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7 Things I Hate Hearing as An Expat

don't say this to an expat

Photo Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock

I’ve been living in a foreign country for almost seven years now. And, while most people have been friendly and supportive of me as I learned the language and got used to my expat life, I’ve had my share of unexpected comments and remarks.

The words that hurt come from both sides: my old friends and family back home and the new folks I’m building relationships with within the new country. Most of the time, there’s no bad intent behind these comments, but they still hurt, and I’ll explain to you why. But first, let’s see what makes me feel like I don’t belong anywhere anymore.

“Why are you complaining?”

When you’re an expat (or an immigrant, how they like to call me here), there’s an unwritten rule that says you can’t complain about your new country. You shouldn’t mention a thing, whether it’s about politics, the weather, or the quality of public services. The answer is always the same: Why are you complaining? If you talk to your new acquaintances, they often ask why you changed countries if you don’t like what’s happening. If you try to share your concerns or talk about your awful day with your old friends, they’ll remind you that “at least you have the privilege of living abroad.”

“I can’t believe you still haven’t visited that place.”

It seems an innocent remark, but overall, it hides a sad truth. While you’re trying to build a new life and make a living, everyone around you will behave and treat you as if you were constantly on vacation. Reality check: It’s as expensive for me to visit famous cities and sleep in fancy hotels just as it is for you.

“I know that people like you do this.”

There’s nothing that bothers me more than the plural “you” that incorporates millions of people. I’m a unique person, with feelings and skills that have nothing to do with where I come from or how other people from my country of birth act. It happens to me in the doctor’s office, public places, and even with mothers at the playground. It’s a constant reminder you’re an outsider, and it hurts.

“Do you miss your family?” or worse, “Do you miss us?”

I know you try to show empathy, but this isn’t the best way to talk to folks who live abroad. This question is toxic because it can make people feel compelled to hide the truth to meet expectations. I don’t miss my country or my family all the time, but you asking me about it implies I should. It makes me feel guilty for whatever feelings I have and triggers powerful emotions. 

“Which country do you like most?”

The competition is in your mind only, whether you want to know where I want to live when I get old or where the food tastes better. Most expats never think about things that way. We enjoy life without constantly comparing the two countries, so don’t force us to give weird answers to satisfy your curiosity.

“When do you go home?”

When you ask this question, you assume my country of origin is my “home.” For many of us, home is where we live now, regardless of whether we plan to go back to our native countries sometime in the future. If you move from your parents’ house, the apartment you rent or buy is your home. It’s the same when you change countries.

“I know someone from your country called X. Do you know him/her?”

This is a little hilarious. I can understand where the question comes from, but I still can’t get used to it. Millions of people born in my country live abroad. How can you expect we all know each other? And please, don’t feel offended every time I highlight the numbers. 

They might seem like little things, but expats deal with different emotions due to the massive changes in their lives. They have to learn a new language, overcome cultural shock, and deal with loneliness.

Why do we take these comments and questions a little too personally? Gabriela Encina, a psychologist specializing in counseling for international women, explains why expats often deal with anxiety. “When you live abroad, you feel more vulnerable and are more likely to feel hurt and triggered. Loneliness and guilt make you feel scared, and you deal with the fear of losing what you have in your new country. Also, you may not have a strong support network in your new life and don’t feel like sharing your problems with your family, as you don’t want to worry them,” Encina says. 

Your words can hurt even when your intentions are good. If you want to help your friends who live abroad, stop focusing on this particular aspect of their lives because it’s not what defines them.

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