I enjoyed living abroad, but eventually I realized that it was time to come home. Here are some of my reasons.
Expat preps his journey home after two years abroad.
BY PHILL FELTHAM
It’s almost time to go home. Almost two years abroad has changed me into a completely different person.
Overall, did I have a positive or negative experience while living abroad? I see both, but I think that some time home will help me answer this question.
When you’re away from home you get homesick, when you return home you reminisce on your memories fondly. My time overseas wasn’t what I expected. I had hoped to travel around many countries and gain plenty of experience.
I had wanted to live overseas for five years, but a variety of reasons kept me from buying that return plane ticket: college, first job out of college, lack of funds, and good old-fashioned fear were among some of the contributing factors. Now after two years of living abroad, I’m ready to go home.
I must admit that I feel weary after two years away from home; language barriers, humid weather, harsh pollution and a huge population all made home look more appealing. Some of my friends have already returned home, while others have moved to other countries. Others foreigners, who have lived in Taiwan for five or six years, are married with children. Some have fluency in Chinese, others don’t. How could they do it? Living life overseas for the long term was not my original goal, thus my “extended vacation” in Taiwan comes to an end.
The decision to return home wasn’t easy; I had gotten used to living overseas. But, my procrastination ended after I received an emotional e-mail from my parents. My grandfather’s health was failing, and my parents wanted me to see him before he passed away. My throat tightened and my heart sank into my stomach. Immediately, the decision I’d put off for so long had to be made.
Besides homesickness and cultural differences, the lack of finding full-time employment in Taiwan as a journalist also influenced my decision to come home. Teaching English was a job to pay the bills while I traveled Asia. In January 2006, this goal changed to: “I’ll find a journalism job while I tour Asia.” In the opening months of my second year living in Taiwan, I applied to all sorts of journalism jobs. My qualifications were sound, but I lacked the ability to speak Chinese. After awhile, I gave up on the hopes of full-time work and started to freelance for many of Taiwan’s English-speaking magazines.
Another reason was the buxiban (cram schools) I was working for. My boss was great, but teaching English full-time made me miserable. I couldn’t figure out why. I recently left that job and discovered that if I wanted to work full-time I would have stayed in Canada. It turns out I was trying to live a normal life in Taiwan.
What made me happy? I enjoyed traveling around Asia and writing travel articles for local magazines and The Weekly Wanderer. Ironically, it was the very goals I made before I moved to Taiwan that brought me the greatest satisfaction.
When I moved to Taiwan, I loved the culture, the people, the food, you name it–however, the novelty wore off. I continually had difficulties adjusting to certain aspects of the culture. I didn’t really trust the locals or other foreigners. For the locals, I thought why couldn’t they be more like me. As for foreigners, I often stared at them asking, “What are you doing here?” I missed my perceived normality of Canada. While I still liked many aspects of Taiwan’s culture, it wasn’t enough to make me stay in the country long term. For me, it was a great place to visit, not live.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
What is my advice to other wanderers? First and foremost, stay focused. Stay focused on what you went abroad to do. If you came to travel, then do that. If you naturally like your chosen habitat and plant roots, then do that with no regrets. Avoid submitting to cultural pressures–this is difficult to do–or you will fall prey to losing focus of your goals.
Remember where you came from. When you first move to another country, you will explore its cities and culture with awe and wonder. The honeymoon phase will fade, and when it does, find ways that you can enjoy home away from home. For me, it was Starbucks, McDonald’s, and connecting with other foreigners from my home country.
Also, remember that you are in someone else’s country. Empathy and tolerance are keys to survival. If you miss this boat and become too critical, it is time to evaluate if your stay has come to an end. If you can’t find many viable reasons to stay, then it may be time to move to another country or return home.
Finally, if you live abroad, don’t run. Before I moved to Taiwan, I took an English Second Language (ESL) course to become a teacher. My instructor told me something that I remember to this day, “Some people leave their country to escape their personal problems. These problems will follow you and the feelings become worse.” It’s true. Don’t let this be you. iT!
Phill Feltham is a freelance journalist who taught English in Taiwan. He is also the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of The Weekly Wanderer.