Hello ISR, I’m an American expat who has been living and teaching in Sweden for the past 6 years. I find many aspects of life here much like how I previously viewed my own country: Open, liberal, and in many respects, progressive.
I love Sweden. From their stance on education, alternative energy, abortion and health care, to support for the arts, a free press and immigration, Sweden embodies what I’ve always loved so dearly about America.
The conservative wave, however, sweeping America since the advent of the Trump administration leaves me conflicted, frustrated and anxious. Yes, I am a liberal and I’m feeling exceptionally apprehensive about returning to America for the summer vacation.
Watching from overseas I have felt somehow immune to the turmoil I’ve been witnessing in America. Distance seems to soften the blow and even allows me to tell myself it’s not as bad as it looks. Of course, there are people who welcome these changes and loss of freedoms, and this worries me.
The atrocious assault on women and the environment, the senseless and accepted mass murder of school children by gun lobbies, talk of war with Iraq, removal of funding for the arts, poor treatment of military veterans and the complete lack of decorum on the part of our president is upsetting to me, to say the very least.
Since when has the free press been the “enemy of the people?” Not since Hitler, as far as I know. Since when is investigation termed as spying? Since when did the health and welfare of big corporations take precedent over the people of a nation? Our Constitution has been breached by the very people tasked with defending it. The America I love is being eroded.
This week I’m flying home to visit family in mid-America. I’m having a hard time dealing with the thought I will be immersing myself in a country that is far different from when I left Her. I normally avoid traveling to countries that abuse its citizens’ rights and here I am travelling to my own country that is quickly falling into that category.
ISR, I’m asking if you would post my thoughts as I would like to hear from expats and educators dealing with the same conflicting thoughts as me. I know there are people who will tell me that if I love Sweden so very much, why don’t I just stay there? I’ve had that thought and am entertaining it. So thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts.
An anxious expat
ISR Note: Bashing, name-calling or criticizing this author or the political views of participants in this discussion will result in an immediate and permanent ban from our Discussion Boards. We ask you stick to the topic. This is not a discussion on the pros and cons of the Trump administration. Please remember, we are educators!
31 thoughts on “Feeling More at Home in My Host Country than My Own”
How ridiculous there is a disclaimer stating this isn’t a thread about the pros and cons of the Trump administration, yet that is exactly what An Anonymous Expat was writing about! I have been a liberal Democrat my whole life but my eyes have been opened to the hyperbole and the hypocrisy spewed by liberals since Trump took office. I am by no means a fan of Trump and of many of his policies but I am not blinded by ideology or fueled by hate for a duly elected president. I lived overseas for 32 years and while there are many things going on in our country now that aren’t good the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Many international teachers live in bubbles overseas and they pontificate about how wonderful their host country is but how many of those teachers actually live in the country for an extended period of time. Very, very few. In conclusion, Umut Karzai has put forth many excellent points that the liberal cult of international school teachers (and even liberals here in the US) don’t want to acknowledge. I am a liberal and I am WOKE to the to the one sided narrative the US media spews forth on a daily basis. God bless America:-)
This is so relatable!!
I couldn’t agree more Anxious Expat….I’m an Aussie as terrified as my fellow country folk as to what is happening in the USA, as we Aussies have always looked up to our ‘big brother’….at least up until now. It’s like the Titantic all over again!!
Have a nice holiday anyway…just keep your head down!
One of the problems with the cultish doctrine of political correctness is that it silences everyone who does not slavishly conform to the latest moral fashions. Where those fashions are defined by those on the extreme left of the political spectrum.
In scientific terms, if one were to take an issue such as immigration, and then sample the population to form a distribution where those with extremely progressive views are plotted on the left of the x axis and those with extremely conservative views are plotted on the right, one would expect a normal gaussian (bell shaped) distribution where the majority of people plotted in the centre, with fewer people out on the extreme left or right of the graph.
However, the doctrine of political correctness only recognises views on the left as valid, and there is a hard boundary somewhere along the continuum where views on the right side of that boundary are no longer considered politically correct. Anyone on the right side of that boundary is “wrong”, “alt right”, “far right” etc – another new term for those people seems to be “populist”.
