Defining oneself as an expat (at least to me) implies some level of transience. Sometimes it’s a month (as my time in France as a student was), and sometimes it’s years. But you always have the intention of going home…eventually. If you stay put long enough, you start to see your friends move on-going to a new posting or going home.
This past weekend, we visited with a friend who is heading back to the US at the end of the month. She will be the third expat friend who has left since we arrived in April of 2010, but she is the first who arrived and left during my sojourn here.
While I don’t give much thought on a day to day basis to the idea of repatriation, having a friend repatriate gives you pause. It makes you mentally try the idea on for size. I tried it on, and it doesn’t fit right now.
(I meant to type “it doesn’t fit.” I typed “it doesn’t fit right now.” I find that interesting-which is why I mention it.)
Many models of culture shock have been proposed since Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg outlined his theory during a presentation to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Oberg’s version encompassed four phases:
- Honeymoon: In this stage, the expatriate views the new surroundings with a tourist’s perspective. There is a sense of euphoria because everything is new and exciting.
- Rejection: Oberg referred to this as the “crisis” stage. The expat begins to notice things in the new culture that don’t make sense. This disorientation leads to animosity toward the culture and its people, because nothing is the way it “should” be, and the expat feels confused and helpless.
- Regression: Once the host culture is rejected, the expat reverts to the familiar comfort of the home culture, which is now seen through rose-coloured glasses. The expatriate complains constantly, and chooses to remain isolated from the host culture.
- Recovery: Finally, the feelings of isolation begin to decrease. The expat feels more comfortable and in control of life in the new environment. With equilibrium restored, acceptance of the situation is now possible.
It is in the recovery stage that expats start to adjust and grow attached to their new culture. “When you go on home leave you may even take things back with you,” Oberg said, “and if you leave for good, you generally miss the country and the people to whom you have become accustomed.”
When we first moved here, I constantly was adding posts to my culture shock category of this blog. But over time, that has slowed. Things about Singapore still frustrate me. Things about Singapore still baffle me. But overall, I feel as though I’ve got my footing. And in the day to day minutiae of raising two kids, grocery shopping, and a slew of other mundane things I’d do regardless of the country, I don’t spend a lot of time missing the US (well, I miss Target, but who wouldn’t?).
Today, when I think about repatriation, I shake my head and say “later, not now.” Ellie is in a wonderful K program, and I wouldn’t want to move home this year when it would be a huge fight for me to get her into a K program this coming September (most US schools require that you’re 5 on the first September 1, and E won’t turn 5 until November–an extremely “late” birthday by modern US standards). I don’t want to tackle the issue that in K1 she’s doing US 1st grade work–that 2 year gap is going to be an issue when we move back, and I just don’t want to think about dealing with it (nor do I want to open up a discussion about dealing with it in comments–I’m bringing it up to illustrate a point–that repatriation is going to involve a lot of hard choices and I just don’t really want to think about them at the moment. For the record, I’m compiling a portfolio of her work to demonstrate what she’s been doing, so I’m not totally head in the sand on this particular issue). I don’t want to think about how we’ll ensure that she keeps up with Mandarin. I really don’t want to think about how upset Ellie will be to leave Singapore, which she considers her home–the US is where her grandparents live and we visit. I know we’ll miss having so much Indian culture easily available for the girls. I will really miss the ease with which adults interact with the girls–I have no patience for the stranger danger/everyone is going to abduct my kid/everything will hurt my baby so I’m going to put them in a bubble culture. I’ll miss my friends here.
When we visit home, I enjoy that I can crack a joke and that I can fit in easily (although, less so the longer time passes). But I also can recognize how out of step I am in the US when it comes to many things–and the seriousness with which we take academics and what we consider appropriate curriculum at what age fits in FAR better here in Singapore than it does in the US. I love seeing my friends. I hate seeing how different it all is (and knowing that gap will keep growing between what was and what is). I love experiencing seasons other than really fucking hot all the time, but don’t feel the need to visit when it’s freezing because I don’t particularly miss shoveling snow or scraping ice off my car.
So it is with sadness that we say good-bye to another friend. But is it with content that I wave good-bye. Because I want to stay put for the moment.