Without wanting to pontificate too much when I was writing about my expat experiences I got a lot of responses from friends around the world. And yes it did take that long for it to dawn on me that I have a number of friends that call themselves expats. And most of them, unlike me, are long term.
Most left New Zealand or their home country in their 20s, travel, study and work drove them to search for kinder shores, or possibly simply the desire for something different. A common theme that seems to have kept them away is love. Most have found love in their adopted country, be it a local or sometimes it’s a fellow expat from another country and this third is a good compromise.
This got me thinking about my friends, and on to my family. And yes, again, it took me this long to realise that my mother (and her family) are the ultimate expats. I’m talking about people here who chose to leave their country of birth rather than what is happening (and has happened for eons) around the world and the necessity to flee from war and strife.
My Mother is Canadian by birth, she and her family travelled extensively whilst growing up, following work and opportunities. This had her parents and five kids move from Canada to the USA, to Australia, New Zealand and back again. Eventually on one of the trips to New Zealand, my Mum, then 19, decided to pursue a teaching degree (New Zealand was one of the best places to do this at the time). I’m unsure whether her plan was to stay, but of course, she met my Dad, fell in love, and shall we say the rest is history. She’s been in New Zealand now for 47 years, much, much longer than ever in her ‘home’ country. She has two Kiwi children, and now two Kiwi grand-children. She’s taught and shaped countless Kiwi children in the classroom. But has only recently had her ceremony to become a New Zealand citizen. Again, she says it’s been paying the fee more than any desire to be Canadian and she can hold both passports in New Zealand.
It’s not always been easy for Mum, away from her family. Her parents and three brothers eventually emigrated to Australia. The sense of support she needed at times wasn’t easily available. I know that she made a conscious decision to stay in one place, to not move around, like her childhood. To offer my sister and I a sense of connection and roots.
This upset her most when I first moved to London and now in Bangkok. I think it was that she had set down roots and stayed put for my sister and I, ensuring that we never changed schools and had friends from the start. And here I was uprooting myself and now Bangkok doing quite the opposite with my own children. Of course having her only two grand-children leave was hard. We all want something different to our parents don’t we?
A few weeks ago we had mum come to Bangkok to visit. It was a joy to share our lives here, and I hope she left feeling a little more comfortable with our decision to do this. I love showing off this crazy city and the undiscovered areas of the country. Mum is not a practiced traveller so this was a big deal for her and she embraced the opportunity. Unfortunately, I did send her back to New Zealand with a sprained foot after a minor fall! In my lifetime Mum has only been back to Canada twice. Maybe this is the next ‘journey’?
Creating a new life for yourself and your children in a new country is not an easy undertaking for anyone. To build a support network, a ‘family’ around oneself, and try to maintain connections with family and friends at home. But to choose to do this permanently is another level. I take my hat off to the number of people around the world doing this now and have for eons.
I was strangely proud the day Mum got her New Zealand citizenship, better late than never. But all the same… congratulations Mum – welcome to Kiwi-land!!