But the position of the boundary between what is considered political correct and what is not, is not static. It is constantly moving leftwards – driven by the extremists on the left. So the definition of who is considered populist within the population is constantly changing – with more and more people qualifying.
So that could perhaps explain a lot? It also might effect the whole premise of the article?
And secondly – surely in any well functioning society, a balance should be sought between the views of that society as a whole? But political correctness does not allow that. Only those who fall within the politically correct boundaries are considered to have valid views. Those who fall outside that boundary are silenced – this causes division, resentment, building pressure which might eventually erupt – all those sorts of things.
Democracy means people have the right to choose their leaders. As educators we teach students to respect other people’s perspectives and beliefs. We are called to be civil towards others. The name calling needs to stop from both sides. Express your point of view without insulting those who think differently.
Enjoy your time with your family and friends and avoid lecturing everyone on how awful America is.
Ditto. Not only am I foreign teacher, but I did not grow up in my country of origin. “I am from nowhere, but everywhere” –a TCKA (Third Culture Kid Adult)
It might help to join forums with TCKs and TCKA. Heaps of information and support.
Although my home country is the Philippines, I share your sentiment as we have had the worst administration running the country since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Leaving to work abroad is just the beginning of a long term plan to get our only child out of a country that has taken a nose dive for the worst. I hope my profession can enable me and my family to be abroad till our dying years unless positive changes and a new government can be restored.
I feel the same way. When I look at history, most nations do not last more than 200 years due to corruption and greed.I worry that this is the beginning of the end for the US.
As you mentioned, this is not just Trump or he would not have gotten this far. There are many more in the Senate that are turning a blind eye to what is happening because they benefit from the profits such as tax cuts etc. There is a growing divide economically across the world.
I have lived in Eastern Europe, now Asia and soon to Africa and I find that this has opened my eyes to so much more and I am blessed for it but it has also distanced me from people that I love in the states as they do not have a world view. But I have also noticed that in the countries I have lived that this is the norm and us international travelers and teachers are the exception.
Thanks for opening this discussion; not many people can relate to this.
Apropos these excellent posts, Americans who live abroad…if they open their eyes at all…can see that the US has enormous problems in many aspects compared to other developed countries. (Of course India has more poverty than the US, and El Salvador a higher rate of gun murders per capita, but we are talking about a highly developed country which almost all Americans have been led to believe is “better” than all other countries.) So when you travel abroad…especially in Europe, but also in many other countries, you begin to see that this is not true on almost every level. (And, as many of you have indicated, Trump, despicable as he is on so many levels, did not cause all this; though it is obviously not getting any better.) CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and FOX—are all owned by 5 huge companies which have a vested interest in promoting the “official” story, (and always the rush to war) and telling Americans how great we are. There is also the “false equivalency”: if one party/group says “the earth is flat” much of the US press and media would say “views differ on the shape of the planet.” Every time I come back to the US I find a shocking and increasing economic inequality, crumbling infrastructure, a mainstream media mostly out of touch with problems this inequality has caused, and a “war” on drugs which is a complete failure and is, as David Simon says, really a “war on the poor.” There is much more, but a large part of the problem is a deep unawareness of our own often violent and aggressive US history, and, for only one example, a shocking level of ignorance about the rest of the world. (Which makes it easier to support our endless wars, obviously.) One illustration of this lack of knowledge is that the US is the only developed nation in the world without a national health system—but one is bombarded in the US with propaganda which has up to now defeated such a plan…so I hear (at best)…”we can’t afford it” which is untrue on so many levels—especially since the US already spends 2.5 times a much as any other nation on healthcare, as people who can’t pay fall on the public purse. (Not to mention the trillions spent on invented wars…recently both Iraq Wars and Afghanistan, which have killed a million—at least—and which were started–and continued–based on total fabrication.) Add to that: lack of gun control and our horrible record of homicides, school shootings, police shootings…especially of Blacks, the police shot 6 people in UK in 2018—not 1,500+ as in the US—and the 6 were shot in UK because of a terror attack; the horrible discrimination against Blacks—examples are everywhere—Ferguson will do for an example, the highest prison incarceration in the world…which also costs taxpayers $39 billion yearly; and oh, yes, the bridges, and infrastructure in general. (And…not least… huge inequality and poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.) So… Americans desperately need to think about our history and all the issues of our past and present: genocide, slavery, the murderous invented wars since WWII in which we have killed millions; why we are so very far behind other developed countries in so many ways…horrible inequality, lack of medical care, incarceration rates, firearm deaths, etc., and then act to resolve/ameliorate these awful problems. Above all, unpopular though it may make us, we have a duty to teach this uncensored history in relevant classes, and also to tell family and friends about the failings of the US in comparison to other developed countries.
