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Once you’ve been an expat you can never go back

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I believe that John Miele and I have entered in to some kind of mutual zone of conscientiousness.  A couple of weeks ago, John wrote about body hair, and I followed him when I wrote about shaving in the Philippines.  Lately, I’ve been wanting to write an article about being an expat and that causing you to be stuck in some kind of limbo between where you are from and where you currently live, then John wrote his article yesterday about Expat Life.  I’m not trying to copy John, but we seem to have similar thought patterns in our heads lately!  That could be a good thing, or a bad thing, I suppose.  Let’s just say it’s good and move on!

I guess that lately I have been thinking about life as an Expat, and what it is all about.  Much of what John said yesterday is certainly true for me.  But, some of what I have been thinking about goes beyond that too.  John made a point yesterday that as foreigners, we will always be different here in the Philippines.  We are not, and never will be Filipino.  Even if I ever choose to become a citizen of the Philippines, which I have considered, I will still be different than most people here.  The United States is a melting pot where people are different, yet blend together to create the “American” person.  The Philippines is no melting pot, my friends, and it doesn’t claim to be either.  In fact, I think that very few places are melting pots, as the USA is.  A few other places might be too.  Australia comes to mind, although I personally don’t think it is a melting pot to the extent that the USA is.

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Since coming to the Philippines a decade ago, I have “melted” to some extent, adapting some Filipino ideas and ways of life.  So, if I decided next week to pack up and move back to the States, I would not fit in there anymore either.  I am different than the average American.  I think differently and I act differently now than I did before moving here.  Nothing wrong with that either, it’s just a statement of fact.  If I went back to live in the USA, I would no longer fit in the way I did when I lived there.  Perhaps I would revert back to who I was then in many ways, but I don’t think that is a certainty, and I actually think that I would not melt back fully.  So, I think that no matter where I live now, I am going to be different than the normal person in that place where I choose to live.  That’s just the way it is.

We are all molded by our life experiences.  One of the biggest experiences in life that will mold you is the place where you live, things like:

  • Standard of living
  • Norms of daily life
  • Attitudes of the people where you live
  • Language
  • Food
  • Culture

All of these things play a role in molding us into who we are.  When we start moving to other places where each thing on that list is different, well, it changes us.  Maybe we won’t ever fully mold in with our new living place, but we also won’t be able to mold back to the place where we came from.

Oh, you can move anywhere you want, even back to where you started at.  But, as far as your personality, your likes and dislikes and such… once you’ve been an expat you can’t ever go back again.

I’ll leave you with this quote from American Author, Journalist, Poet and Screenwriter, James Agee.  He said:

“How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again. You can go home, it’s good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life. And what’s it all for? All I tried to be, all I ever wanted and went away for, what’s it all for?

Just one way, you do get back home. You have a boy or a girl of your own and now and then you remember, and you know how they feel, and it’s almost the same as if you were your own self again, as young as you could remember.

And God knows he was lucky, so many ways, and God knows he was thankful. Everything was good and better than he could have hoped for, better than he ever deserved; only, whatever it was and however good it was, it wasn’t what you once had been, and had lost, and could never have again, and once in a while, once in a long time, you remembered, and knew how far you were away, and it hit you hard enough, that little while it lasted, to break your heart.”

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Paul Thompson
11 years ago

Hi Bob;
So true, so true. After 4 years in the Navy and three trips to Europe, I went home for a months leave, after a week my Father noticed me staying home more often than the first week. He asked why and I told him all my friends had changed, he smiled and say; “You’re the one that changed, son, they’re still stuck in Boston.”

Boss
Boss
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

LoL Paul your getting old, your quoting your dad a lot lately.

Paul Thompson
11 years ago
Reply to  Boss

Boss;
You’re not wrong there, but I did it 40 years ago also. My head has worn out two complete bodies.

Boss
Boss
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Dads are still the best, under appreciated I think.

roy
roy
11 years ago
Reply to  Boss

🙂

Bill B
Bill B
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Paul T, I remember having that feeling after coming back from Korea after two years, but it was not until 5 years in service that I figured it out.

