Expat life isn’t always fun, holidays and parties

Starting out the new year, travelling or moving abroad is always a resolution so i’m here telling you what it’s really like to be an expat. And i’m going to tell you about it through one of my diary posts written during my time in Beijing.

A couple of months ago it was my birthday and I had received some messages on Facebook. As I was reading through them, there was one message that hit me.

“Happy Birthday Sophie! So jealous of all of your travels!”.

I scrolled down and saw some more similar messages. I was grateful for the messages but there was something about it that bothered me. People thought I was on a jolly around the world. I’d just come back from a 4am shift on the news desk.

I’m not on a jolly around the world – that would be nice though. I live and work in China. I work beyond the hours of 9-5 just like anyone else back home.

Over the past three years i’ve had people tell me I don’t really work anyway because I live abroad. ‘It’s not the same.’ Well I have news for you. It kind of is the same. I work 40 hours a week. I go grocery shopping, pay my bills and sometimes I have really crappy days where I just want to get on a plane to some unchartered island.

Now I don’t want to paint some picture of me whining about my life. My life is great and I treasure my experiences I gain from living and working abroad but being an expat can be hard. Why?

Friends come and go

This is a big deal for the expat. The hardened old timers pretend it doesn’t affect them any more but it still does. People come and go all of the time. Some are sent by their employers on short contracts while other people just feel after a few years it’s time to go home. It all happens so soon. One minute you’ve just met in a bar over a common love of The Killers blasting in the background and the next minute you’re saying your goodbyes and promising to keep in touch. People come and go and you are left behind.

Nothing is permanent 

When I first arrived in Beijing I had to re buy everything and where do you go in times of need? Ikea of course. I wandered around Ikea looking at all of the pretty things I could do with my room when I realised that nothing is permanent. I live from contract to contract. Sure I could buy the prettiest lamp, hell I could even buy a new bed but when it’s time to leave what do you do with it?

You’re always going to be the foreigner

This probably applies to China a lot more than anywhere else. No matter what you do, you can speak perfect Chinese, dress in the coolest Chinglish t shirt, you can even be married to a Chinese person, but you will always be the foreigner people will shout ‘laowai’ at or take photos of.

Red tape. So much red tape. 

I love exploring the different cultures in various countries but what I do not enjoy especially here in China is the various processes needed for things. I have to spend two hours at the bank just to do anything! And if I didn’t bring my passport? Sorry. Can’t help you today. And please….don’t get me started on Chinese hospitals.

Missing out. 

This is probably the most obvious one and one where I would say is self inflicted. You want to live abroad then you know you will miss out on a lot of things from celebrations to just hanging out with friends back home. Even though you prepare yourself for that it can still be hard to see photos where you should be sat at the table too.

As I mentioned before, I don’t want it to sound like i’m whining about my life. I just want people to know that expat life isn’t the dream we all see on Instagram. People don’t post pictures of themselves fighting for the last discount tomatoes in the supermarket or bursting into tears of rage in the hospital. It isn’t all parties, holidays and stuffing your face with good food.

Expat life is pretty normal. I’m just doing what you would be doing but in another country!

8 Comments

  1. January 14, 2017 / 10:41 am

    YES! I can relate to this post on many aspects. I’m not currently living in another country but anytime my husband and I leave for a new destination many people make comments as such. I know that the majority of them aren’t trying to sound negative but there have been a few times that others have said “How do you even afford traveling to all these places, you must have loads of debt.” Come on people, you don’t know my life! 😉 You’re right though – living in another country still means you’re actually LIVING. You work, you get stressed, and often times you can get lonely. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

  2. January 14, 2017 / 11:15 am

    It’s not easy being an expat and you really have to love the location to get something out of it. Perspective is also different if you have to work for a living in that location. But I see how life can be very transient in those situations.

  3. January 14, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am not an expat but I am a full time traveller, blogger and website designer. I can really understand some of your thoughts on this page. Especially about always being a foreigner and how people come and go.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. January 14, 2017 / 8:20 pm

    I think expats all have this guilt. Yes, we are living a dream that many others can only fathom, and therefore we need to be extremely grateful, but on the other hand, it can be extremely difficult at times! I find it is often more about mindset than anything else

  5. January 15, 2017 / 11:22 am

    Wow, you’ve summed up our lives in travel perfectly. I get that alot, too, and the blogger friends I have made around the world have slowly taken the place of friends i’ve had my whole life. And speaking of missing out, how about all the things we miss by being on assignment that are just for the job. Case and point, i went to a music festival to cover for a blog post and could not wait to see Robert Plant. The entire set, I was doing social media, juggling videos and 2 cameras, hardly enjoying the concert as I typically would have prior to life of travel blogging.

  6. January 17, 2017 / 4:21 am

    Really nice points that hit home for me. When I moved abroad last year, I have had so many friend say how jealous they were and how lucky I was and they would love to be in my shoes. I just think to myself, you really don’t have a clue, Moving abroad sounds so exciting but to actually do it is another story. While I am enjoying my new life, I still have to work, pay bills and do the normal things I would be doing at home. It’s not all fun all the time. The worst part is missing family and friends and being away from everything you have known your whole life.

  7. January 17, 2017 / 10:28 am

    This is such a good post to help put things into perspective. I’ve never lived abroad but plan to do so this year. It’s so easy to think that ex-pats are “living the dream” and that life is so easy-going elsewhere but wherever we are, we’re still faced with the same human issues. Thanks for the read!

  8. Chrysoula
    January 17, 2017 / 2:35 pm

    That is so true. I was an expat for two years myself and I did miss my family and friends. A lot of people I also got to know there at one point had to go too. It had the good times too. I got to see many new places

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