The Fine Line Between Expat Chaos and Rhythm

by Jerry Jones on July 24, 2017

People living a life overseas are a special breed.  We don’t so much make sense to the normal people do we?

My family is on the tail end of a whirlwind, six week “home” (finger quotes) visit and we’ve been reminded every moment of it what a ridiculous life we have chosen.

Seriously.  Who does this?

By the time this trip is over we will have changed our entire existence eleven times, each one strung to the next by a 4 to 12 hour road trip on the hottest days of the summer in a car with two children and lukewarm air conditioning.  We will have done countless heartfelt, emotionally charged, “we missed you so much” hellos only to turn right around for equally heartfelt, emotionally charged, “we’ll miss you so much” goodbyes.

We live out of suitcases which seem to be gaining weight as fast as we are.

Every few days we switch to another guest bed, couch,  futon, air mattress or (on very special occasions) hotel.

We’ve learned how to use other people’s washing machines and we leave at least one sock or one pair of underwear at every stop (you’re welcome).

We’ve sat perched like a dog at a dinner table waiting for someone to ask for a China story and we’ve fine-tuned our skills of pretending we’re not disappointed when they don’t.

We’ve successfully dodged knock-down, drag-out political battles over issues we probably don’t care about, full on relational melodramas with people we barely know and annoyingly offensive jokes about Chinese food and cats.

Hygiene still matters but I’m not even sure what day yesterday was . . . let alone whether I showered or not.

For weeks we have been “ON”.  Big smiles.  Happy faces.  Intentional eye contact from the moment we landed — and we had jet lag that day.

It’s exhausting being “home” — and to be honest the whole life overseas thing can feel equally chaotic at its most settled points.

BUT . . .

I’m learning that there is such a fine line between chaos and rhythm.

Trips “home” would feel like total mayhem to any normal person . . . but we covered that right?  We are so not normal.

I love that the longer we do this the more pages there are in our story are filled with 3 am, jetlag induced Daddy-Daughter milkshakes at any place open.

It has been rich beyond words to pick up right where we left off with dozens of “hello again” friends and we’ve got this whole switching from cousins in one place to old friends in another thing to an art form.

We are expert packers, flexible sleepers, versatile launderers and accomplished lip biters.

We know how to deflect awkwardness and my kids intuitively sense when family at one stop would be horribly offended by things that were fun at the last.

Even in constant ON mode we find moments of OFF.

We are good at this.  We have found our rhythm and in some confusing way a part of our stability IS the movement.

If that makes no sense at all . . . congratulations . . . you might be normal.

If it does . . . you’re probably living a life overseas.

 

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About Jerry Jones

Jerry lives in China with his beautiful blended family. He is a trainer, a speaker, an adventurer, a culture vulture and an avid people watcher. He writes about all of that at www.thecultureblend.com
  • Chris.Diane

    Thanks for the whole post as a reminder of what a beauty this chaos can be, but especially for that top picture….it reminded me of how I need to avoid the cereal aisle when we head for “home” in a few weeks for a 9-month (finalize adoption/get citizenship/visit everyone under the sun) leave. I opened up this email and seriously felt my stress-level increase as the cereal boxes came into view. Thanks for that. 🙂 Truly thanks for the reminder that we need to begin to mentally prepare for that madness.

  • Jessica Billinger

    Hahah! I just posted this to FB and asked my husband if you were hiding somewhere in our van! We are “home” for the summer from China too. Seriously. Spot. On. Thanks for giving a voice to all the “feels”.

  • Makala Doulos

    Totally… Just came through day 41 of my first rotation “home” … including a lost wallet, passport (with new Chinese visa), etc in the past week… We have been in more places and beds than i can count. We have reconnected with a boatload of people 🙂 … Looking forward to going back to China 🙂 … And, oh yeah, dude… Who has 14 different kinds of apple juice in their stores? Every store.

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  • Amanda Wight Mack

    We are not even there….yet this seems so poignant. I can see this even now.

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