Expatriate vs Tourist
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
I've always found great value in traveling -- exploring, learning, experiencing different cultures. There's nothing quite like stepping outside your box. Traveling lets you glimpse into a different world. You get a short stint (be it a day, a week or a month) in a foreign place and you can admire it for what you see. Typically, you see the best of a country and if you do encounter the worst, it sucks, but you move on. After all, you want to appreciate it, the good and the bad, because before long, you'll be back in your regular life.
Herein lies the major difference between an expat and a tourist; a tourist leaves and an expat stays. Things that seem cool and different as a tourist become a fear or a frustration for the expat. It's not something they'll take a picture of and move on, it's something they'll face day to day whether they want to or not. Tourists will choke down less than desirable food knowing that in a few weeks they'll be back to 'real' food whereas the expat has to find a way to make the less desirable, desirable. Those weird smells - yup, you smell them every time you step out your door. The particularly funny stories where you are trying to ask something in a foreign language and no one understands you, that is now your normal morning routine. It can be incredibly tiresome.
However, there are upsides. You may have to grumble through the difficulties but you also get to reap the positives; that beautiful beach is now part of your home and you can visit it every, single day if you want. You also get to delve into a culture much deeper than a tourist sees on their short stay in the country. You begin understand the inner workings of the place and you learn just how complicated a society can be. You see the good and the bad and create a much fuller and deeper understanding of the culture you're living in.
It really is quite rewarding. Every once in awhile I look out my window and think, "I live in Africa. Oh my god, that is so cool." Of course, there are occasions where I think, "Where the hell am I and how did I get here?" too, but I feel like I've grown so much in the last couple of years and I've learned more than I ever would have imagined. Joe & I have talked about what a tourist's impression of Gabon might be - beautiful beaches, jungles, exotic, tropical, poor, dirty, culturally interesting, all of which, it is - but I'm glad we got to delve a little deeper, even if it wasn't so pleasant all of the time.