I share the same sentiment as you do. I left the US approximately 5 years ago to work overseas as a teacher in Kuwait and then subsequently in the UAE. Overall, I have enjoyed my life outside of the United States because of traveling to 15+ countries since leaving and basically living a very decent life in the posh society of Dubai. In the US, I lived “paycheck to paycheck” trying to achieve the “American Dream.” What suppose to be a only a 3 to 4 year work journey outside of America is turning into possibly a 6 to 10 year plan because I like living overseas. Like one contributor mentioned earlier, NO COUNTRY IS WITHOUT ITS ISSUES. Unfortunately, in America it can be deadly to live there depending where you are, who you are, and what is occurring . I keep tabs on American politics, economy, and social occurrences because eventually I will return to America – (I miss being around my family). Hopefully, when I return, things will be different and BETTER. Hopefully, America will take a look at the issues with the border, issues with killings (racial, mass, etc.) , issues with peoples’ right (women, children, gay, etc.), issues with broken political system that seems to encourage societal divisiveness and upheaval. A change is needed! I am so scared for my nephew’s future, but pray that God will help and bless American with wisdom to support and protect its citizens.
I live in Kuwait. I am a Director of a school here, and I feel exactly the same way. I see all the news back home and am thoroughly worried by all the negative changes there. My family members feel quite oppressed by everything that continues to transpire, especially recently. I have only been home once since the new administration took over, and that was because I needed an eye operation. I did not go home last summer and won’t be going home this summer. It feels much safer and calmer here even though the president is trying to work up a war with Iran, right next door to Kuwait. I still prefer to be here. It’s a very conservative country but the large western expat community is quite liberal and of a like mind. So, my friends and family members are visiting ME this year! So much better!
When I took my first post in the Middle East 10 years ago, I remember the recruiter warning me to beware of the “CNN Effect”. He explained that many Americans moving to the Middle East for the first time are “…terrified of Islamic culture. Road-side bombs and heads being lopped-off everywhere!” He continued, “I challenge you to withhold judgement until you’ve lived here awhile.”
The “CNN Effect” works both directions. There is big money in hysteria.
Hi, Anxious Expat,
Let me introduce myself. I first left the US in the late 90s, and have spent about five of those years back “home” since then. When I left, Bill Clinton was just starting his second term as President, and I was in my 20s. I have a doctorate in education and my dissertation focused on repatriation issues/reverse culture shock/re-assimilation—specifically looking at the experiences of Saudi children who had spent more than a year abroad before returning to Saudi Arabia.
What you have described is reverse culture shock. This happens to (nearly) everyone when they return home after an extended period outside of their home country. Societies are dynamic and ever-changing. You remember it being a specific way. In the meantime, you’ve probably adopted certain aspects of Swedish society into your cultural make-up. Regardless of who’s in the White House, things will feel strange when you go back. Values have changed, familiar places may have changed. Even language has changed—I’m old enough to remember when there was more than one meaning to the word “gay,” for example. Also, you may not know certain pop culture references, although mass media, social media, and the internet have done a lot to homogenize world society—we can debate the pros and cons of that in another discussion. Indeed, it isn’t home anymore, even if your passport states otherwise. Often people are blindsided by it, because they don’t expect there to be changes in their country of origin. So good on you for realizing that things will be different. These changes have little or nothing to do with who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave though.
