Expat Life

Are Expats Wanderers?

The second prompt of the Expat Blog Challenge is to respond to the line, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Are expats wanderers? Are we lost?

This is the second line to a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien titled “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter”. It appears in The Lord of the Rings.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The subject of the verse is Aragorn. The first line suggests he is more important than he appears. The second line refers to his position as a Ranger. Rangers appear to be aimless wanderers, but are protectors who know exactly where they’re going.

My father tells a story about me when I was a kid. I did something naughty and he scolded me. I yelled that I couldn’t wait to grow up and leave the house. He says that he knew then that I would.

A standard image of Americans is that a child leaves home at 18 to go to away to college. After college, the adult child lands a job, gets married, buys a home, and raises a family. How often it really happens this way, I couldn’t say.

Hispanic children, on the other hand, are not expected to leave home. Hispanic families in the US are separated not only by state lines, but by national borders, rivers, oceans, deserts, and politics. That’s not by choice. If you have the choice, you stay home close to your family.

I shocked my parents when I told them I was going away to college. It wasn’t even that far, just five hours way; in my teenage mind, it was far away enough, but not too far. It was really hard for them, probably harder than I’ll ever really know. My mother, who rarely cries, cried more than once. My father couldn’t understand. I don’t regret the decision to go away to college. It was what I needed to become independent. I got a good education and I made lifelong friends. I didn’t know it then, but it would help pave the way for a much bigger separation.

When I ran out of money and my student loans got too big to handle, I moved back into my parent’s house and transferred to a local university. After graduation, the amazing job with the six-figure income never materialised. That’s what happens when you earn degrees in English and Women’s Studies. I found work I enjoyed and I travelled a little.

Most Americans that I’ve talked to that ended up becoming expats did so for one of two reasons: work took them to another country or they fell in love with a foreigner. Me? I had dreams of going to Paris, where every morning I’d walk down to breakfast at my favourite cafe, and every evening entertain other American expats in my tiny flat with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We’d drink copious amounts of wine and talk about writing and politics. That’s the problem with English majors, too much Hemingway and Stein. Many of us just end up working in bookstores.

I fell in love with a foreigner too. When I told my parents, they didn’t like the idea, but they accepted it calmly.

I have wanderlust, but I’m not a wanderer. I question what “home” means all the time. Sometimes I get disoriented, but I always know where I wanted to go. I don’t always know how to get there or what will happen when I arrive. I used to be uncomfortable with the not knowing, but that becomes life when you’re an expat.

Are you a wanderer? Do you know where you’re going?



  • My six-figure income never materialised either! Everyone in my family lives within 60 miles of each other. I’m the only one who does not live in Louisiana… and, boy! Do I NOT live in Louisiana! LOL

    It’s just me and my husband against the world… or at least… that’s how I see it. He’s the only constant, daily thing I have.

    • Cosette

      I love your comment about it being just you and husband against the world. I guess that’s true for me too, that my partner is my only constant. When I first arrived, I was so dependent on him. Thanks for your comments, Yvette!

  • jackiel15

    I love the story you paint of how we daydream about living in a different country. Reality is so far from that fantasy, but it’s definitely just as great 🙂 I loved hearing a little of your story about how you came to be here!

    • Cosette

      Yeah, reality is pretty great, isn’t it? Thanks for your comments!

  • I’ve packed my bags & I’m headed to Paris. I’m looking forward to staying in your Parisian flat with the view of the Eiffel Tower – drinking French wine – and discussing the latest books we’ve read. Lol. 😉

    • Cosette

      Haha! I’m looking forward to my Paris flat too.

  • I am a fellow English major – nice to know there’s a few of us around! Good for you for breaking the mold and heading off to discover the world!!

    • Cosette