Home for the Holidays

airlinepassenger32913056When I first moved overseas to teach in an International School, I returned home to my family and friends every winter vacation. Homecomings were a much needed reunion. But as the years passed and 3 turned into 6, then 11, I made the homeward holiday-trek less and less, opting instead to travel or just stay put. I love and miss family and friends, but holiday visits began to leave me feeling like an outsider.

While overseas I have missed the birth of my sister’s son, my dad’s battle with cancer, my aunt’s 90th birthday bash. I was in the rain forests of Ecuador when my beloved uncle passed and didn’t get the news until weeks after the funeral. I even missed my closest friend’s wedding. Through years and miles of separation I have slowly slipped into the status of distant friend and relative.

I’ve come to realize my friends and family live in different worlds than do I, both literally and figuratively. I never considered this would be an outcome of my overseas lifestyle. My sister is a corporate climber and my good friends are now mostly focused on the material pleasures their incomes’ can buy. Stories of civil wars or meditating in an ancient Buddhist temple or climbing the pyramids in Mexico don’t register with them. Sadly, the unspoken nuances of our conversation that once united us are no longer there.

By the end of a holiday visit I am anxious to return to my overseas life and it’s a bittersweet departure. Yet this year I’m making the trip “home” again because even though my loved ones and I live in different worlds, just being together at the holidays says it all.

Happy Holidays and safe travels, Michelle @ ISR

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25 Responses to Home for the Holidays

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have been an expat teacher since 1988. It is pretty much the same story with me. Of all the friends I had before I left, I see only two now when I return to the USA. I too watched as many friends and I realized that after the initial greeting had passed there wasn’t much we had in common anymore. One by one we have left contact drift and fade. Not even our bond around the Steelers of the 70’s and the shared displacement from the steel mills was enough. We all moved on. Got on with new lives. Some moved out of Pennsylvania. I moved first to New Mexico, and then left the United States altogether.

    However, I have a new family and new friends. Holidays are spent now in Spain where my Paraguayan wife has immigrant cousins, and we have made friends with Spaniards in Madrid and Toledo who welcome us with heartfelt affections as if we were members of their families. They welcome us to stay in their homes. They show us a side of Spain beyond the guidebooks. We get back to Paraguay annually where the demands of family and former students is greater than the 30 days we have to spend in country.

    I don’t see it as a global abyss, but more like a global frontier where we invent and reinvent ourselves. Then this is nothing new. My father’s generation returned to the old neighborhoods after World War II…then went where the jobs were. There are photos in family albums of young men before the war, then in uniform, then with a young bride, and then young children….and then? No more photos. No more contact. The boys from the neighborhood raised families, got old retired, and died. So it will be with us. A a Spanish friend of mine says, “La ley de la vida, no mas.”

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Just have to agree with the BeeX3. You know, i always hated hearing about other peoples travel or overseas life, still do, but I always act very interested out of politeness or friendship. I know this may not be the case for many of you who have been drawn to an overseas life. But, I understand not to talk about my own expat life too much, and if asked to, I do i realize that some might sound very interested, but aren’t really. Another reason we should be humble: I started off as uni-lingual, and after learning my first language I realize how true it is that one is never much more than a tourist if one doesn’t learn well the host countries language…language is 80% of culture I once read and agree with this only after having learned one almost fluently–a few phrases without thinking in the language doesn’t count. So, sadly, I realize how little I really know about other cultures I lived in.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    The Shadowman says, THIS IS THE LIFE WE CHOSE…LIVE WITH IT!

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  4. Beex3 says:

    Let’s see…you’ve made a snide comment about your sister’s career choice (she’s a…gasp!…corporate climber), and you sound pretty judgmental about your friends and their “materialistic ways.” No wonder they don’t “relate” to your stories. Tell me, do you expect them to gaze at you starry-eyed while you regale them with your superior worldly ways, while you just dismiss their life choices, and their life stories, as somehow “less” just because they’ve done them back home? So many of these “going home” stories bemoan how nobody wants to hear your “Intrepid Adventurer” stories, and then mark it down to how small-minded/shallow/materialistic/jealous everyone must be of you (generic “you,” not necessarily just aimed at the author). I don’t suppose any of you ever stop to consider that maybe you just sound self-centered and insufferable? How many of you expect the people back home to sit rapt at attention for you, but then you can barely tolerate your boredom and judgment at hearing anything about their lives? I have news for you: your choices, and experiences, are no better or worse than anyone else’s. There is nothing morally superior about “meditating in a Buddhist temple” vs. attending a church at home (which I’m guessing you don’t want to hear about), and nothing about exploring the rain forest that makes you a better or more valuable person than the one who is at home, attending to your uncle’s funeral arrangements and estate. “It’s my destiny!” “I’m a citizen of THE WORLD!” blah, blah, blah. It’s a job. Period. No better, no worse, than any of a thousand other jobs, some at home, some abroad. Nobody’s going to be nominated for sainthood here just because they took a job in another country. I don’t see forums full of Filipina domestic workers jabbering on and on in the self-righteous and self-impressed manner that so many expat educators do.

