Saturday, August 21, 2010

Life of an Expat

I've been rather neglectful of this blog, due to other projects, such as work, my Surviving in Japan blog, photo blog, and other ideas in the works. Time is exciting, albeit full, as I rush endlessly between everything. Full of adrenaline, yes, and enjoying everything, of course, but a lazy Saturday afternoon seems the perfect time to take a short break and write about some recent thoughts.

I am by no means yet experienced at expat life. The end of July marked two years in Japan - my first real experience abroad. I've experienced some of the best times, such as marrying David, and the worst, as I was ill for six long, cold months. Everything pushes me out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and I find the idea of my self challenged as often. And another concept of expat life has snuck up on me this year, forcing me to think about serious issues that I had not thought to consider before.

My great-grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. My typical take on death is to rejoice the legacy of a beautiful life well-lived, and the hellish journey at an end, only to slip into a place most of us only dream about. Death isn't something I'm well-accustomed to in general, and I feel that words, no matter how well-intentioned, fail to resonate in any meaningful way to those hurting the most. Of course, some may consider any words a reassuring gesture, and so I, along with most others, say them anyway.

Yet with this death, and subsequent funeral I was (obviously) unable to attend, I felt at a loss. I was not in the midst of it all. My life has become so completely separated from any life I had in the States before. Everything in my life carries on in typical fashion, work, deadlines, projects, etc. A moment's pause to say a few words feels almost out of place. My emotions are out of place. I find myself unable to completely conceptualize this event. I'm not traveling with my dad and sister in the car - traversing miles, over mountains and through long stretches of farmland to Eastern Montana for the funeral. I don't see the sad, yet thoughtful faces of my extended family around me, meeting after a long period of separation. Nothing transpires in my mind and I sit here helplessly, wondering, what can I do or say? It feels hardly real to me.

Around all this time, I discovered my mom needed a serious surgery. Of course, in her typical, positive, half-glass full way, she reassured me everything was "no big deal" and that she would be fine. The shock of it left me in a state of incomprehension, and my body seemed to go into self-protection as I found myself fully convinced everything would be fine. As it turned out, it was, though the doctors had been much more "realistic" about it all. Once I knew my mom would be just fine, I went into panic mode. What if something had happened? What if the surgery had gone wrong? What if the results were opposite of what they were? Any number of things could have happened, and do happen to people every day. And I'm here, across the ocean, 4,000 miles away. What could I do?

Along with this is a family wedding in the near future. One that we didn't expect I would be able to attend in the first place. With various difficulties, financial and otherwise, I find myself confused and hurting over feeling as if I cannot be involved in such important events - simply because we live across an ocean.

Am I angry we live in Japan? No, of course not. We are building a life here. This life excites us and reassures us we have a purpose to live. Yet at times the struggles of living far from family transpire into emotional stress. The knowledge that no, we can't just jump on any flight back to the States at a moment's notice. Life has become more complicated in that sense, that we cannot predict it, and we have no control over the events that occur. When things go wrong, we want to be there to help and assist, or say our last goodbyes, hold a baby for the first time or kiss and hug the happy couple as they begin their new life. So how does one acknowledge and accept that they simply cannot do all those things for their loved ones back home? How do expats and their families cope with this life of loss and struggle and community, with such great distances between them?

It seems that anyone who lives abroad for any great length of time must face this issue at some point or another, even if they lack familial attachments or come from an unconventional family. Not only do I deal with the issues that accompany being an adult child of divorce, but now I combine those with the realities of an expat lifestyle. I accept it all as part of my life, even with the difficult emotions that tag along. This is my life - the life of an expat.


  1. This is great...really resonated with me! :)

  2. Thanks Karen! I really appreciate it. :)

  3. Hi Ashley,
    I just discovered your other blog.
    And I understand the feelings you describe here very well. Before going to Japan, I've already moved to a city far away from my hometown. Although it was still a city in Germany, I couldn't go home just any time I wanted to due to financial restrictions. I did so, because I wanted my parents to get used to the fact I won't be around all the time and I also wanted to build my own life. But last year I got into a similar situation as you. My grandma died rather suddenly and when I finally could manage to go home, I only found her lying in a coma... I couldn't say good bye to her, but at least I was there when she died to stay with my family.
    But now, on the other side of the globe? What if something happened to my parents? And what if something happened to me? How will they manage that? Those are difficult questions and I hope we won't have to deal with them so soon.
    Anyways, nice writing!
    Best, Franzi

  4. Hi Franzi,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I sincerely appreciated that you shared your own experience - it's good to know that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I'm not the only one!

    Thanks again,


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