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.
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!