“So when did you get here?”
“How long have you been in Switzerland?”
“How long is your posting/contract?”
“Are you staying?”
From any social gathering, we all know these questions far too well. As a necessity, we also have the answers down to a fine art, unless good quantities of booze have been consumed or we have had the day from expat hell. These questions constantly remind us that we, and our precious families, stand on shifting sands. Our futures are often unknown and are at the whim of the fickle international job markets.
We constantly stand at the edge of human comfort, facing change and an unknowable future. To thrive, as expats, we must get comfortable with this unknown. I am often asked, “How long are you staying?” And the only possible reply is, “Well the party is good for now, and when it stops being fun we may move on.” This is true of life as a whole! I could ask you: “How long will you read this article?” I would guess for as long as you enjoy it; then you will move on. You are not going to look at this screen forever! Life is always in flux and change, but our expat lifestyles mean that we have the honour of seeing life more truthfully. Subtle changes experienced by many become huge upheavals.
What if we were to take the “How long…?” question seriously? I must admit that there are days when I do. At such moments the future eats me whole and I fall into worry and anxiety. I become lost in questions about my daughter’s schooling, grades, life experiences, my career, what to do as my parents get older, how to move between countries…it goes on and on. I can’t know the future, but at that moment it feels very real and very scary.
Everywhere I looked, demons of the future [were] on the battlegrounds of one’s emotional plane. – David Bowie
I forget that the future isn’t real. A certain amount of planning is a good idea (savings, savings, savings!!!) but everything else is often a series of exhausting, unhelpful thoughts. Becoming lost in future-based thinking is what creates fear of change and makes us unable to navigate the inevitable changes that do come our way. We lose our flexibility and our genius to problem-solve present-moment issues. Instead we wrap ourselves up in knots about what “might” happen.
When you are present, you can allow the mind to be as it is without getting entangled in it. – Eckhart Tolle
Expats have the chance to master what others struggle with: change. We see it all around us and cannot deny that it is part of our lives. We know that we must embrace it or risk deep unhappiness with our life situations. Our families and friends back in our homelands may struggle with the unknown, not understanding that reality is change, but we expats know that change is actually the basis of everything. This is the “solid” foundation on which we live, and that can be a beautiful, awe-inspiring realisation to live with.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ― Lao Tzu
By Tammy Furey
Tammy aims to ease the expat parenting experience. She runs a coaching practice for parents, writes and blogs, gives workshops and talks and, of course, she is a parent. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com.
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Mothering Matters since early 2013. She is in her third year of University (majoring in Psychology) where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and also works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop.