The Expat Curse

26 Jun

Last night I spoke with my friend Amy who recently returned to the United States after spending almost two years in Ecuador. She’s been home about a week and a half and we were lamenting together about the difficulties in returning home, seeing the differences after living abroad, and having to come to terms with how things will never be the same. It’s a topic that we’ve discussed before. You go abroad, maybe trying to change yourself, and after so much time and experience you go home and find that things aren’t the same. But really, they are the same and it’s you who is different. In the end, you do change whether you realized it or not.

It’s sort of like the expat curse. Whether intentional or not, you realize that you’ve reached a point beyond which you can return to a normal life. I proposed the idea of having some expat country for those who don’t really fit in anywhere anymore. Sort of like a retirement community for those who can’t relate to old friends or family. You could call it the 4th World. Maybe it will make a good story some day.

Continuing with that, today I went down to a bar in San Telmo to watch the U.S./Ghana World Cup game. I went to the same bar that I saw the U.S./England game in, though it was a different vibe this time. With less people, I was alone surrounded by study abroad students. Last time there seemed to be more of an expat crowd, and you can definitely see the difference between the student who parties it up abroad and the person who is working. I don’t admit to be the biggest soccer fan, though my time in Spain, Ecuador and Argentina has given me an appreciation and understanding of the game, especially its impact on the culture.

Yet in the bar with the study abroad kids, their actions could be considered rude to any Argentinian who wanted to watch the game. First of all, even though the bar is heavily frequented by foreigners, I expect to be greeted in Spanish. That wasn’t the case. I was expected to speak in English and even when I answered in Spanish I was continually spoken to in someone’s second language. Next, someone must have complained because the commentary for the game in Spanish was changed to English. Maybe it made things clearer, but if a sports game in the U.S. at a bar was ever changed to Spanish for even 30 seconds, there would be outrage.

Throughout the game the students were taking pictures, talking loudly, and mocking various aspects of the sport which is clearly not popular in the United States and only recently accepted as something different and fashionable. If you went to a bar in the States to watch a playoff game of the four major sports (Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey) and a group of people were being obnoxious and not really watching the game, they would be booed out, assuming management didn’t ask them to leave. I’d say the majority of the people were there for the drink specials.

It reminded me of how I must have been as a study abroad student in Spain, and just reiterated to me that you have different levels of immersion. As a student it’s usually plastic immersion, in that you live abroad but have American friends and get by in American circles. I’m at a different stage in my life and currently have no American friends and just a couple of British friends. Not that it should be compared with the other side, but you might call that full immersion.

While I’d much rather watch the games with a group of friends I can relate to, I’m still glad to be living abroad and able to watch it in a country where literally everyone cares about it. Tomorrow will show that as Argentina plays Mexico. I just need to figure out where I’ll be watching.


2 Responses to “The Expat Curse”

  1. donqvijote June 27, 2010 at 3:29 am #

    Interesting; well/thoughtfully written.

    Enjoy the game!

    • Jon June 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

      Thanks donqvijote! I think it’s a topic that many people can relate to, even if they’ve never lived abroad. This general concept is something that can be related in many fields of life. The game was great by the way.



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