The Expat 3 Year Itch
While crusing the expat social media seas, I’m beginning to feel like the expat experience – even the very word expat – is being beaten into a dead horse pulp. It’s getting parsed and disected to minutia. I suppose it is a grand human experiment that’s been building for decades and accelerating with the growth of social media. But every expat with an ability to type, a fondness for his/her own voice, and a perception that others would like to hear it can make their views available on the world-wide internet billboards.
And when I run across something that keeps me reading until the end, it’s because it’s illicted a response in me either sympathetic or retalitory (usually the latter because it’s more fun to write about). The following article grabbed me since I’d not heard the term before and because I’d experienced a similar cloud in my life recently.
When I wrote previously about the 5 stages of culture shock, it only covered the first year of living in a new country more or less. For those of us that stick it out longer than one year, I think there are continuing stages more loosely defined individually and by life situations. My first year here I was truly Alice in my new wonderland. Everything was fresh to me, exciting, frightening at times. The following 2 years I stretched my wings changing jobs and challenging my environment to see what it had for me. I joined the business work force. I joined like-minded professional groups. I joined the board of a small expat theatre group.
Over the past year, a little over 3 years since arriving, I hit a period of ennui. I had a succession of unsatisfactory jobs. I shook loose from a relationship that was ultimately unhealthy but with the morose idea that I may never have another boyfriend. I became bored with the social scene, running into the same people. It was hard to believe that my fanciful new home had become dreary. I was in a rut. This I suppose is the 3 year Syndrome of which they speak.
Or more like the 7 Year Itch they say comes along in a marriage. I looked the term up. While the relationship definition was popularized by the iconic Marilyn Monroe film, the actual term refers to a nasty skin condition prevalent in the early 20th century. Like molting perhaps, where a layer of old habits need to be shed to reveal, sometimes painfully, new ways and means.
In my case things began to shake up around me, and after the initial startle, I embraced the whirlwind. I had a 3-week stint of bronchitis. I was laid off my job. My first and best Prague flatmate decided to move to New Zealand after 4 years of happy platonic cohabitation. I fell and hit my head and broke a tooth. That could have been one of the most beneficial thing to happen. Knocked some sense into me.
I sent out CVs, went on interviews, accepted one of two job offers. I found a sweet new flat and flatmate. And a handsome and intriguing guy has asked for my phone number.
I think anyone tends to get appathetic with a reptitious routine. For some it continues for 30 years in an office cubicle until they retire. For me it was a couple years of trying to put my round peg in square holes. Maybe expats have a faster metabolism for the digestion of experiences. I do feel a common thread connecting me with all expats, in that we all decided for whatever reason to leave our homelands and cultural familiarities for a new life in a new land. It’s what sets us apart from all our original countrymen who cannot conceive of such a move.
I was just chatting online this morning to a friend in the States. We had a lovely relationship once, and I’m really pleased that we have remained friends. It’s been a few years since we parted ways. He’s married now with 2 kids. But he has the wanderlust. He can’t seem to ignite the feeling in his wife or kids. They have no desire to travel outside the US. This astounds me. It’s like people knowing they have ESP but choosing not to use it.
Travel and the experience of new cultures are some of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.
(yep, I sing this at karaoke sometimes)