The Expat Summer Exodus. Why do they leave?
When you decided to expatriate your home country and pursue a new opportunity abroad – when you said farewell to your loved ones and walked away (with a lump in your throat and a heavy heart), did you ever imagine that saying goodbye would become such a permanent life fixture?
During the summer months, cities across the world all but empty of expats and there’s a variety of reasons for the phenomena.
- Many take the summer holidays as an opportunity to visit family and friends at ‘home’.
- In some countries, especially in the Middle East, non-working parents and children abandon the bread winner to escape the extreme heat.
- Others choose this time of year to move on to the next adventure, coordinating with school term times etc.
For the ones who are leaving, there’s generally something to look forward to; less so for the ones who are left behind.
The never-ending goodbyes
As expats, we value friendships very highly; the connections we make are our insurance against loneliness and frustration – but the idea that those relationships are transient can be really depressing.
It’s interesting to compare the experiences of those leaving and those left behind. They’re all saying goodbye to people who have become important to them over time, but there’s a vastly different psychology in play and it’s all about choice. When you first moved away from your family, those goodbyes were excruciating – but you were the one who chose to make them. Looking back now, with the weight of having loved and lost so many expat friends over the years, it’s easier to appreciate how much harder it must have been for the ones left behind. They had no choice; they were ‘abandoned’!
That, without doubt, is the most difficult thing about this time of year; if you’re the one that can’t go ‘home’, the one who gets left behind, the feeling of abandonment can be overwhelming unless you recognise it and take steps to dispel it.
What can you do?
Well, you can’t change the season, you can’t leave and you can’t make people stay, so your options are limited. The inspiration for a positive summer experience is going to have to come from you and you’re going to need to be resourceful.
One thing that can be helpful – although not always easy – is to make sure that your social circle isn’t entirely restricted to other expats. They can be a great source of comfort and companionship and of course the shared experiences of moving around make it easy to connect on an emotional level but at some point, you, or they, will move on. That’s not to say that we should avoid making connections just to avoid pain further down the road, of course not, but building local relationships can help to provide a constant (until you leave that is!).
The other thing we’ve found particularly helpful is to plan the summer months in advance. It’s no good sitting around moping and waiting for people to come back, that’s only makes the time go slower! Use the time to visit places you’ve been meaning to see, to join local groups you’ve heard good things about, to catch up on things that need doing around the house and to spend quality time with those left behind with you.
If you have children, many of their friends will have moved away for the summer too and they’ll be bored. For once they won’t moan about spending time with you so take the opportunity to play lots of games, reinvent the garden, read lots of books, explore lots of tourist hot-spots (they’ll be quieter now!) and enjoy each other’s company as much as possible. It won’t be long before the summer ends and you’re back to being ‘the parent’ so make the most of a chance to be a friend instead.
The end of the summer season heralds a very different sort of challenge of course. Some friends return – those that were only taking extended holidays – but some are replaced with new expats starting out on their great adventure. Every year there are new faces, new stories, new challenges and a completely new community dynamic to get used to.
We adapt to making new friends, we have no choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a joy. Sometimes it’s all just too much and you want to crawl inside a blanket fort and never come out again! Change makes people feel vulnerable and it is hard work constantly adjusting – but as expats, if we don’t get used to bending with the wind of change, we run the risk of snapping under the pressure instead.
When you think about it, there are positive elements to such a transient lifestyle. Saying goodbye doesn’t get any easier but repeating it time and again does teach us to value every moment, to be less afraid of change and to make the most of the time we have. This is the expat gift; when things get tough and we feel like it’s one goodbye too many, we can hang on to the fact that our lives are truly enriched by so many different people, cultures and experiences, transient or not.