An Essay about American Expats and Travel by James Bonner

Embracing the Unknown: The Allure of Expatriate Life and Cultural Immersion

I’m sure everyone remembers that feeling that compelled you to get as far away from that hometown familiarity as possible. Regardless of where you might have come from, I grew up in the heart of the Texas Hill Country; a town lush with Bald Cypress, Anacua, Cedar Elm, and practically every classification of Oak, a river runs through it bordering downtown main street to the south, family-owned business after family-owned business on either side of the street, restaurants, microbreweries, antique stores, and cafés. The city square borders the downtown main street to the north. My family owns six acres south of town. At the time, the town had fewer than 10,000 residents. It is a proverbial paradise, and I couldn’t wait to get away.

Many of us are curious to explore the possibilities outside our comfort zones. When we’re young the need to take flight is paired with a psychological yearning to understand who we are without the influence of the people who have surrounded us throughout our adolescence. There are many people who, after experiencing the many trials of life, might again feel a comparable yearning to escape the familiar and try again to reimagine the direction their lives might be heading. When we’re older this need to escape is an existential yearning to escape the cultural standards we have likely never felt comfortable with. These prospectors are called ex-pats—short for expatriates. A group of people who choose to live outside of their native country and who are drawn to the allure of exploring new cultures, seeking new and different opportunities, and enjoying a different way of life.

It's an interesting concept. People who are so dissatisfied with their routine that they are not only willing but eager to hurdle themselves into situations that are foreign and impossible to foresee. Many people with this mindset often find that their discontent is most likely a result of something else, losing a job, a divorce, middle age, etc., and is not a symptom of routine or comfort, and is something that should only really be alleviated inside their head—not necessarily on the other side of the world. Nevertheless, there are unique rewards to experiencing life as an expat, even for only a short time. New experiences, especially those such as immersing yourself in different cultures, both open and expand your mind and manner of thinking. Even if not explored for the best reasons. Some of these people often return with a new perspective and general outlook.    

The places where our American expats find themselves are equally as interesting. Countries that include, The Philippines, Australia, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Spain, and Thailand for example, cultures that have, in some respect, opened their interests to Western civilization and that invite the prospect of broadened cultural identities. Cultures that also have a focus on leisure and celebrating life. Many Americans are moving overseas because they want more flexibility in their work or different work opportunities. The way that we think about work in the United States is crippled for too many reasons to explain here. Many Americans are looking for more affordable healthcare and cost of living (for obvious reasons), a change in social and political climates (again for obvious reasons), and the desire to explore and experience new things—especially these days. I have often considered building a new life abroad, and the idea is still appealing, and I consider it weekly—at least.

            The allure of escaping the familiar and embracing the unknown is a powerful force that drives many to seek new experiences. While our motivations may vary, the psychological and emotional rewards are undeniable. Immersing oneself in different cultures can broaden one’s perspective, challenge assumptions, and foster personal growth. As the late, great David Foster Wallace describes the possible growth awarded from decision, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and what they think.” Whether you are planning for your move to be permanent or merely an extended stay, living abroad offers a unique opportunity to cultivate this special kind of freedom and to rediscover oneself in the process. When that pull towards the unknown is tugging at you, don’t be afraid to take the leap and explore the possibilities that life as an expat might offer."

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.