One of the defining characteristics of expat life is that it is lived at a distance, sometimes a great distance, from family. Costs and bureaucracy add to the physical distance but there is an emotional distance too, often overlooked.
|Visits help to maintain strong family bonds.
Living abroad changes us – it opens the eyes to experiences beyond the home country, makes you think in a different way. Some things which seem so important at home become far less so after a few years abroad whereas other rituals which were never very important suddenly become defining characteristics of home and the home culture. What goes and what stays is different for every expat
Nevertheless while we change our family stay the same. Very often they will have no idea of normal day to day life – many expats say their family members think they live in a permanent ‘Club Med’. Other aspects of the expat lifestyle (housekeepers, drivers etc) may give rise to jealousy even if they are a necessary part of your life abroad. I never forget the reaction of our family and friends back in Europe when they found out that for one particular posting I was followed everywhere by at least one armed guard. (my parents had more). To them it sounded impossibly glamorous, to me and my immediate family it meant that there was a threat that had to be taken very seriously. I worried whenever I was in the UK far away from my parents – never sure whether I would hear (and worse, have to break to my sister) the horrible news that the guards proved necessary.
|Some experiences can't be described over the 'phone
they have to be lived in person.
We have had, in our first three months in Miri, as many visitors as we had during our whole three years in Kazakhstan. Malaysia is easier and cheaper to get to and there are no visas, it is a holiday destination in its own right. Kazakhstan was beautiful – and probably far more exotic in the sense that fewer people visit – but many people were put off by the extreme temperatures. Who wants a holiday in -35 degrees C?
|It is important for family to understand where and
how you live to give context when you ring home.
My mother and sister in law came a few weeks after the baby was born. It was their first trip to Malaysia or even this part of Asia so we made sure to show them as much as possible (trips to see Monkeys, the Miri tourist sites, Lambir Hills etc) and treated my mother in law to her first ever Chinese meal for her 80th birthday. It was also a chance to spend time with all three of the children. My mother in law is elderly so may not come out again but we do hope to see my sister in law and the rest of the family in the future.
|Children in particular love to show off their home to visiting family.
There is something so indescribably lovely about spending time, just ordinary time together, having people right there instead of at the end of a phone line and subject to the problems that time zones generate. As I type this I can hear my father’s voice speaking to my husband in another room and it is a very comforting, happy feeling. This must be how my parents felt when my sister and I were able to be at home. Home truly is where the heart is and I love it dearly when all the pieces of my heart can be in the same place at the same time.