Meeting Judy

Meeting Judy

Photo © Sahaja Meditation

Becoming an expat is like gaining membership into an exclusive club. We don’t have a secret handshake (although that would be kind of cool), but certain features – such as the specialized jargon and loosely-defined set of norms – do a pretty good job of establishing a common in-group identity.

Being ripped from the comforting embrace of that expat community was traumatic, and losing my active member status has been one of the hardest things about moving back home. Without my peeps to support me, I feel alone in a way that’s completely different from the loneliness I sometimes experienced overseas. Truth is, I’m not entirely sure how to define myself anymore.

Today, however, all that got pushed aside when I met Judy, the former trailing spouse who writes one of my favourite blogs, Expatriate Life. What a relief it was to talk to someone who understands the tangle of emotions I struggle with daily. Judy and I chattered the afternoon away as though we’d known each other for years. I’ve missed this ease of expression, this sense of being comfortable in my skin.

The bonus for me is that Judy has also repatriated (several times!), so she gets it. My expat friends who are still out there are long on sympathy but woefully short on understanding this final stage of the expatriate cycle. (In fact, they’re in complete denial, mentally sticking their fingers in their ears and singing la la la I can’t hear you! whenever the subject comes up.) Judy and I, however, are on the same page when it comes to the ups and downs of re-entry.

I realized recently that somewhere along the way I started viewing my life in three distinct parts: before, during, and after. It’s a constant juggling act, keeping all those balls – the former me, the expat me, the repatriate me – up in the air. I’ve discovered – the hard way – that those personas are best kept separate, since allowing the “wrong” one to show can cause the whole lot to come crashing down.

It’s not that the people in my life are unsympathetic; they just can’t relate. They don’t want to hear about the 3-inch long cockroaches in the car, or the funny things that happened during the shopping weekend in Bangkok, or the time I cooked horsemeat for dinner by mistake. So I edit myself. I don’t want to become one of those people – the kind you’d dive into a dumpster to avoid a conversation with.

Something happens, though, when you deny a significant aspect of who you are: you start chipping away at your youness, bit by bit. You never actually feel whole. When your expatriate past becomes your dirty little secret – one that you feel you must hide from the world – that speaks volumes about the value we place on important things such as unconditional acceptance, loyalty, and friendship.

Meeting someone like Judy is an opportunity to burst out of the expat closet, free to be the real, complete, unedited me. For two hours this afternoon, she gave me the gift of authenticity. I’ll take that over a secret handshake any day.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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6 Responses to Meeting Judy

  1. naomi says:

    Maria,

    Just catching up since I recently found you …

    I don’t yet have the “after persona” but will one of these days. It is indeed one of the biggest struggles I have in becoming an expat … trying desperately to still seem “normal” to all of my “before” friends …. while realizing that it is often a waste of time to try and explain my past/history to my “during” friends.

    Having said that, there IS a strange breath of fresh air that is becoming an expat. The ability to simply BE and be discovered by new friends … at THIS stage of my life … versus the friendships that were based and grown off of that history that is now an impossibility. Now the friendships are based on what I can share with another human being .. in the here and now.

    Will stop rambling for now … off to read more of your stuff!

    • Maria says:

      It’s the “here and now” part that I sometimes struggle with. I feel that I expend way too much energy trying to reconcile the various parts of myself, instead of being able to just accept that I am who I am today, and get on with it. I’m definitely a work in progress! And Naomi, I checked out your site, and I have to tell you that it’s beautiful. I especially love the changing photos in the doorways.

      • naomi says:

        I really do feel like it’s easier to be in the “here and now” with young kids still at home. They take enough of a chunk of my energy that I don’t have much time left over to ponder who I am (I’ll save that for when they are all at school full time!). Watching the teenager come into his own though, brings my own thoughts into focus a bit more —

        I think reconciling what it is to be an expat wife would be tougher if I didn’t have kiddos along with me for the ride …

        Thanks for the compliments on my blog … I’ve just recently changed it and love it! (thanks to the major help from a friend of mine!)

  2. Hiromi says:

    Hi, just found you through Sarah (Novakistan). I was an expat kid, now sort of a permanent expat since we’ve “gone local”. As a kid, you know instinctively that any sort of tales outside everyone else’s experience is seen as “bragging”. You would hope that when you become adults, the desire to know more would over come that, but I guess not always. I realize most of my friends have overseas experience, it is a big part of who I am.
    Good luck

    • Maria says:

      Thanks, Hiromi. Before every home leave, I would gently remind my daughters not to talk too much about their experiences overseas. It broke my heart, because they were excited about seeing their old friends and looked forward to sharing details of their lives. But you’re right – it was seen as bragging, and they learned the hard way that it wasn’t appreciated by anyone but their grandparents.

  3. JMS says:

    You hit the nail right on the head regarding your interactions with Judy and the feelings of acceptance and authenticity. The difficulties that come with returning home seem to be the most overlooked aspect of the whole expat experience. There are so many resources for expats before and during their time abroad but so few after. It’d be great if there were more support groups for returning expats.

    After reading the other comments I realized that it’s, unfortunately, true that sharing your experiences abroad does seem like bragging. It’s a pity we can’t share this part of ourselves with our other friends and family. Maybe one day this will change…

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