Thinking through the ex-pat experience

This is a post written last year, just before we headed home to the UK.

I came across a list of words to describe ‘wanderlust’ on Wordables, and wondered what they meant to me now following this experience of living abroad.

Fernweh (n.) An ache for distant places; the craving for travel. (German)

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I’ve always loved this one. I’ve certainly experienced a craving for travel while in America. As is pretty obvious from my blog, we’ve given into this craving as much as possible, but I still get frustrated, knowing there’s so much of America still to see, but we’re prevented from jetting off and seeing it by a lack of funds, or a limited number of vacation days. Now and again I also get cravings to go back to favourite places in Italy, or France. I don’t feel we made the most of being in Europe when we were living in the UK.

Nefelibata (n.) Lit. ‘cloud-walker’; one who lives in the clouds of their own imagination or dreams or one who does not obey the conventions of society, literature, or art. (Spanish and Portuguese)

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I like this one – in some ways it describes the way I like to feel that we don’t do what’s expected, don’t fit into a particular way of living, and therefore end up living alone, unable to see the path ahead in the mist. The ex-pat experience has been challenging at times, but it has underlined for me the fact that unexpected things will happen in life, and we don’t always have a road map – but things will usually be ok anyway.

Numinous (adj.) Describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted – the powerful, personal experience of being overwhelmed and inspired. (English)

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This sounds like the Romantic sublime. It definitely captures how I initially felt about moving to the States, and how I feel about the future. Once you’ve done the unexpected once, it feels like there are so many opportunities out there that you might go for – so many possible futures – and that can be overwhelming as well as inspiring.

Resfeber (n.) The restless race of the traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a ‘travel fever’ that can manifest as an illness. (Swedish)

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I’ve become a much better traveller since I’ve been out here. Though I still get flutters of nerves before a journey, I’m far better at just getting going, putting one foot in front of the other, with the assurance that it will all probably be fine.

Nemophilist (n.) A haunter of the woods; one who loves the forest and its beauty and solitude. (English)

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I’m ambivalent about the forest. On the one hand I love its silence and the way it can seem to stretch on and on forever in this country. However, it can also be a bit boring to walk in – the trees obscuring any views there might have been.

Annus Mirabilis (n.) (phr.) A remarkable or notable year in history; a year of wonders and miracles, used to speak hopefully of the future. (Latin)

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As nearly every ex-pat will tell you, living abroad can be full of wonders and miracles, but it’s also very much full of the mundane and banal, as well as the occasional dies horribilis(!)

Smultroställe (n.) Lit. ‘place of wild strawberries’; a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress or sadness. (Swedish)

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On the balcony of our current apartment

I’m not sure that any place that we return to in DC has entirely escaped stress or sadness, but there are certainly places in the States more generally that we’d like to return to. Yellowstone was absolutely an idyll, as was Maine that first summer we were out here, and we loved the San Francisco bay area of California. On a more mundane level though, I suppose our balcony has always been there for us, when we just need a quiet moment in the sun with a beer.

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6 thoughts on “Thinking through the ex-pat experience

  1. These are not words I know or use. But they describe perfectly much of the ex-pat situation. Would I do the ex-pat thing again? Certainly. But I think I’d always want to come home. And ‘Ex-pat’ isn’t a great word is it? It ceratinly has poor connotations for me.

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    1. I think I probably would do it again, though with far more conditions than last time. Ex-pat does have bad connotations, but it’s difficult to find the right word! (Our visas made clear we were not immigrants… so I suppose temporary residents is most accurate?) Maybe there are better ones in other languages…

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  2. Just catching up on everything, and I love this wander through various languages. It’s funny how the perfect word for a feeling probably exists in some language somewhere. Loving your posts about the move back! It’s especially fascinating to read them as I start my own temporary ex-pat journey…

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  3. I am an American who grew up in Europe. I am full of wanderlust and yearning to get back to Europe as soon as possible. We currently have a plan to live abroad in Spain. I recognize that I live in a beautiful city (San Diego) but I don’t fully appreciate it because I have been here my entire adult life and my heart is in Europe. I wonder if, after some time in Europe, whether I will look back and regret that I didn’t more fully appreciate the U.S. While I lived there. Well, there’s only one way to find out!!! Let’s move to Europe!! 😉

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