    So many of these columns end up sounding just so self-centered and self-righteous; they’re all variations on, “Nobody at home wanted to worship me as the returning hero! They have the gall to think their own lives are actually interesting, too! They’re obviously just jealous and threatened by me because they wouldn’t admit I’m more interesting and important than they are!” I remember a past ISR article on a similar topic where one comment actually complained that his small-minded friends back home weren’t all that interested in the story about the time he broke his leg on the Great Wall. As if there’s any chance that ISR commentor would have listened to his buddy’s story about the time _he_ broke his leg working at JiffyLube. Well, I have news for you: breaking your leg in China is no more, nor less, heroic, interesting, or morally superior than breaking your leg at the JiffyLube in Bumfuck, Texas. Choosing to use your money to travel doesn’t make you any more, nor less, interesting or worthy than using your money to buy whatever “material” things the above author has deemed worthy of scorn. (In fact, one could argue that by not traveling and taking regular flights, and therefore having much less of a carbon footprint, the non-expats have the moral high ground.)

    Of course, now I’m going to get a ton of scathing, “You yourself are jealous!” comments. But the thing is that I’m also an international teacher; I’ve also spent much of my adult life abroad. But I cringe so often when I hear (or read) my fellow expats drone on and on in that self-involved, superior way, so quick to dismiss “all the little folk” who don’t live overseas, as if their lives are not as important and exciting. (And as if our lives are non-stop glamour and good works. Which, face it, they’re not.)

    Anyone hoping to keep relationships strong over the distance would do well to keep “Do unto others” in mind. So many of us are desperate to have our career choices validated, and seen as reasonable choices to have made. We don’t want to hear our loved ones complain that we live far away, or question why we’ve chosen the path we have. Well, turnabout is fair play. Your back-home family and friends’ life choices are every bit as valid, and their stories are every bit as interesting as yours. (By which I mean, “not very interesting at all.” Face it, nobody wants to sit through hours of anyone else’s vacation photos and stories, whether you went to Angkor Wat or the Corn Castle in South Dakota. Other people’s adventures, much like other people’s children, and other people’s medical conditions, aren’t really interesting to anyone but that person themself.)

    You know that saying, that if you meet a jerk on the street, well then, you’ve met a jerk…but if everyone you meet on the street is a jerk, then the jerk is actually you? The same principle applies. If everyone at home seems disinterested in hearing about your Big! Adventures! and Glamorous! Expat! Life!…maybe the problem isn’t that everyone else is prosaic and jealous and threatened. Maybe the problem is that you come across as a pretentious warthog. All of us (including me) would do well to take a good, long look in the mirror before we start complaining about the reception we get at home.

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    • Craig says:

      Lol….sorry but breaking a leg on the Great Wall…..is definitely more interesting than at Jiffylube…..

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    • Steven says:

      Hi Beex3, thanks for the reminder that we ALL have lives, choices, and stories. I’m also an international educator and have had feeling and thoughts as the author.
      Living in my adopted country teaching children is my choice that I’m quite happy with. I hope that my friends and family in my home country are as happy with their choices and life.
      I hope you, Beex3, have a sense that we international teachers have experiences that widens our worlds, broadens our lives, and helps us grow in different ways that our friends and families. Otherwise, we would stop doing it and move back to our lives before moving abroad.
      I’m not sure that our collective friends and families understand why we choose this life. I think I tell my stories to them so they can understand my life choices. (I carefully select stories and tell only a select few.)
      Lastly, I really believe that a true friend will stay interested in our lives as we stay interested in their lives. When I return for a visit, I stay with a close friend who I love dearly. His life choices are very different. He still lives in the same town and house he grew up in, has had the same job with the same company in the same town for 25 years. He traveled once internationally back 20 years ago. He has the same daily/weekly/monthly routines for 30 years. I still miss him greatly and place the highest value on our yearly visits (and Skype conversations).
      I wish you all a wonderful holiday, Christmas, New Year’s, and a prosperous, happy year.
      Peace, Steven

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    • Anonymous says:

      Beex3! Thank you thank you thank you! I read these posts and read, “no one cares about my life”….. Er um let me clarify, “none of these mundane, shallow, materialistic, peasants care about my wonderful, adventurous, thrilling, exotic, ‘live life to the fullest’ life.” It is very infuriating for me to read these kinds of posts. I would imagine that when people go abroad to teach, to fulfill the most precious of vocations, they are gaining a sense of empathy for so many people and so many cultures, environments, while doing so, yet do not seem to have compassion or empathy for their sister that is working hard to make a living for her her family; or their family who had to watch their father battle and offer him support throughout his journey.

