For those who haven’t lived overseas, expat life can sometimes appear glamorous, with endless adventures and explorations, what with constantly meeting new people and trying new foods and doing new and interesting things. Even the misadventures can become funny stories that add to the fun at parties and gatherings.
But life as an expat can be hard, lonely, and stressful, especially once the novelty of being in a new place ends. It is hard to pick up your life completely and start all over in a new country, where you don’t know how to conduct yourself, how anything is done, and have no friends. Yes, we chose this life and have anticipated all that comes with it, both positive and negative, but even with preparations, culture shock can still be difficult to handle.
After almost five weeks here and one full week of school now, the honeymoon period of excitement is waning and the reality of his life is beginning to dawn on my son. Through all our moves, whether domestic or international, and with all the school changes he has made (his current school is the fifth elementary school he’s attended), he’s been flexible and adaptable, and has made friends easily. This is still the case for him at our current location, but now he’s older and has deeper feelings for the relationships he left behind.
Before school started, my son met a few other kids — two who are new like him and a year younger and two who have been here for two years already. Their fathers both work with my husband and two of them are our neighbors, so it was only natural for all of them to hang out together. At school, he met another boy — an English boy who’s been here for most of his life. All seemed well and he seemed happy to have friends.
But after having had some time to reflect on and think about his first week at school, he seemed a little sad, missing his friends at home. Academically, it’s especially been a tough week for him. Last year, he was part of a gifted program in one of our county public schools, and he was in his element. He was challenged, found the curriculum and lessons interesting and stimulating, and thrived. Now he’s feeling the opposite due to the large number of English-as-second-language speakers in his class. He is craving the challenge he had last year.
In addition, being so far away from all the people he’s close to is affecting him. He misses his friends from school, his grandparents who think the world of him, and the comfort of being in a familiar environment with people who speak his language and understand him.
It is hard watching your child struggle when you know you’re the one who took all that he’s known and loved away from him, who “did this” to him; it is hard to stand by and watch your child go through such an adjustment period. All we can do is talk with him, listen to him, comfort him, and help him to keep the connection he feels with those at home, which doesn’t always feel enough. Hopefully, in the end, he will be a stronger and more compassionate person for having gone through this. Such is the dilemma of expat life.