Sunday, July 31, 2016

Expatria - the Unique State of Living Abroad

Life as a foreigner

The staff at Guisppe's Italian Restaurant on one of my returns to Tacloban

Living in a foreign land for an extended period of time is a lens like no other.

For instance, I don't think I could have ever ceased being a foreigner in the Philippines, but, that's okay for many reasons. Among those would be the fact that many in this archipelago have treated me so well, that I seem to often feel quite special here. Am I a novelty, or am I really that interesting and people back home just don't seem to understand? I guess the former, but I am holding out in hope of the latter. In either case, it's nice to be in a place where, maybe not everybody knows my name, but people look at me and smile. It's a simple thing, really. A smile goes a very long way, and showing people they are appreciated can get them to do almost anything for you.

Anytime you change your scenery - whether a place, an activity, or a group of friends - it affords you the opportunity to think, to adapt, and to evolve. As an expatriate, you are forced to make any number of life observations and come up with ideas, not just for how the world works, but for how it can work... and unfortunately sometimes how it doesn't. You see, of course, how people live - what they eat, how they react to things, what their passions are, what their problems are. You inevitably measure that culture against your own, and sometimes you are exhilarated, however also sometimes saddened.

Because of this lens of expatria, I do believe that while you can feel ever so welcome, and even sometimes like you are part of the family or neighborhood, there are constant reminders that you are still and will always be a visitor. This is not melancholy; it's simply a truth that you learn to see only after breaking through the barriers of being a stranger - that while each place in the world you love can offer you that temptation of the mind that it could be home, the humility that every world traveler must have tells you that what these people have is something sacred, and it is not for you to have simply because you want it, passing through with your backpack.

However, this realization is something quite valuable and unique. Not everyone gets the opportunity even to leave their own island in a lifetime. If expatria affords me the blessing of true friendship that knows no borders and forever enlightens what I know this world to be, if I can be welcomed back even where I feel I may not belong, these bonds in themselves are what I believe may just hold this fragile world together just a little bit longer.

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