To illustrate this point, here are the top 10 songs from the week after I moved out of the US:
1 The Notorious B.I.G. Hypnotize
2 Jewel Foolish Games/You Were Meant For Me
3 Puff Daddy (Featuring Mase) Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down
4 Savage Garden I Want You
5 Monica For You I Will (From “Space Jam”)
6 Hanson MMMBop
7 Mark Morrison Return Of The Mack
8 Paula Cole Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?
9 Az Yet Featuring Peter Cetera Hard To Say I’m Sorry
10 Spice Girls Wannabe
Some of the entries in the list above evoke chuckles from people now. Now find the US top 10 for this week. Compare it to the current top 10 in Sweden.
The best thing to do is consider your trip back to be a chance to catch up with friends and family and never mind about politics.
As far as media coverage, remember to take it with a grain of salt. It only shows one minuscule aspect of what’s going on, and yes, the media often have an agenda to sell (and need to find ways to get revenue).
In short, just as you probably considered your initial move to Sweden to be an exciting adventure, think of your trip to the US in the same way. Don’t obsess over politics, and just enjoy your time catching up with your loved ones.
Thank you for adding this perspective to the discussion and depending on how long one has not been back ‘home’ certainly contributes significantly to this alienation you refer to. However, speaking as a Canadian, I also believe the current US polarizing politics (and general lack of reporting of international news stories vs BBC or CBC or other European news sources) play a much larger role in the US than other western countries. As a Canadian who has been teacher for 20 years overseas having returned to Canada, although I had my concerns, I have had no problems re-integrating. My experiences overseas when shared with ‘the locals’ are appreciated with genuine curiosity and respected when I use them as evidence to support why I don’t always agree with them. This is also true when I lived in Europe, that new ideas and experiences are welcomed by society.
I do believe it will continue to be more difficult for US citizens to return home from more liberal countries that have a functioning health care, education, welfare, transit and social infrastructure systems for a much larger percentage of the population because they know how good life can be and are largely frustrated by the lack of vision back home.
To help in readjusting to back home it is important that we can still find things in our home countries that we can be proud about.
I have lived outside of my home, the USA since 1993. I do visit every few years. On the surface I don’t see much has changed outside of the horrendous traffic in Jersey/New York area. Politically I am agog at what I see,especially in the area of trade and the lying about job creation and companies doing well that clearly aren’t and the affect tariffs will have on jobs and prices of consumer goods. When asked what I think of what’s happening in the US, my casual response is, “it’s quite interesting to watch from afar.”
Among readers here, many may also have experienced the ‘you can’t go home’ phenomenon- and that’s because once you have lived abroad a long time people may start to think of you as a traitor or someone who simply doesn’t care about that’s going on ‘at home’, wherever that may be. I am from the US but have been living abroad nearly full time since the 1970s, by choice, some teaching and some other jobs. I am used to conservatives thinking I’m un-American simply for wanting to do this, but this trip home even some of my liberal/progressive friends fear I’m going to forget to vote against Trump or something. It’s true- I simply don’t fit in in the US, and moreover at 66 it is impossible for me to find a teaching job even if I wanted to live here. Don’t feel guilty. Find ways to keep living abroad and stay there.
Unfortunately I don’t think issues like what you have discussed are unique to the US. I read about similar problems in other nations,m. My wife is Korean and is struggling with how the social and political environment has changed significantly in recent years. A lot has changed in many countries over the past few years – and not all for the better! You are not alone in your thoughts, but try to think positively, and be an agent for change by helping to guide the young minds you are charged with educating. We are truly teaching the leaders of tomorrow. Let’s help them see the way!
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There is something called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. I think it is somewhat at play here and with expats everywhere.
The thing is Swedes are not a monolith. There will be people who hold opposing views in Sweden, but as an expat, or as anyone who has moved to a new place, we are able to surround ourselves with people of our choosing and all too often we create a sort of echo-chamber. When we encounter someone who doesn’t echo what we think the majority reflects, our brains either gloss over them or discount them as an aberration. We are only exposed to our small circle as an expat and we are only seeing a “piece of sky” as Yentl so eloquently sang. Meanwhile, back home, the opposite is in play. It is impossible to avoid the opposing voices because we are extremely aware of them. So, according to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, we hear them everywhere while in our new place we hear like voices everywhere.
