Life as an Expat

Catching up with our Travel Editor, Jen Price, and the quirks of living abroad.

Expat Life Title

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “expat,” let me enlighten you. An expat, or expatriate, is simply someone who resides in a country other than the one of their citizenship. My name is Jen, andI’m an expat. My family and I reside in South Africa, and it wasn’t until this last trip to the USA that I realized just how weird the expat life can be.

Although I will never be South African, I have settled in quite nicely to the culture. It is home. So is America, and yet, I find myself having to make mental shifts every time I return to my home country. If you’re an expat, have ever been an expat, or travel extensively, then you will know what I mean. It’s just weird. To get a glimpse into the life of an expat, read the weird challenges I face when I return to the country of my birth.

Expat Life Bikes
  1. Driving takes total concentration. Not only driving, but getting into the car takes mental energy, because we drive on the opposite side in South Africa. I hate it when I’m in a busy shopping area in America and blissfully get into the passenger’s side of the car. The walk of shame to the other side is so embarrassing! Turns are my least favorite when I hop between my two “homes.”
  1. My wallet contains currency from about four different countries. No lie. I have American dollars, South African rand, British pounds, and Ugandan shillings. I hate going to Target and paying cash. Worst.decision.ever. One time I accidentally gave the clerk rupees. She was so excited she asked to keep it.
  1. I pull up to the gas station and wait for the attendant that never comes. No one pumps their own gas, or petrol, in South Africa. It’s quite nice.
Expat Life Canalside
  1. My language changes as I country hop. I don’t mean changing actual languages. I mean my English word choices. As I asked my kids if they needed a serviette when we were in transit in Heathrow, my son reminded me that I needed to switch from my South African English to my American English. It’s funny the words you get used to saying. I’ve replaced napkin, call me, and bathroom with serviette, phone me, and toilet, respectively,to name a few.
  1. Restaurant menus are overwhelming. On our recent trip, we drove through the drive thru to a particular restaurant. I used to know how to do this, but as an expat I’d completely forgotten. We made the mistake of showing up not knowing what to order. Let’s just say we did an amazing job holding up the line. When you’re not used to so many choices, your mind starts to blank out and not know what to do.
Expat Life Capital

Any expats out there? What is the hardest thing hopping between countries?

 

It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same. –Sarah Turnbull

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jen Price

Jen currently makes her home between two continents, one in the great state of Texas and the other in a small town in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. She wears many hats such as wife, mother, photographer, storyteller, communications director, writer, traveler, and lover of dark chocolate. She writes for several websites including her personal blog, I Believe In Love, where she shares her creative ventures, her photography, and the stories of the orphans she loves on in S. Africa.

5 Comments

  1. Jamie :

    I’ve spent the better part of the last decade as an expat (Brazil, India, Turkey, Australia, Switzerland and Hungary.) I’ve experienced many of these little “surprise” along with struggling how to spell some words and I find the grocery stores in the US a bit overwhelming at times (the cereal aisle comes to mind, so many choices!) Still I wouldn’t change it. I love coming “home” to the US and I love calling the rest of the world home.

    • Jen :

      YES! The cereal aisle! When we returned home from our trip to the U.S., we were exhausted, so we declared cereal for dinner. We were going to go to the grocery store and let everyone pick out what they wanted. In our month away, we totally spaced that the choices were basically Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, or Bran Flakes. I do also love experiencing home in 2 different lands.

  2. Liz :

    UGh the currency struggles are real! Especially when coins are involved.

    I live a very lax life in Kuwait – so going back home I miss maid service, drivers, being to order my Starbucks at the touch of a finger. Just to name a few!

    http://www.thetongueinchic.com

  3. Jen :

    Yes, when my wallet is full of coins from different countries, it takes me forever to pay! Oh, the life!

  4. ladylyn :

    My family lived in Brazil for several years when I was a kid. I remember it being super exhausting to have to speak English all the time instead of Portuguese (or the combination of the two that I used with my parents who also spoke both languages) when we came back to the states. Things like bathing in drinking water (unthinkable luxury!) and having to wear socks were weird too.