By Victoria Schmidt

Ex-pat Nation

As my husband and I pass another anniversary of our arrival in Mexico, I look back to our expectations about living in a country totally foreign to us. We expected the language to be our biggest challenge. It still is. But I can actually have a semi-coherent conversation with a Mexican without using too many hand signals, and that is at least some progress. I can actually converse with my maid, and while we still have blank spots where we stare at each other and say “Monday?” We can usually work our way around it.

But what we didn’t expect was something we couldn’t possibly have experienced in the United States. And that is the deep and lasting relationships we’ve built here within our own community of ex-pats. I’d heard the term ex-pat before we moved here, and mistakenly assumed it meant unpatriotic. Oops. Ex-patriot, I found, simply means a person living outside their country of origin.

I’ve wondered about why the friendships we’ve experienced here seem so different than the ones we had and still have back in the USA. The friendships here seemed to solidify quicker, and are stronger, and fuller. No offense to our other friends, who are still scratching their heads in amazement wondering why we are still here, and why we didn’t return after six months with our tails between our legs. 

But I think the answer is two-fold. The first is that it takes a certain type of person to even entertain the idea of living outside of the boundaries of the country they were raised in. Cutting ties, dispossession of accumulated “treasures” and starting all over again is not for the faint of heart. All ex-pats have that in common. The second thing that strengthens our bonds is the understanding of what it means to be a sub-community within a larger foreign community. We need each other as resources, to touch that which was once familiar and to share our experiences in our new country with each other. 

We can relate to one another more quickly as we all have our eyes opened about life within another culture, a different climate, and a different language. I can laugh with my friends about being stopped in a grocery store, and a Mexican woman asked me where I found an item in my cart. I knew what she was saying to me, but I couldn’t think of the words in Spanish…I knew them, knew that I knew them, but just couldn’t remember them. I remembered the words after she walked away. My friends spoke about the delayed reaction responses we all seem to experience. The wheels turn, but the tongue doesn’t follow. As ex-pats we can appreciate the struggles of learning a new language at an older age. I know I still search for words in English…now I have to search for them in both languages. But I am not alone. I have a whole new world of friends who can relate to this and laugh along with me.

As ex-pats we can gather and debate, which is better, FM2 or FM3?  We can shake our heads at the state of our countries of origin, and we share the love of our past and present countries. Our worldview and experiences have grown and made us aware of life on an entirely different level than a 10-day vacation in another country could teach us. But in all, the experience of being an ex-pat, I believe strengthens our experiences and our ability to accept people as they are, and appreciate our friends as never before.