      Unfortunately, international teachers seem (from what I read on this site) to be travelers of sorts first, who only went into teaching to complete their traveling whims. Teaching our most precious people is not the draw to the profession and that concerns me as an educator. These posts also speak to a degree of immaturity and selfishness when I read “people at home cannot relate to me any more.” It makes me wonder what the international traveler is doing to relate to the person or people at home. What bridges are they building to help with the rift? Claims are made that a broader life of insight and understanding are gained in this lifestyle, yet they cannot seem to relate to the people from which they came.

      I would rather the author of the blog be more compassionate, not only to her father and his battle with cancer, but also with her family members who had to assist him during his fight. She brushes over missing her father’s battle of cancer as though it was one of those things. Her uncle died and she didn’t hear about it for 3 weeks after, while in the rain forests of Equador. I don’t know, is there postal service in the rain forests of Equador? I have yet to mail something there. This person has to determine what she values more: actual relationships with family and friends, or experiencing civil wars, unrest, and Buddhist temples. I hope that on this trip “home” she is not waiting to leave the day she arrives as she said she has on the past trips. I hope she can enjoy the people and experience for the few weeks at home. I hope she can be understanding of them and compassionate of their feelings as she is seeking from them.

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      • craig says:

        I do not believe the idea that ‘teachers are travelers first’. I do however, think that it may be easy for certain mindsets to perceive such. What I have found is that nearly all the teachers I have both worked with and talked to already have a sense of adventure from the stories they tell about growing up and the things they did to their college years, there seems to be a genuine ‘calling’ as they often say. I also remember early on in my career there was an acting administrator who had written an article in a local newspaper calling all the foreign teachers ‘carpetbaggers’. The backlash was fairly swift and he received admonishment from the superintendent and subsequently printed a retraction adding the value the teachers bring to the international community. I still remember that from a long time ago, because I have also come to realize that there will always be naysayers or those with a certain degree of ignorance about our chosen who would otherwise cast judgment or detract from an otherwise rewarding career in service to others as the majority of all international teachers aspire to..

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        • Anonymous says:

          That’s what you took from my post? You personalized one aspect of my post as it pertained to your experience. What about the compassion or the empathy to others? I guess that went over your head.

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          • Anonymous says:

            And to be clear, “I didn’t say teachers are travelers first,” I said I find that most INTERNATIONAL teachers are travelers first. I am a very passionate educator and have interviewed candidates, and by and large I find international teachers say, they are not planning to grow with the district as their true passion is to educate people of different cultures, so their goal is to leave within a few years and they only went into education so they can live internationally.

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            • Craig says:

              Thanks for the clarification, although, you did write. “Unfortunately, international teachers seem (from what I read on this site) to be travelers of sorts first.” no mention of ‘most’ in there🙂 and for the record…I too have interviewed literally hundred of teachers and potential administrators for that matter over my career, and never once has anyone told me “they only went into education so they can live internationally.”

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          • Craig says:

            Sorry I didn’t see that you were all about the compassion to others in your post…especially when you rather sarcastically stated; “Er um let me clarify, “none of these mundane, shallow, materialistic, peasants care about my wonderful, adventurous, thrilling, exotic, ‘live life to the fullest’ life.”, as if that’s what teachers think like when they come home….almost sounds a bit of jealous hatred in there…perhaps spite from an earlier incident maybe in your career?…sorry if you seem to be out of sorts with the meaning behind the words..

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    • A.G says:

      It was rough, but a good post this was. Most of what was written I had come to realize quite a while ago. If anything, being away as long as I have has made me appreciate more that I once would have dismissed as pedestrian or unglamorous. Everyone has regrets, and I wager for most of us we didn’t really understand that the full cost of the life we chose overseas wouldn’t necessarily come into view until much later on.

      Good post. Certainly the comments will sting some, but only those who have never thought to look at it from a perspective other than their own.

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  5. Freebird says:

    I enjoy reading these comments. Absence of family can fracture the soul although I suppose the only way out of it would be to create that structure with friends and/or spouses where you are currently living. Living abroad has enriched my life like no other experience and actually has pushed my interests into real estate and acquiring properties abroad. So teaching overseas does have its advantages, I just feel that one needs to maintain their energy levels to keep up with it as it is much easier to do at a younger age.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Great post…..but in many cases creating that structure of friends of which you currently are living, is in reality a co worker relationship. Co workers come and go and are only joined together to do the job at hand. It is very difficult to bring a coworker into a life long friend role, unless other factors of the friendship exist exclusive of the function of the job. Time is needed to do this, and in many of the coworker friendships overseas people may work together 3 years max and then move to a far away land. Unfortunately, friendships never truly form and to confine your social circle only to those people which you currently work with, never allows the opportunity to deepen friendships.

