I was reading my friend Linda’s recent post about the expat life lessons she learned from her cat Charley, when I realized that I, too, have a pet who possesses a certain Yoda-like wisdom.
That beautiful animal in the photo on the left is my Labrador Retriever, Jeff. He was born a few weeks after we returned to Canada, and has been wreaking havoc in bringing joy to our lives ever since.
Had I met Jeff earlier, he could have taught me a thing or two about being a successful expat. All is not lost, however: he’s got plenty of advice about how to handle repatriation, too.
Get out there and meet people. My dog, as it turns out, is a bit of an introvert. He doesn’t like crowds (or yappy dogs), but he’ll say an enthusiastic hello to any non-yappy creature that crosses his path. He’s made some good friends as a result, and he plays with them every day on our morning walk. If Jeff stayed home watching Lassie reruns and snacking on kibble all day long, he’d be missing out on a lot of fun.
Appreciate the simple things. It’s easy to get caught up in the expat high life. Champagne brunches, live-in domestic help and exotic travel are all nice to have, but Jeff never fails to remind me what’s really important. Aside from the necessities — food, water, and the occasional scratch behind the ears — as long as he’s surrounded by the people he loves, he’s content.
Sniff around. Take Jeff outside and his nose goes into overdrive. I’ll admit this can be frustrating: the pace of our walks is determined by the number of interesting smells he encounters. (The ratio is generally three steps to one sniff.) But I admire his curiosity. He never stops exploring his environment, and if his tail-wagging is any indication, he always discovers something worthwhile.
Bury your treasures. Then dig them up. Your friends back home don’t want to hear how wonderful your life is (or was, if you’ve repatriated.) They don’t want to hear you complain about it, either. Unless you plan to alienate everyone outside your expat circle, it’s probably best not to start each sentence with “When I lived in ____”. You can always dig those memories up for people who show genuine interest.
Be welcoming. Jeff is actually most unwelcoming when the doorbell rings — he likes to pretend he’s a vicious guard dog. But once a person steps over the threshold, Jeff rolls out the red carpet. He’s excited to have company, and boy, does it show. You don’t have to wag your tail so hard your whole body shakes, or deposit squeaky toys at anyone’s feet, but opening your home to new friends will make you feel less alone and much more settled.
Shed what you no longer need. Spring is here, which means Jeff is shedding his winter coat. (And we, unfortunately, are knee-deep in dog hair.) Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip our old skins so easily? If we could discard the resentments, attitudes, and mounds of stuff that are holding us back from who we want to be? A major life transition is a perfect time to take stock of your goals and eliminate whatever’s holding you back from achieving them.
Enjoy the journey. The sight of a dog hanging his head out the window of a car, ears flapping behind and tongue lolling in the breeze, never fails to make me smile. Jeff loves the car, and he often comes with me when I pick the kids up from work or school. He knows it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. Now tell me: don’t I have a clever dog?