Sydney is a wonderfully multi-cultural city and a place I personally rank up there with NYC, and London for sheer variety of languages heard on the streets. Listed alphabetically, in the last week I have spent time or spoken with friends born in Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, The UK, and The USA. These are not just people passing through, but individuals who have been here, in some cases, for 10 years or more.
There were Australians too, but that just feels incidental, a kind of afterthought in the cultural landscape of the city. Why do I say that? Because with two exceptions, all of the Australians I was with have at least one parent who was born overseas and in a couple of instances, both parents. The majority of the Australians I spent time with have all lived overseas as expatriates too. Not just the classic jaunts up to the UK, but places as varied as Indonesia, The USA, Japan, Germany, Chile, Singapore, Spain and Malaysia.
Living overseas changes you. It has to if you are to survive and thrive in another culture. For my Australian friends who have returned here there is always a part of them that isn’t 100% true-blue Aussie. They have seen how things are done in the bigger world and comparisons are inevitable. Each of us living overseas, returned or otherwise, has changed and carries a part of the other country with us. A little bit of our homeland has been snipped away and repaired with a piece of new culture and a gilding of new places. A patchwork person is formed, the story of our lives and travels forming the threads that stitch together this new human.
For those of us still away from our home countries, life there is also changing and moving. “I feel like I am just a visitor when I go back to my home country” is a lament of the expat. It is a sad and poignant acknowledgement that people and places are growing apart, though we may not want them to. That illusive security we crave deep down, that we can always go back and pick up where we left off, is just that, illusive and nostalgic. But like all nostalgic thoughts, it gives us something to cling to, a better place to retreat to when life gets tough.
But there is never any regret. Chatting with my brother many years ago we talked about an opportunity he had to move away from the UK with his family. We both said that the regret would always be wondering what would have been. We talked and agreed that if he didn’t go he and his family would always wonder if they should have gone. At the worst, they could always come back, sure in the knowledge that they had tried but it was not the right thing for them at that point in time.
He did move. And he also moved back to the UK after many years, a decision dictated more by family needs than anything else. But he did change and he has few regrets.
Living overseas isn’t for everyone, but what amazing changes it can make to your life.