expat life

Who are you?

23 Comments 26 July 2012

expat life

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~e.e. cummings (Image: by Flickr CC FS2004)

I didn’t feel I had become who I was supposed to be until recently, and it was only then that I started feeling like I was ready to do what I was supposed to do. You know, fulfill my destiny and all that good stuff. Fellow expat Vicki Jeffels has written a wonderful piece about identity and how being an expat has forced her to consider who she is. I can relate to this, as I’m sure many of you can!

I’m not sure who I am anymore.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~e.e. cummings

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I don’t know how to define myself. All my reference points have gone. They are historical markers pointing only to who I once was. Isn’t that true of every major life change? Changing from child to teenager, from student to work, from backpacker to wage slave, from career woman (or man!) to mother (or father).

From wife to ex-wife.
From Kiwi to expat.
From expat to…what?

I don’t know what.

I’m not moaning about it. It’s a gorgeous Spring day outside and it feels in tune with the seasons that something is happening. If nothing else, change is repainting the landscape and scenery. I’m changing too and it reminds me of the times throughout my life that I’ve felt change so acutely.

How many lives I’ve lived already! I’m grateful for my adventurous life. I’m reconciled that things happen to me… natural disasters occur around me, banks get robbed when I’m in them, armed intruders storm through my roses.

It happens, and if nothing else makes excellent fodder for the blog.

When you move your life to another country, everything changes (of course) and you are left with who you know yourself to be. You don’t belong to the new country, and the links with your homeland become more and more tenuous. Sometimes I find myself thinking about going home, and then I stop myself short and wonder… ‘where is home?’ I don’t have a house there. Even my friends ring a little less often.

This is probably the biggest lesson in being an expat.

To thine own self be true.

In the UK I’ve noticed that there are so many little nuances that highlight who you are and where you’re from. How you speak, what accent you have, where you come from, what town/city/suburb you live in. Of course the other universal ones too; what car you drive, how big your house is, what job you do.

If you took all of that away and started again in a new country what would you be left with? Would you know who you are if you couldn’t point out where you’ve come from?

How do you define yourself?

Who are you?

Say hi to Vicki on Twitter  @VegemiteVix and see more of her writing on her popular blog, Vegemite Vix.

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23 Comments so far

  1. Tammy says:

    I moved to England because I was facing an identity crisis; I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

    I was fresh out of a divorce. I’d spent the previous seven years being someone’s wife. That is how I’d viewed myself. That suddenly was gone.

    Being in a foreign country, helped me tremendously. I walked in to a built in identity: I was the American. In the uni I went to, there were only two of us. Where I lived, I was the only one.

    Having that label gave me a starting point. From there I took the time to discover who I was on my own.

    I joke that I found myself in England, which is convenient because that is where I looked. Had I been in France, I might have missed out!

    • Michelloui says:

      I totally get this. It was a fresh start, a chance to be who you are without everyone pinning that old label on you all the time. No wonder you think so findly of England–your land of discovery!

  2. iota says:

    Oh what a timely post for me! I’ve really been thinking about this. I think the Brits are particularly bad at labelling each other. I loved that aspect of American life – ie that people take each other as they find them. Or perhaps they don’t, but it’s hard to spot in a culture not your own, because you’re not tuned into the tiny differences. Whichever it is, coming back to the UK means I do have to decide who I am again. Like you, I’ve concluded that “to thine own self be true” is the best way.

    • Michelloui says:

      Yes, Iota, I’m with youon this as well, “to thine own self be true!” Too many times when I’ve had an opportunity to start again I seem to try too hard to be an ideal version of me and not just me. Starting again is actually a golden opportunity to just be one’s self! x

  3. Carole says:

    Your words ring so true. I sometimes feels so totally lost in Portugal. I went to France recently and I looked at many or the itmes we had discarded and passed on to our daughter when we moved to Portugal. Each item held it’s own memory and I began to cry.

    I feel so alone in a country where I can’t speak the language and feel I have no identity, no voice – just an empty shell.

    Who am I?
    I no longer know

    • I so can relate to this – I felt terribly alone when I first moved to Lausanne and didn’t speak French back then. But after a while, the language stuck and I started to make friends. The move to England was comparably easy, with English being a language that was much easier to get into.
      Don’t despair, it will come with time. And as expat mum said, try to look for contacts in expat communities – you’ll find lots of like minded people with the same problems.