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      • craig says:

        I would tend to disagree with the connotation that our friendships we build from working overseas are merely co-worker relationships…Although they may be formed from working at the same schools, many stay connected from whatever country they move to and quite often can be found visiting each other. So it doesn’t see to be ‘difficult’ at all. I continue to have friends from my first post some 20 years ago and others which I continue to consider my friends. The latest of which passed away in China in a school doing what he loved, and it was I the family asked to tell the tales of his journey’s after he was gone, and I didn’t even really know his family. But I was his friend…for over 15yrs. I was also able to work with him in a couple of different schools over the years as teachers and friends we often can do that as well when we know whose hiring etc. So that network of teachers is more than just co-workers, its a family, one that has deep bonds that can last lifelong and whose relationships mirror any relationship we have with our mainland ‘friends’. Those who we care about, their interests, their accomplishments, we miss them when away, and are excited to see and speak with them, who will come from another country to be with you or meet you in yet another…that’s got be a friend.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Coworkers are coworkers. Period! And people fly all over the world to see them because as many stated in this forum they cannot go home. So you see who will be taking you in for the few weeks you are off.

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          • Craig says:

            again…I beg to differ…I am in California for the holiday and I have teacher friends staying…I will also then go to their house in Colorado for new years…so maybe there is a different definition of ‘friendship’ in your book than mine…

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  6. Thank you so much for your story and the responses. I have been struggling with this a great deal lately and it is so nice to hear about other people in the same situation. I feel more confident about my future now, pursuing what I love to do.

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  7. What a bittersweet commentary this is , and how very true. I retired three years ago from overseas teaching, returned home to a country and society that I now see with much different eyes and values, and have been restless ever since. I move around trying to find the right spot to settle in and cannot seem to. Due to my advancing age and medical issues I need to stay here for insurance coverage and financial reasons, but it doesn’t feel right to me any more. And no one of my family or friends at home was ever able to relate to my experiences abroad – they had no points of reference. I now feel that my closest friends are the ones scattered around the world, made in my truly wonderful experiences overseas.

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  8. Bea Toews says:

    I finished teaching internationally and I didn’t go back to either of the countries in which I hold passports. Much as I love my family, I can’t live in either of their countries again. I am too much of an outsider. I live in a third country where I am making a new circle of friends. Now when I visit family I don’t expect them to be interested in my new life: all I want to do is reconnect at some/any level with blood family.

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  9. Lorna Flynn says:

    I would never have broken the link even after 22 years abroad. I learned over time that there is not much difference between one world and the next. Human beings have the same needs worldwide. I am back home for good though I travel to my old home and to see friends worldwide. The world is my home actually but I love being close to my sister, son and daughter.

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  10. cplmarr says:

    The very fact that we now work far from ‘home’ certainly creates a distance between family and friends when we reunite. Many are simply not interested in hearing about what we have done/seen/experienced. After a few years away I think many expats see their original home country in a more critical light. The downsides and bad points are more noticeable to me. I could not consider going ‘home’ now – it isn’t home any more. I need to find somewhere I can call my own home and settle once my time on the international circuit is over. Reuniting with family and friends is good but I can’t go back to stay.

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  11. Craig says:

    Yes Michelle, there is a Santa Claus!….The holidays do bring us a wee bit closer…but you are spot on as they say with how the lifestyle of the global educator turns out. We must face the fact that we endeavor to do these things because it is more perhaps our destiny than anything else. I have spent over 20 years overseas and this year I came home to watch my father die and my mother fade. Gone are the days of their adventurous son who would come back each year and share the excitement of Asia or the Middle East and the Tropical Islands…those stories just don’t carry the weight they did when I was young and everyone wondered where’s Waldo…so now I had a contract this year in California…but its just not the same here anymore…it seems I don’t fit in as much…the lifestyle…the ‘machine as it were’, and so I am signed up for the UNI fair and off to destinations unknown next year and for what also may be the tail end of an illustrious career abroad full of life and fascination. My only thought now it seems as I resign myself to a global residency is what will come of my legacy to those I love and who love me as I fade into the global abyss…hopefully my story will be re-told and there will be yet another in the next family generation who seeks out my resting place wherever it may be and that they too can live the dream as I have and lead of life of riches beyond imagination at the service of others less fortunate than I. thanks for your reflection and your story.

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