That phenomenon must be what I experienced. I saw nothing but danger in the US and nothing but safety abroad. You’ll have to tell me more about it next time you visit. I look forward to another long discussion.
P.S. Change the email next time you post 😉 I think you used my email address.
About a decade ago, I moved home after 12 years abroad in various countries in Europe and Asia. I was moving home to the South with my toddler whose father is African. I had numerous concerns, the two greatest being that she would face racism and that she might be snatched if I turned my back for one second.
There is something about the lens from a distance that puts a warp on perspective. It is partly due to the media characterization of a place but there is something else as well. In the same way my friends and family worried about me living in “lawless” places abroad, some too close to war torn countries (I was in the north of Greece during the war in Kosovo and no one could understand how I wouldn’t be directly affected by this), I worried about life back home.
Upon our arrival home, we faced nothing but open arms everywhere we went. My child was universally loved by family and strangers regardless of their race. This acceptance lasted throughout the near decade we remained Stateside. It took a little longer for me to relax my child-snatching fear. For at least a year I wouldn’t even buy gas unless I could pay at the pump because no way would I leave my child in the locked car for even two minutes to go inside even though I could see the car literally ten feet away. And anyone who has a toddler understands why I wouldn’t unbuckle mine from the car seat to take her in with me. Looking back now, I can recognize my paranoia. In truth, abroad I had been living under a false sense of security while I was hyper aware of dangers back home.
My point is, it isn’t as bad as you think. You’ll be somewhat exposed to what you fear, but not to the degree you fear. We are isolated living abroad and insulated by our expatriate situation. We don’t fully live in our host country culture but we are not living in our own country culture and that puts a spin on both.
This website is called “International School Reviews”. Why am I reading an article about someone’s personal political views of their country of origin?
If that person chooses to feel alienated from their country of origin, so be it. Let’s try to have topics that appeal, inform, educate our international teaching community as a whole rather than messages with a political slant possibly relevant to only one country.
I hear what you are saying but I have to say, I am from the EU and this topic resonates with me, as my country is in turmoil these days and returning home is feeling somewhat traumatic. I see this as an article for International Educators from not only the US but also the EU to share how they are dealing with the upheaval in their countries. The person who wrote the article is obviously a liberal. If he/she were a conservative they would still fell the unrest as they would feel their ideals were being attacked by protests, etc. I think this is a relevant topic. Plus there is a new one every week.
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I think this is something that is pretty typical of being an expat. You are somewhat removed from what goes on in your home country- as you also sometimes can be in your host country. I found that when I went home- even when things were good, many of my friends and family had not ‘moved on’ or did not see the things that I did and that it was often best practice to just enjoy their company (in a sort of cocoon), safe in the knowledge that you will soon leave again. I know that this will not help you own country- but if you feel so strongly about an issue, then stay and ‘fight’ or educate friends and relatives about different perspectives! The other things is that going ‘home’ and upsetting things (like a whirlwind) and then leaving again (often leaving behind a wreck) does not allow you to have that well earned break and family and friends will not have had a
‘good time’ with you. Remember also that as an ex pat we live in a somewhat removed world anyway. Often we are not aware of the deep divisions/issues that divide people in our host country.Reflection is a good thing for people and sometimes it may take a stint away from our ‘home’ and culture for us to find that which we believe in and can focus to ‘fight’ or even in some cases, it is a realisation as to why we may have gone abroad in the first place.
I’m so appreciative you wrote this article. I haven’t left for my new host country yet since this will be my first overseas assignment; however I am itching to live in a country that seems to celebrate the very ideals I hold dear. Identifying myself as a progressive and living in an America that is reflecting less and less of what I believe in, is heartbreaking. Right now my hopes are high I will be living in an environment that will feel like the nation I used to see as liberal and open. With where my head and heart are currently, I do not envision me coming back to live in America, even after I retire in 15 years or so. Odds are I’ll be an expat for life.
