MOVING abroad can indeed be exciting, stimulating, enthralling and glamorous but it can also be isolating, confusing and challenging. The lockdown made Barcelona-based writer Carrie Frais reflect on her experience of living abroad and face the reality of #Livingthedream.
This is her story:
It is an understatement to say that we have all faced some extraordinary challenges in the last year or so.
Every person and every business has been impacted by the ongoing health crisis, the full effects of which will not be discernible for years or even decades to come. When Spain went into lockdown 12 months ago, many of us thought that life’s pause button would be pressed for just a short period and, within a month or so, things would get back to normal.
We would have just enough time to: de-clutter the house; spruce up the garden; spend some quality time with the family; bake sourdough bread; create a zoom quiz; practice yoga and enjoy those ‘mindful moments’ we so often hear about but never get around to actually ‘doing’.
By the end of the summer, it was evident that we were all in this for the long haul. As an ‘expat’ (an outdated term, a discussion for another day), I thought I would be more than fully prepared for this crisis, both emotionally and practically. After all, I had moved to a foreign country with no job, no home and no contacts.
I had lost my mother suddenly, without warning and also my father in a painful, drawn-out journey. I had confronted and overcome the fear of the unknown and already faced a ‘new normal’. I had successfully steered myself through adversity. I was resilient. Or was I?
As the pandemic wore on, many of us shared a sense of loss. The loss of our existence as once knew it, a loss of control over our lives and a loss of certainty of the future (which we now know was a flawed concept). For me, the deaths of my parents and subsequent loss of my childhood home and the solid connections and roots that came with it were brought into sharper focus during the pandemic.
All that time to think during the lockdowns forced me to delve back into the past and confront the reality of my current situation. My parents were never coming back. I could never revert to being a child in their forever home. England was now part of my past.
When I tried to convey these feelings to friends in the UK, there was sympathy but, at times, I felt that I was the victim of so-called ‘toxic positivity’. People told me that I was ‘lucky’ because my Mediterranean lifestyle was so coveted. I had year-round sunshine, the mountains and the beach on my doorstep. I was #LivingTheDream right? Was I being self-indulgent then? Was I not appreciating all the benefits of the sunny lifestyle I had chosen? I began to question people’s perceptions versus my own reality.
Moving abroad can indeed be exciting, stimulating, enthralling and glamorous (the latter less often than you might think). We are sometimes viewed as courageous, uprooting ourselves from the security blanket of having one’s extended family nearby to face new adventures and experiences in far-flung corners of the world. But the life of an ‘expat’ – like anyone else’s – can also be emotional, confusing and challenging.
I soon discovered I was not alone thinking like this.
Talking to women via both personal and professional networks, I came to realize that many of them who had moved away from ‘home’ were also experiencing similar emotions including loneliness, grief, rootlessness and a loss of identity as well as practical challenges – often much harder when living in a foreign country – such as establishing a business, single parenting and problems associated with cultural and linguistic integration.
These were stories that had never really been told before: Adrienne, an English teacher whose miscarriages led her to overindulge in Hong Kong’s drinking culture; Deborah, an entrepreneur in Barcelona who went from being told she could only work as an unpaid intern to creating an award winning PR company; Avivit, an Israeli journalist whose move to four countries with four young children brought into stark reality the absence of family and roots; Sue, whose Brexit journey transformed her from being an emotional wreck one day to a leading campaigner the next; Annabel, whose move to Australia meant confronting her relationship with her parents back in the UK; Morag, whose restlessness and desire to travel meant experiencing rootlessness and to a certain degree, resilience; Elizabeth, whose move to rural Italy plunged her into a lonely reality she was not expecting; Pippa, a seasoned mountaineer, faced huge challenges whilst bringing up her adopted daughter single-handedly in the French Alps ; Jane whose perceived loss of identity after her divorce in Spain was ultimately transformative; and my own story, one of grief and loss, but ultimately one of belonging.
This collection of narratives is not a cry for sympathy. We are all responsible for the decisions we make in life and, overall, most of us are very content with the lives that we are living. But, we are not always ‘Living the Dream’. I felt a need to unravel the reality of life away from ‘home’ for what it really is and to dispel some of the ‘rose-tinted’ perceptions.
We are real people facing real challenges in the real world.
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