing that would make it on the list would be ‘my expat life’. Occasionally I miss the subways and the karaoke bars and every once in a while I get a craving for some takoyaki. But mostly I just miss my friends.
The Six Characters You’ll Meet at Every Expat Bar describes some of the more prominent expat personality types you run into abroad. I laughed out loud reading it because I recognized myself in at least three of the characters.