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Being An Expat: The Highs and Lows

As I sit here writing this, I can't help thinking about what's going on at home right now. It's July 4th, 2015. My family has gathered together to watch the annual parade in my hometown. My mom will have bought ice cream bars. She will have gotten out the red tablecloth, which has each one of our names delicately embroidered into it. Every time someone new comes to the house to watch the parade, they're asked to sign the tablecloth and by the next July 4th, their signature stands out, embroidered by my mom. The candy will have been thrown, the political campaigners will have shaken people's hands. My grandpa will have found some business or politician to give him a hat. I know the scenes by heart, however, I'm not there.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with my life here as an expat in Dublin. And I don't for a second regret my choice to come here. That being said, being an expat isn't all fun and games–sometimes it's effing challenging. But nearly every disadvantage has it's advantages as well. Here are just a few that I've come across in my (nearly) four months of being an expat.

#1: You're A Foreigner

Downside: You're foreign–which means you have none of the built in perks that comes with being a citizen of your chosen expatriate country. And so, because of this, you inevitably have to deal with the red tape that comes along with it. I spent a total of 7.5 hours at the GNIB just to get my work authorization component to my visa. Then there's the rigmarole of getting a PPS number (like a social security number in the U.S.). Then there's a tax certificate. And you must have all 3 before you can open a bank account–as one leads to another.

Then there's the steep learning curve when you arrive. What bus do you take? What the f***is a 3-in-1? What's a kip? For me, they may speak English in Ireland, but learning the slang is like learning another language.

Upside: You're foreign. Which means you're exotic. People want to know where you came from. They want to know what it's like in America. You get questions like "Is Wal-Mart really like everyone says?" (Answer: Yes). You're automatically interesting because you come from somewhere else [that many people have never been]. You've instantly got something to chat about with that cute guy at the pub or that nice lady on the bus.

Another upside is that you can play the "dumb foreigner." You tip a waiter or waitress too much? "I didn't know we weren't supposed to tip, I'm American." "What's that officer, you can't park on the side of the road that has the double yellow line? Oh, I'm American, sorry." You get cut some more slack than you would have had you been born and raised in your chosen country.

#2: You're Away From Your Family And Friends

Downside: You're away from your family–at holidays, at tough times. Despite the wonders of the internet and the miracles that are Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp, these just don't replace a face-to-face in-person conversation. Some things, like hugs, just can't be transferred via electronic communication.

Further, you're most likely in a different time zone. The majority of times, if my friends are going to have a crisis, it's going to be in the evening–which is the middle of the night for me 3,000 miles away. So when my best friend needs to call me to rant about her jerk of a boyfriend dissing her and she needs to cry–I'm asleep and may not hear the phone ring. And vice versa–If I'm having a crisis, it's probably the middle of the day where they are. Everyone is at work–and unavailable to talk. It can make for very lonely periods.

Upside: You're away from your family–so you miss out on the majority of the drama. When you're at home, not one thing goes without you hearing about it. But being 3,000 miles away, you tend to only hear about the BIG stuff–your friends and family tend to let the little things go. And you can offer somewhat more impartial advice since you're removed from the situation–literally.

#3: You're No Longer A "Tourist"

Downside: You're no longer a tourist–so some things may lose their shine. The first time I came to Ireland, I made it a mission to visit the General Post Office (GPO), which was the center of the pivotal Easter Rising of 1916 (for more info on that, check out my post on the Easter Rising 99th Anniversary celebration). I wanted to feel the bulled holes that scarred the pillars. Now, I walk under the shade of the GPO every day on the way to work. I hardly ever think about the history behind this place. And that's sad. These famous landmarks have just become the background of my everyday life. The Ha' Penny Bridge becomes that thing you cross to get to Super Valu before it closes. The Spire becomes the best place to cross O'Connell Street. You suddenly become just another Dubliner in some tourist's photo.

Upside: You're no longer a tourist–you're a local. You become the person people stop and ask for directions. You start to know where the 747 bus stops, and the 16, and the 38A, and the 123. You're able to direct tourists to Jervis Street, and Parnell Street, and St. Stephen's Green. You no longer feel lost because you know your way around. This strange and big city becomes your home and you become a Dubliner in some tourist's photo. You're no longer just another tourist–you're home. And when you realize that, when your new city becomes as familiar as your old town, then you know you've changed, and changed for the better. And that's truly an upside that can trump all the downsides.

Cheers! And thanks for reading!

Calley


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