It’s a strange time of year in expat land. With the school year at an end, lots of families are relocating – some back home to Europe or Australia or wherever and some on to new jobs in new countries. You get very used to people coming and going and there are lots of new holiday destinations to visit as old friends end up all over the world. It doesn’t stop it from feeling very bittersweet, however.
I’ve personally been living abroad for ten years now. It’s easy to remember as an anniversary, even for someone as useless at dates as I am, because on July 6th 2005 I travelled to London to collect my first work visa for Tokyo. I vividly remember standing on the tube platform waiting for a train and the announcer telling us all that London had won the Olympics. The response was remarkably muted. Maybe all of us commuters were simply focused on other matters. Of course, the next day those trains were being blown up.
There is something remarkable, however, about living in a different country. You gain a completely different perspective on so many things, not to mention experiencing so much. It’s not like the perspective you have while on holiday. When you live somewhere, it’s just … different. Prior to moving abroad, I lived in an entirely homogeneous corner of the UK. Now I’m in a true melting pot. I worry about the simplified portrait often painted in the Western media of the Muslim faith and how quickly people who’ve never experienced anything beyond the terrible news headlines swallow it as the sole representation of a billion people. I can’t help comparing the pupils I taught in the UK to the international school students I taught for nine years in Tokyo and KL, to the refugee children I voluntarily teach now – and their frankly incomparable lifestyles. I marvel at the way I can walk down the street here and be surrounded by people from every creed, color and religion. In Malaysia, just about every religion is given credence, meaning there are a gazillion public holidays (I’m not complaining!).
Of course, not every experience is deep or thought-provoking. I was almost giddy with excitement at coming across a multi-pack of Monster Munch last week in the supermarket. In Tokyo, beans on toast was considered about the most wonderful meal and a serious cause for celebration. You can take the girl out of Scotland but…
In any case, it is the people who really make the experience worthwhile. I’m truly sad every year to see friends leave but I know we’ll keep in touch and that they’ll have fabulous new experiences in their new lives. Bon voyage, sayonara, auf wiedhersen, farewell. I’ll be in touch xxx