I too am apprehensive about going home for the summer. The blatant racism I see on TV and proliferation of hate groups just stuns me. My friends and family say I won’t notice a difference since I left. Okay! So it may not be happening in my back yard but it is happening and it upsets me no end to see the face of the nation changing from one of tolerance to hate. I plan to enjoy being with my family and friends and try to not talk about politics and the events overshadowing the America I love. Let’s hope that works for the 6 weeks I’ll be home.
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Having lived in places the media has consistently painted as having “blatant racism” as well as having lived in places the media has portrayed as being “diverse” and “tolerant”, I can say it is almost certainly media hyperbole. I experienced MUCH less racism in the “blatantly racist” places and MUCH more in the “tolerant” places than would be expected by the labels. To be fair, there are more incidences of racism in places where there are high percentages of minorities, but per capita, the displays of racism in the places where there are only a few of a particular minority are much more numerous. I’m talking both in the US and abroad.
Just a few weeks ago when my family was discussing where we could meet for our next reunion trip, some members who had visited Mexico in the past and loved it, refused to consider it because of all the media reports of crime there. I even find myself rejecting the Philippines and Sri Lanka as possible locations for R&R because of the recent attacks. Intellectually, I know that such attacks could happen anywhere I choose to bring my children, but viscerally, I am afraid to take the risk with their lives. Ridiculous, I know. But my point is, your perception of the US is being equally manipulated by media sensationalism and intense focus. That is not to say none of this exists and we shouldn’t be concerned about it. It is to say that it isn’t as bad as you are meant to think. Like your family members say, you won’t notice a difference. I recently went home to the deep South, and I experienced no difference. (Like I said above, there were still MUCH fewer incidents of racism than the media would have you believe.)
I’m curious if you are a person of color or if you are white. I only ask because I am white and I know my perception of racism is very different from my friends of color.
Natural feeling. That’s what happens when you move countries and you get different perspectives on culture and way of life. I wouldn’t anchor myself to one country, though, and proclaim your knowledge that one country is better than another is ironclad. Wait till you live in other parts of the world. It’s not all peaches and cream.
Where to start.. I’m glad you are enjoying Sweden, it is a great country.. You should understand that most of what you have said is inaccurate.. First the killing of children is a crazy act, which wasn’t committed by legal gun owners, but by a crazy person.. Secondly, give me one incident, where women are being abused, by the government or by major institutions.. Thirdly, again name me one incident of environmental damage done, because of changes in regulations or by changes in the law!!
You and many people here many young people need to use language better.. The present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue has a Jewish daughter, Jewish son in law and at least 3 Jewish grandchildren therefore by definition, he can’t be classified as being another Adolf Hitler!! Jews resent such misuse of and trivializing of the Holocaust!! As far as the news is concerned for over 2 years the main stream media broadcast emotional stories that Mueller was going to indict both the president and many of his staff for collusion with the Russians and Mueller instead came out with a report saying there was no collusion!! Any apologies for these false and misleading stories no not at all so “FAKE NEWS” is quite a good name for the main stream media..
As for spying, when you lie to a court using false evidence such as the dossier payed for by Hillary Clinton and her campaign you have broken the law not the president.. The FISA court was lied to and soon the evidence of such will be released to show you that the leaders of the FBI were spying not investigating Trumps campaign.. Its funny how today people mangle language in order to make language fit their ideas and situations..
I would caution the younger generations to stop mangling the English language, because you might not like the result.. To call any president of the U.S. a Nazi, Fascist or Hitler is to mangle the language until it has no meaning at all..
How refreshing it is to see someone with a different perspective pointing out facts so commonly dismissed by the majority of folks on this thread.
I hear you. We left in 2004, and every year we went back to visit, people would say life was harder and scarier. It is worse, but as a progressive, you are aware of the deep roots of racism and prejudice, even before Breitbart and Fox News. We/you are lucky. It doesn’t help to discuss it. Many of my relatives wish they could leave. I feel the advances my generation worked particularly hard to get have been criminally reversed. If I didn’t have to go there for family events, I’d probably never go back. The darkness was always there. This didn’t happen by accident.