Expat Life

The X(pat) Factor

Globe Trotter by Carolyn B. Metro. I love this girl’s art!

“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.

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6 thoughts on “The X(pat) Factor

  1. That last link was so perfect and so true!

    I'm not sure if Julie in Japan is "famous" – certainly no more than you are (and besides, most of my friends from Japan can't stand her) but it was nice of you to give her props like that.

  2. Yeah it totally reminded me of your Characters in Japan series! It's funny because if you scroll down and read the comments, you can see how so many people got offended by what he wrote and didn't get that it was a joke. I think that just goes to show how on target he was.

    I met Julie in Japan…like, literally met her in Japan and she's a really nice person. I think sometimes what she writes gets misconstrued but I think that's because English is not her first language. Her blog is really pro-Japan but that's only because it's not anonymous and she has to be careful what she writes in case her employer and / or students read it. In real life, I think she struggles with that country just as much as anyone else.

    Want to see a blog that's truly worth hating?

    Check this one out:


    It's a Clay Aikan fansite featuring a plastic pink bunny that some woman in Iowa drags around to all of his concert.

  3. Ah, so true! I am about to leave Japan and two brilliant expat friends, and for as much as I love Mexico, it's just not the same there. The expats are mostly older and retired and at different stages of their lives…and even though my two friends here are both significantly older than me, somehow, we're much more similar. It's just so hard to find people who share the same life experience after awhile…what I love about expats is that they don't find it shocking or exotic or obnoxious if you say, "oh, yeah, and in Borneo the salted lime juice rocks." I would feel like such an ass saying that around anyone at home, but it's just normal in expat world, and it's just part of how you've lived your life.

  4. Sarah~ Good point! I never thought about that before but it's so true. Everyone seems to get this glazed over look whenever I mention anything about Japan and I used to think that it was just because they hadn't been there before and couldn't quite understand what I was talking about. But if I were to mention the same thing to a former expat, even if she or he had never been there before, they'd at least be interested in what I'd have to say. And they'd have something intelligent to say in return besides "Oh really? That's nice."

    Even just typing that makes me feel like a bitch…but ugh, sometimes returning home after time abroad can feel so isolating and lonely.

  5. Hi, thanks for including the link back to my blog 😀 I'm glad that collage struck a chord with you. I was a State Dept. brat and grew up moving from country to country (Philippines, Korea, Sri Lanka) and now am settled in the Midwest with no strong urge to go globetrotting. I remember when we first moved to the US when I was 9, and our neighbors thought we were strange because we were sleeping on futons (hadn't bought any beds yet) and eating instant ramen.

  6. Vintagepix ~ Thanks for not minding that I used your collage! I really do like your art…I hope you keep it up.

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