Expat Life

Expat syndrome

Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge is to respond to the following quote by T. Crossley:

‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.

I work on viewing cultural differences as just that, differences. I try not to judge them against each other and decide that one is better than the other. Crossley’s quote describes a natural tendency, but it is a dangerous one we have to challenge.

I have great admiration for the US, but we shouldn’t be blind to its problems: growing inequality, institutionalised racism, the lack of adequate health care, violence, and so forth.  The things that Americans believe to be true or simply don’t know is astounding.

From Australia, I see the best and worst of the US. I see the worst because that’s what the media reports. Aussies love to say, “Only in America”, but Australia is not a crime-free ecological utopia of perfect politics and sex and gender equity. The problems we face in America are found here too along with some uniquely Australian ones.

The best of the US is most visible here in entertainment. Americans dominate Australian music charts, movie theaters, and television. Even though it may be superficial, it’s as much a powerful reflection of us at our best. American entertainment reflects our creativity, strong work ethic, and our cooperative, generous, and celebratory spirit.

Being in Melbourne makes me appreciate the life I had in Miami. It was fun, comfortable, and full of family and friends. It doesn’t cause me to see the worst in the locals, as Crossley suggests. Melbourne is a wonderful city and Australia is a beautiful country that gets a lot of things right. I love my partner and his/our family and friends. I love it when a friendly sales lady at a local store engages me in conversation wanting to know where I’m from, how I like it in Australia, and tells me how much she wants to visit the States someday.

Crossley’s alternative is wrong too. Seeing the best of Australians doesn’t undermine my view of Americans. The media likes to pit us up against each another in a twisted understanding of survival of the fittest. It likes to highlight our differences and make us afraid of one another. I sometimes refer to “mean world syndrome”, a phrase coined by George Gerbner to refer to the phenomenon whereby the constant violence-related content in mass media makes us believe the world is more dangerous than it really is. Fear undermines trust in each other and makes civic life more difficult.

I propose that “expat syndrome” is the condition marked by excitement, a sense of adventure, wanderlust, and also disorientation, isolation, and homesickness. It will either highlight your provincial edges or turn you into a citizen of the world. It might do both.

Comments

comments

  • OMG. Why am I even including myself in this blogger’s challenge? Putting my silliness up against your remarkable brain and power to put things down on paper was a bad decision on my part. After reading what you wrote, I feel pretty stupid. Everything you just said makes perfect sense. I want to go back to my post, put a big line through the whole thing and just type, “Yeah. What she said.”

    • Cosette

      Wow! What a compliment! Thank you.

      • Sorry if I went a bit overboard… really respect your writing ability, though. 🙂

    • Very well said about everything. After this challenge is all done I hope you wonderful people continue to post regularly. This daily posting is killing me. Haha. If you want to feel good about your blog Yvette, you can always read mine. You’ll feel better in no time!

      • Cosette

        It’s not easy blogging everyday! I’m used to doing it just two or three times a week and there are weeks where I don’t write anything at all. It’s been a good exercise though. Thanks for your comments.

  • Great thoughts, Cosette, and who wants to be diagnosed with a syndrome anyway! I haven’t finished my post yet, but I was thinking along the same lines about being able to appreciate the differences of another culture without rejecting your own. And Yvette, you are way too hard on yourself! I enjoy reading all the different perspectives, yours included.

    • Cosette

      Yeah, I don’t think we have to choose one over the other.

    • You’re probably right, Christie. I’m my own worst critic.

  • Loved this post, Cosette. And, that list of things that American’s don’t know is astounding. I would say that I suffer Expat Syndrome more than you do, though agree with all you’ve said. Every place has strengths and weaknesses, and the key is being able to see them with clear eyes.

    • Cosette

      I don’t always see with clear eyes, that’s for sure. My homesickness gets the best of me sometimes and then I get all “everything sucks here”. I just try hard not to get too caught up in that.

  • I think expat syndrome exists, but that doesn’t mean every expat experiences it. I think there is a happy medium to be found & it appears you have found it. I feel the same way, I can see strengths & weaknesses of both places.

    • Cosette

      I don’t know if I have found it, but I try. Thanks for your comments.

  • “The media likes to pit us up one against another in a twisted understanding of survival of the fittest”

    I agree! You summarise it nicely. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to get carried away when I’m reading a piece of news. – Suhana from Expat Blog Challenge.

    • Cosette

      Thanks. It does take a lot of conscious effort to remind ourselves it’s really not that bad sometimes.

  • Hi Cosette. I think I generally look for positive things in every country I visit, and I’ve been the same as an expat (11 years now – I moved from Poland to the US). But that’s not to say I don’t see problems… Travel and living abroad sure make you more cognizant of a variety of issues around.

    I get annoyed when people complain about the country they chose to live in, but that can in part be attributed to homesickness and cultural shock, and over time I have grown more understanding.

    One thing I’m always aware of is that once you’re an expat, you will never be the same, no matter where you end up.

    • Cosette

      Traveling and living abroad changes you like nothing else. Thanks for your comments!

  • chewytravels

    Nicely put! I feel that it is kind of a false assumption that expats will inevitably fall into this “expat syndrome.” Though I’ve often caught myself comparing two places, I try to remind myself that I’m not being fair to either because different cultures and history have brought these places to where they are now. People are just people anywhere in the world, and it is unfair to simply make blanket comments. Parts of stereotypes might be true, because that is how they have become stereotypes, but we are just kidding ourselves if we think people at home or in a new country are all great or all awful.

    Something I’ve been noticing about myself is that, after a long enough time, the speaking styles and voices of some people start to bother me. This was an interesting parallel that happened to me in both my home and host country. At home in New York now, I hear the whiny high pitched young women that make me want to scream and run into the next subway car. When I was in Singapore, it took about 9 months for some of the local accent to start sounding annoying to me, again coming from some young women. Maybe certain young women in any country will start annoying me if I live there long enough, I don’t know.

    • Cosette

      I find I’m often annoyed by many teens and young adults just about anywhere lol.

      • chewytravels

        Haha, I guess I can expect this to continue to happen then! That’s unfortunate, but hopefully this doesn’t mean I’m “out of touch.”