In the shower, the only spot where I manage to be alone for a few minutes, sometimes a question is buzzing my head: Why did I become an expat? How did it happen that I decided to leave whatever was familiar to me to embark on this perpetual travelling around the world?
I don’t have a short answer because it did not happen in one day and for one reason only. It was more the combination of different factors affecting my life since I was in college and well beyond that.
In fact I actually think that my drive to travel was unconsciously triggered by all the trips abroad with my parents when I was following them only wishing to be somewhere else with my friends.
Not to mention that I was often blamed for not being brave enough to use my little and scholastic English with the locals unlike my brother who was even younger than me.
Few years on, my brother is still living in the same neighborhood where he grew up in Milan while I have already changed four countries and three continents.
Yet in order to prove my parents wrong and also get a break from them and their holiday trips, it was me who decided to take one year out of architecture studies in London, which ended up being a life changer not for my academic achievements but for finding the man I would later marry and follow around the globe.
When I met him and learned he was from a different country, I kind of knew right away that travelling would become the theme of our future life.
When, few years later, he was offered his first assignment as an expat abroad, in Taipei, though I just had a baby and a job waiting for me in Milan, my hometown, we said “yes”. Primarily, I guess, for his career progress and a much better financial condition but also for curiosity and sense of adventure, because, after all, you live only once and such an experience can make your life more interesting for the better or the worse.
There is just one minor detail that went totally overlooked: once you start moving, it can be very difficult to stop. Plus, in our case, going back “home” was never an option as we’re coming from two different countries.
I must say that, in my case, I was lucky enough to feel pretty confortable everywhere I lived, particularly, in Taiwan where, at the beginning, I thought several times to take the first plane back to Europe. However, at the end not only have I survived the initial cultural shock, endless misunderstandings, queer food, earthquakes shakes, torrential rains but also decided to give birth to my second child, which was a terrific experience.
Eventually Taipei was “home” for me and so it happened in Montreal and now in New York. I’m slowly growing attached to these cities and what is becoming really hard is not really being far from “home” but rather saying goodbye to places holding precious life memories and that I’m not sure I will be able to visit again.
If it weren’t for friends, photographs and one child reminding me of each experience somewhere, it’d feel almost unreal as if it never happened.
Have I ever lived in Taipei or was it a dream?
Goodbyes are the hardest part of it all. Every time I move I promise myself not to get involved and not to get attached to my new apartment, to my new street and to new friends.
I hesitate opening all the carton boxes and I’d rather use them instead of furniture so they’re ready for the next move. I try my best to be as unsociable and unlikeable as possible, I don’t go out and in my downtime I’m simply weeping over my nostalgic sadness.
It usually lasts max 48 hours and after that I am back again exploring the neighborhood, socializing with people and slowly getting myself settled before being uprooted again. As a matter of fact I’d rather suffer and be awfully nostalgic afterwards than choosing not to live at all.
I met expat women refusing to integrate and rather sitting at home crossing days off on the calendar until the end of their husband’s assignment Some of them are still there crossing and waiting to go back home.
Friends are often asking me whether am I not tired of this kind of life and am I not feeling too drifted and lonely.
Yes, at times, I am. However I am now such a disassociated human being that, on the one side, I do want to put the roots somewhere permanently but on the other, perhaps, I still don’t mind moving.
I’m now used to it and wrapping up a whole house to ship it to the other side of the world is, for me, not a big deal. My only concern is my kids who, frequent travellers already, are growing more attached to their friends and school. Perhaps, at some point, they will ask us to stop somewhere.
Anyways, no, I have no regrets for the choice we made almost six years ago.
So far our life has been wonderfully interesting and has benefitted by each experience. I am now, for instance, much more self-confident and aware I can pretty much survive everywhere. Not to mention that my packing skills are now outstanding!