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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

isolation, part of the expat experience

Sometimes it's easy to forget that I live in Taiwan; life is life, after all. Even though I am an ocean away from home, my life still has all the same ingredients: alarm clock, breakfast, work, lunch, so many students, home, run, husband, dinner, sleep. 

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are only a handful of times that I really feel that ocean and its effects, like when I desperately want someone I can relate to and who can relate to me.

Sometimes, life as an expat is pretty isolating.

Yes-- I have my wonderful husband who is also my best friend. Yes-- we have been glued at the hips since I was 18 years old. No-- I wouldn't have it any other way.

But he's a dude.
And what I long for are girl friends.

That's not to say that I don't have girl friends here in Taiwan, because I do.
Ones that I love and cherish a lot.

But none of them are in my shoes.
And that's what I want.
I want someone I can level with.
Someone who will get it.
Someone who I can learn from.

And again-- I don't mean to say that I can't do those things with my ladies, because I can.

But not with everything.
And not with the things that matter most to me here and now in this moment I am living in.

I have never been a collector of friends.
It takes a lot for me to invest in a person.
I think this is for a few reasons; I have been burned in the past, and I am naturally a little bit of a loner.

Or maybe being a loner is how middle school teachers survive?
I don't know.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't have friends here in Taiwan or in America, because I do. But what I am saying is that I don't make friends very easily. I want quality over quantity. I want something lasting. I want real.

And here, my options are very, very, very limited.
I realized this over summer.
I am not a whiner or a victim; anyone who knows me at all knows that if I have my heart set on something, then watch out!

And I wanted a girl friend to talk to.
In real time.
In real life.
Face to face.
Here in Taiwan.

So I asked my friend: how do you make friends in Taiwan?
And she said: meet people.
And I asked: well, how?
And she said: approach them.
And then I said: and impress them with my six Chinese words, which are hello, one hundred, foreigner, how much, thank you and excuse me?

And then she laughed and said it probably helped that she could speak Chinese since her parents were born in Taiwan.

And I agreed.
I'm sure it's a lot easier for her to make friends here.

But then that got me thinking.
People are people, no matter where you go.
But the Taiwanese do life very differently than Americans.
And I am still the American me I was before coming here.

I want western friends.
I want no language barrier.
I want no cultural barriers.

But you can't order up friends like you would a coffee.
I would like a tall non-fat double shot mocha.
I would like a working married laid back adventurous expat girl friend please. 
Yeah, it doesn't work like that.

And I know it does't work like that in America either.
But there are so many opportunities to meet and make friends at home.
Or at least strike up a conversation that can endure more than six words.

Not so much.
It is a really big deal to see a westerner we don't know around town.

Guys, that can be lonely.

The other day, I was talking to my dear friend about work-life balance. On the inside, a little voice said: What are you doing? This friend has not had a job in more than 3 years! She doesn't want to hear it, but also, you don't want to give this to her. What you want is someone who gets this. Here. Now. You want a career woman to help you sort out what exactly it means to work to live and not live to work, but still take pride in your job and do a good job. Where is that woman? 

Another time, I was stressing to another dear friend about trying to smooth out this transition to a double income household in regards to my marriage, and once again, that voice sounded: She isn't married. She doesn't have a husband. She listens and loves me, but I want someone who understands these feelings I am feeling. I want someone who cherishes their marriage more than anything, and someone who can help me move through this time when we are too tired and busy to make our relationship the No. 1 priority. Where is that woman?

I'm not saying that the perfect friend exists for every scenario. But as I contemplate this long term expat life, I wonder: who will be my mommy friend when we have a kid? Who will be my working mom friend when that stage of life comes?

These things matter to me.
And I think they probably matter to a lot of expats.

Abroad, especially as a westerner in Asia, isolation is a very real part of life. Most of the time I am okay with that. But sometimes you want to be heard and understood.

Sometimes you want someone who gets you and gets it-- whatever it may be for you.

I think those someones are a lot harder to find abroad. And, sometimes, maybe even impossible.

Add your comment

  1. There is something so therapeutic about happening across another native speaker every now and then. You can laugh about stupid things that you wouldn't laugh about at home, you can get a little therapeutic moaning and groaning in, you can use words you haven't used in a long time and not have someone look confused. I like meeting other native English speakers. There used to be a few in the place I work, now it's just me.

    Still, I'm a loner through and through so I'd rather have less choice than more :) I feel your expat pain though.

    1. I am lucky because I am surrounded by English speakers; the entire staff at my schools and all of the students speak English fluently. It still feels like an awfully small world sometimes, though, because they are the only people I really get to talk to.

      Well, except when I whip out my six Chinese phrases at the gas station or grocery store.

  2. Taiwan is quite a tough place for expats, highly dispersed and transient population and locals often find it difficult to share things of themselves. Many locals just hang out with their family and a couple of friends at most.

    1. I think it's a lovely place, and feel spoiled more often than not. It is hard to meet people though.