The Lyon’s Response to Exciting Expat

It’s funny how you can imagine yourself to be something that turns out…you’re just not.

I remember a few years ago I was with my family and for some reason, we were ranking the members of our family on an intensity scale. When it came to me and my sister, my brother-in-law had a hard time deciding who was the most intense.

I was floored. Seriously? My sister and I were on the same playing field? I always thought of myself as cool as a cucumber in the midst of her, shall we say…passion? It’s not something you can whittle down to one word, actually. My sister is confident and focused and knows what she likes and wants in life. These are all excellent qualities, which sometimes results in a certain forcefulness of opinion and desires and even reactions. While I appreciate these qualities as virtues in her, I tended to think of myself as more “relaxed” and “easy-going.” I’m pretty sure that when I mentioned this to my brother-in-law, he laughed in my face.

I teach a class called Theory of Knowledge. We closely examine biases and perceptions and I encourage my students to try to identify their own cognitive biases. I think the one I’m referring to is called the Blind Spot Bias. My sister—intense? Yes. Me—intense? No!

So how does this relate to the Haggard’s Exciting Expat post?

Opposites Attract

Well, I also tend to perceive myself as a Positive Person. Half-full type person. A go-getter, get-things-done, No Excuses, positive affirmations in the mornings, you-make-your-own-way-and-attitude type of person.

The type of person who would read the Haggard’s post and think, come on!  It is an exciting life!  What’s the alternative? Boringsville, white, strip-mall, suburbia? Surely our life abroad is more exciting than that! Look at my photos–examine my best friends–American, yes, but also British, South African, and Colombian. And think about all the kids get to see and do. Look at my carefully-screened and edited Facebook posts–we are seriously living the dream! It is a good life, and yes, it is work, and all that goes with that, but it is exciting.

And then, we moved. After six years in one place and twelve years of the expat life, we moved to Indonesia.

This move has basically kicked my butt. As much as told myself that moving was exciting and cathartic, and new, I “forgot” (ie.Projection Bias), the reality. Here is the reality:

  1. We sold all our stuff which meant
  2. We had to buy all new stuff.*
  3. We left all our friends, meaning
  4. We arrived to no friends and
  5. Have to make an actual, honest-to-goodness attempt to make new friends.
  6. Jakarta is not a vacationer’s paradise…and
  7. We have to commute to school (oh how we laughed when our former colleagues would say….”Well, you won’t get to walk to school anymore!” We would be living ‘real life’ and having an adventure). And then…
  8. We go back to zero when it comes to job-cred. No one cares what we used to be.
  9. Did I mention we are even more miles away from “home” than we were before?
  10. *I don’t know where to shop!

That is a smidgeon of what it’s like. It is not easy. Right now, it is not exciting. It is hard. And sad, and frustrating….

There were a few weeks when I think The Haggard may have been worried about me. He expected this (of course he did!) in himself, because that’s who we are. According to him–he’s the realist and I’m the idealist. Pessimist / optimist. We are supposed to balance each other out, and suddenly I was the one complaining, moaning, questioning, and almost-regretting. I was sour, and believed (for once), that he had hit Exciting Expat on the head.  Yep, we’re too old for this. Maybe exciting once upon a time, but with kids and real lives and jobs now–nope. Not exciting anymore. We need out of this, and soon (Negativity Bias).

But slowly….I have started coming back…

We are going to Bali for October break!  We are starting to make our house cozy despite the shopping difficulties. We can swim all-year round. The air is fresh after it rains and there is green everywhere–even in a big city. We are learning a new language and we get to talk to actual Indonesians every day, and they really are lovely.

The kids have friends. I have some friend-potential and have claimed a running buddy.

It’s true that it’s a different kind of life. What drew us (excitement and adventure) in the past is no longer the main draw. The Haggard will probably get to this in another blog post, but it really is a lot about the money. We are able to live a good life, and put the kids in excellent schools, and travel widely doing this life. But there are things that also make it very difficult, and the trade-offs are no longer as clear as they used to be. We miss our families. I miss Target. I have never owned my own home or bought my own stove or refrigerator.

I guess in the end we’re still figuring it out, but we made a decision, and really have no other choice at this point than to go for it, and set our goals higher. It’s easier to choose to believe that this is better, and more exciting, than the alternative.  I am not so naive or arrogant anymore….that strip mall?  It has a Chick-Fil-A, Target AND Marshall’s–what’s not to like? White? Maybe, but maybe not. The US is the Melting Pot for a reason. Suburbia? That probably means good schools, a yard, and a new home.

There are for-real pros and cons for what we’ve decided to do, in whatever country it is. It’s true that the people “back home” largely don’t get it, and maybe the “exciting” part comes from some sort of “not enough meaning” fallacy.

Keep reading to fill in the gaps.

–The Lyon

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