The other weekend I hosted a TEDx event in Frederiksberg, and at one point I asked a listener how long they had lived in Denmark.
“Twenty-five years,” was the quick reply.
I then asked, “Why did you move here?” They replied, “I ask myself that every day.”
An unpleasant truth
It got a laugh, but I sensed an unpleasant truth. I asked if they liked staying here. They shrugged: “Meh.” Another laugh. But it made me think: this person has lived here for a quarter of a century and still does not seem so happy about it. It is a phenomenon I have spent a lot of time on since I moved to Copenhagen over six years ago. I call it ‘Reluctant Expat’.
The Reluctant Expat is a person who is unhappy in their adopted country, but due to complex factors beyond their control, they feel they cannot leave. I have met many here who share this feeling. I’m sure you have too. You might be one of them. Many times I feel that way too. This is not easy to write, but it is important to express because I think it is surprisingly common and yet rarely talked about.
The typical feeling that defines the reluctant expatriate is a feeling of feeling trapped. More short-hearted, anxious and isolated, less patient, confident and in control. This is not about being out of your comfort zone, but being overly aware of where your comfort zone is and being unable to reach it. It’s about knowing you’ll never fit in, but you’re trying anyway – no matter how exhausting it may be.
The refugees of love
How do so many expats find themselves in this position? This is usually because they fell in love with someone from another country. So they move. They’re getting married. They have children. Time goes. Sooner or later, they realize that they do not like their adopted home, nor can they find satisfaction in their work or social life, but the commitments they have made to their loved ones mean that they cannot leave them.
Not all conditions survive this. I have met many expats – who again, I’m sure you have too – who share the same story: they moved out of love; it did not work; they got divorced. But their children are here, and understandably they still want to be a part of their lives. So they stay. Although the original reason for moving no longer applies, they STILL can not leave.
I have also met those who do not have time for the reluctant expatriate. They find their negativity boring. If you do not like it, then why not just go? Sounds so straightforward, right? But that is rarely the case. If it were, they would have gone a long time ago.
For what it’s worth, I think the expats who are incredibly in love with living here are usually always the ones who left a less favorable situation at home. And that’s fair enough.
But that is not always the case. Many were completely happy with where they were, but now find it hard to feel the same about where they are.
Take care of eachother
That’s why the expat community is so important. I believe that we have a duty to take care of each other – even if it just means sharing our experiences or giving a sympathetic ear. Because we almost all get homesick.
We need to vent our frustrations. It helps us to feel connected, grounded and valued. So save a thought for the reluctant expatriate. Because they will not leave in a little while.
Source: The Nordic Page