Fellow expats, do you feel like you function at the same level in a foreign country as you do in your home country?
A friend of mine recently reviewed a book on cross-cultural living. While written specifically for missionaries, I think it could apply to any expat or immigrant. Did you know that, according to this author, only about one out of four missionaries function at a level near to that which was normal in their home culture.*
I’ve been living in Moscow for 5 years, I speak Russian fluently and I work as a journalist in my adopted country, and I still don’t feel that I function as well here as I did back in the U.S. I used to think that it was culture shock; that it was something that would disappear in time as I got used to living here. Now I think that it’s a combination of things that probably aren’t going to go away.
First, there’s homesickness. I just miss my family, and the kind, laid-back, polite, sweater-loving people with funny accents that populate Minnesota. I miss the Minneapolis skyline, the lakes, the family dinners, the deer in our back yard and being with everyone on Thanksgiving.
Second, I’ve come to realize that living in Russia is really hard for anyone; that it’s hard to function at a high level for native Muscovites. I don’t see very many natives doing much better than I am….
Don’t get me wrong, Moscow has given me so much. I moved here with only two suitcases and two friends, and now I have a whole world here; a family, a home, a career. These are gifts I would never have in my life if I’d stayed put in my home state. But I’m still homesick and miss my MN friends and family all the time.
Economist husband, himself a native Muscovite, has said that he looks at his home city more as just a place to earn money than a real home. To be honest, I have observed some Muscovites here who do function really well, but most of them have an enormous support network of tight-knit friends and family in addition to fantastic, extremely high-paying jobs. Also, they travel frequently.
I hesitated about writing this post, afraid that it would sound too depressing, but then I thought – it’s just true! Part of being a foreigner or an expat means that you probably never stop being homesick!
In other ways, being a foreigner makes me realize how much of my strength I’ve drawn from family, friends, language, social custom and other things. Living in Moscow has drawn out personality qualities I never knew I had….
So, fellow expats, and native Russians, I’m so interested to hear what you think. Is living in Russia inherently difficult? Is being an expat inherently difficult? Do any of you fellow foreigners still struggle with homesickness? Has living in a foreign country helped you grow in ways you never thought possible? What do you think???
P.S. Seven reasons why expat life sucks (for a healthy dose of optimism!) by an expat living in Belgium
*quote found on a friend’s blog.