Ravi and I were having an interesting conversation over the 4th of July weekend, and several weeks later, I find myself still thinking about it.
Is there a difference between a “real expat” and someone who just lives in another country for a while?
Technically I’ve earned my expat badge…I’ve lived in a foreign country. I’m not staying at a hotel, or with a host family; I live here. Elanor doesn’t go to the Singapore American School, she goes to a local school. We shop at local stores, I can knock about Mustafa, I can hit a wet market, and while I’m not the biggest fan of hawker stands, I’ll dip into one if I’m hungry. Yes, I have my Western Style comforts you’ll pry out of my cold dead hands (24/7 air con, western food, american tv) but I generally do what I consider a reasonable balancing act when it comes to living life in Singapore as opposed to just existing here.
I’ve written before that I worry that I’m a “bad expat.” The conversation with Ravi, though, has me wondering if, at the end of the day, I’m really an expat at all, and what has changed.
Before we moved to Singapore, I had this idea that we would move here, then maybe onto another country and if we were ever lucky enough to end up in London, I’d never want to leave. I would be a lifelong expat. American as apple pie, but happily one continent or so removed from the day to day parts of being an American in the US.
A year into this whole expat thing…I’m not unhappy in Singapore, but I’ve begun to think with certitude that I would prefer our next move to be back to the US.
In the short run (the next year, minimum) Singapore is arguably the BEST place for us to be with the new baby on the way. It’s true that I’d have help with a new baby in the US, if we were Boston based. When Ellie was little Ravi, my parents, and my in-laws (and our friends) were an invaluable support system. However, having a helper (and a school-aged child, which E would not be in the US) is going to help make the transition to two children so much easier, especially in the early weeks when the little girl and I are trying to sort out breastfeeding, no one is sleeping, and everything is just hard. I have every confidence that I can parent two kids, but I’m not turning away the support the B gives me.
Maybe it’s that I’m struggling to come to terms with the unsettling reality that I will be having this baby on the opposite side of the earth from my family and friends (yes, I’ve decided to have the baby here). Elanor wasn’t just born in Boston; she was born across the street from my undergraduate college dorm. While Ravi and I didn’t grow up in Boston proper, our lives had been rooted in Boston for over 10 years. The idea that my friends and family’s first contact with the new baby isn’t going to be in person, but instead over facebook, twitter, this blog, and skype is upsetting. So the pull of “home” is stronger for me right now than it might otherwise be.
The baby is perhaps the driving force. Elanor is old enough to have conversations with her grandparents and family members on skype. She remembers them, and has a relationship with them. I feel a lot of guilt that the baby won’t have that kind of firm family foundation that Elanor had. Even if we ended up in a different part of the US, I’d be at most a 6-7 hour plane ride away, and not a 30 hour journey away.
Or maybe the truth is that while I’ve enjoyed this adventure, and I don’t regret doing it, I’m just ready to go home.
So…does that rescind my expat cred? Or it is an understandable longing for home that’s far more tied into the pregnancy than I might credit it for being. I guess we’ll see in a year or so, once we’re over the initial newbaby phase.
What do you think? Is there a difference between “expats” and people who just live somewhere for now? How is it different (or is it?) from moving to another part of the US and holding onto a “Bostonian” identity (such as team loyalty to the Sox?).