      • Carole says:

        Hi Metropolitan Mum,

        I have expat friends, but it’s not the same as having friends who are Portuguese, unfortunately. It just means we live in an Expat bubble. I’ve tried and am still trying to learn the language, but Portuguese is so complicated.

        The Portuguese people are kind and do try to help when I at least try and speak Portuguese.
        I just feel I miss out on so much of the culture and everyday conversations. Hey ho :)

      • Michelloui says:

        A great example of how knowing the language helps considerably!!

    • Vegemitevix says:

      Oh Carole, do come and get to know some of us, we’ve all been there, we all do know how you feel. Many hugs Vix (NB/ look me up on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Vegemitevix as we often have chats on there from one expat to another. xx

    • Michelloui says:

      I can well imagine that not speaking the language would be incredibly isolating. It’s good that you have expat friends, at least you aren’t completely isolated, but yes, it must be frustrating to not have any/many Portuguese friends. And no, returning to the UK is not the answer as you noted in your reply to Expat Mum. Is there a chance of moving elsewhere? France, perhaps to be near your daughter?

  4. On the surface, a simple post and yet so meaningful and provokes reflection.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Although not an expat, I can relate a little as my roots are Irish 100 per cent but I was born in London and brought up in the North of England.
    Ireland still pulls so it must be so much more for expats.
    Lots to reflect on here.

    • Michelloui says:

      Yes you’re right Kate, it’s something that a lot of people can relate to even if not an expat. I suppose the expat angle only emphasises the differences and isolation, but being more easily identified may make it easier to deal with.

  5. Expat Mum says:

    Oh dear Carole, you need to seek out other expats. I hope you start to feel better.

    Yes, a great post. I’ve got quite the label as a Brit but I sometimes feel that no one really knows me here and when I go back to England I sort of step out of a box; when I come back here I climb back in the box and get on with things.
    I also notice a lot of things in England that I wouldn’t want to have to deal with again, and the labeling is one of them. My latest column at Expat Focus is a comment on the class system which persists there. I couldn’t believe that they had a morning talk show discussion about whether Jubilee bunting outside your house was working class or not. For heaven’s sake.

    • Carole says:

      Yes, I know all about the class system and the associated snobbery attached to it :)
      What is the done thing and what is not – it’s all a matter as they say of “standards”

      Things like bunting would not trouble me, but men walking about in string vests or bare chest down the street would. LOL Or letting children run riot in a restaurant and disturbing other diners, again would.

      I am not impressed by wealth just ovserving certain “standards”

      Respect in the UK seems to have gone right out of the window, for example.

      I miss the UK, but maybe if I returned there to live I would soon be on the next plane out.

    • Michelloui says:

      This reminds me of a conversation we’ve had before about people not truly knowing us in our host countries.

  6. Windmilltales says:

    Great post I wrote about something similar once where I said What is an expat? I don’t see myself as one but sometimes wonder then, well what am I?

    • Michelloui says:

      LOL! Yes, it’s true, if not expats what are we? I’ve thought this as well. Perhaps there’s simply different types of expats.

  7. Holly says:

    Roundabout the 4th, you talked about substitutes and things you missed. While looking at someone else’s site, I saw this link for an American bakeshop in London … http://www.madeinbritainmarket.com/author/outsidertart/
    Don’t know a thing about the place … but thought I would let you know.
    Love your blog!
    Holly

  8. Vegemitevix says:

    Thank you everyone for your lovely comments, I’m delighted it touched a chord with so many of you. I wrote this post over two years ago now, but some days it’s still as true as it was. In fact, when you start thinking about returning ‘home’ that’s when you notice how much you’ve changed in the interim and how you have to once again, remake yourself. It can feel like being ‘born again’,or it can feel like coming undone – we get to choose which way the change will feel for us. Vix x

    • Michelloui says:

      It’s great to find a post like this because not only does it start a great discussion but it also reminds us that we have all gone through different degrees of this and we have all discovered different strategies for dealing with it–and not always successfully. Thanks again for guesting here, Vix! x

  9. Elaina Duke says:

    I understand these thoughts so well. I’m an American expat in England, mum of four (married an Englishman, twice) and this past year I’ve had an identity crisis of sorts. The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” never got addressed because of trouble in my home life as a teen and an early marriage (read escape) to England at the age of 19. Now, I am writing a novel trying to make sense of my experiences. And looking into doing an Open University degree! I wish you luck, I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • Michelloui says:

      Wow, I can really relate to your story! Best of luck with the novel–both in literary success and in helping you make sense of it all. :)


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