The Two Lives of an Expat
Expats often feel as if they belong to two worlds and they often comment that they aren’t completely at home in either their home or adopted countries. I experienced this dislocation acutely when I went back to DC last year where everything was incredibly familiar and yet frustratingly unfamiliar. It was a city frozen in my memory – my friends and their lives suspended in time – and I just didn’t quite belong there anymore. It was devastating to realize home was a memory and yet it was a relief to discover that South Africa had become my home. I experience a similar feeling of not quite belonging in South Africa every time friends and family visit me for an extended period of time. This place I call home feels difficult to understand and the things that I accept as part of living here (planned blackouts and poor customer service) irrationally irritate me.
This past April was an amazing month filled with a visit from one of my closest friends and my mom. We traveled across Southern Africa exploring Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, and Phinda Private Game Reserve. We laughed, reminisced, and I reverted back to my U.S. self even changing my accent ever so slightly which I hadn’t even noticed until a friend pointed out that I sounded more American. Then they leave and my American self feels a bit adrift in my South African life. After extended visits from the people I know best, I have the-grass-is-greener moments when I want my old life in the U.S. surrounded by my friends. It always takes a few weeks to recalibrate and stop comparing my old life to my new one.
The truth is that one is not better than the other. Whilst I am the same person, the way I live my life is incredibly different. Then after a few weeks I settle back into the rhythms of my life and remember all of the things that I love about South Africa – my challenging and interesting job, the incredible weather, the unbelievable travel opportunities, an amazing housekeeper who ensures I don’t lift a finger, and the opportunity to live in this fascinatingly complex country. I remember to say boot instead of trunk. I remember that my friends are just a FaceTime call away. I remember how incredibly lucky I am to have these years here.
As much as I love going home and having visitors a small piece of me dreads it as well. Living in two worlds is exhilarating and challenging, but it is somehow less confusing when the two are kept completely separate.