Paul Thompson
11 years ago
Reply to  Bill B

Bill;
That proves Bob’s point!

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

😉

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Hi Paul – I think your Dad had a good head on his shoulders! 😉

Dr. Sponk Long
Dr. Sponk Long
11 years ago

Hi Bob,

That’s very deep, Bob.

For those who already have a few San Miguel beer….reading this will make one cry.

“You can never go home again”….very true……very sad.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Sponk Long

Hi Dr. Long – I’m not sure that I’d agree that it’s sad. It’s true, but it could also be considered a good thing.

Karen
10 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Sponk Long

Isnt that the point though – if I.. sorry I mean WHEN I move to the Philippines I dont ever want to go home again. The whole point of becoming an ex pat is to change your life surely? 🙂

chris
chris
11 years ago

Paul is quoting his dad lately!!! LOL 😀 to funny. I get the same when I go home to visit family. I’m the one that changed not them. They are stil doing the same thing in the same town. But Bob As long as mom or pop is stil alive you can always go home. Thats what I say but thats IMHO. being like Mr. Paul I choose to serve my country but living there has lost its luster for everybody wants to move to the USA but less americans are afraid to move to another country unless you have… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  chris

Hi chris – Ha ha… my Mom is still alive, but she can come to the Philippines for vacation and visit me! 😉 My Dad passed away nearly 20 years ago already.

Boss
Boss
11 years ago

Gee Sir Bob, I agree with the Dr Long….that’s deeep, reel deep stuff!! Gonna try some deep stuff myself, here we go. The article has a nostalgic feel about it -the we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I know we’ll meet again one sunny day kinda thing. I’m going back to Australia very soon, just taking a break from the Pines a while, I’ll let you know how it feels to be back in da old country. I’m a bit worried because, maybe the people I left behind in OZ are older now and we do… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Boss

Warm… very warm. I believe, Boss, that you have come up with the only description that your Aussie friends could truly understand! All the other stuff cannot be understood unless it is personally experienced.

John Reyes
11 years ago

For those of you who never wanna go home back to the good, old USA, here’s one for you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDk0IX-gtZQ

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  John Reyes

Ha ha, John… I like Bobby Bare…. but I am already home! Davao is my home! 😉

John Reyes
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Hi, Bob: That song, “Detroit City – I wanna go home” , touches my heart whenever I hear it, and I am not even a native-born American. It was the collective song of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, based in Aschaffenburg, Germany, in the 60s when the song first came out. We sang it out of loneliness and homesickness for the good, old USA. Never mind that I wasn’t native-born American, heck, I sang it along with the rest of the troops silently in our bunk beds long after taps had sounded. I don’t know about… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  John Reyes

Hi John – We all have our own preferences, and nothing wrong with that. For me, I will probably never set foot on US soil again in my life. I simply have no desire to go back there, or need to. Using your words.. “for whatever reason.”

chris
chris
11 years ago
Reply to  John Reyes

Good 1 John. But my home is where i lay my head at night ;-D. And at the moment it changes every 2 to 3 three years, I will always be an american and visit anytime I want but the world is to small and time is to short to not live your life by what makes you happy as a person. Sorry about your Father Bob did not mean anything negative about my comment. But since your mom visits you then you are truely at home.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  chris

No problem, Chris. I didn’t think anything negative regarding my father… was just passing that along. My Mom has been here to the Philippines 3 or 4 times since we moved here.

Jade
Jade
11 years ago

Hope this comment is not too far off the thread of “can’t go back home again”, not so much as returning from RP to one’s former home in US, but in my instance of returning to my hometown after 38 years. Have been back every year or more so in the past years. This year my mother will be turning 100 years old on Aug. 18, but she now is terminal, she is ok for now, maybe a few weeks , maybe a few months. She is still alert for a few hours a day, usually in the late afternoon.… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Jade

I’m sorry to hear about your Mom, Jade. I hope she is comfortable.

JamesC
JamesC
8 years ago
Reply to  Jade

Jade I wish you peace during what I personally know is a hard time. We went through that with my mom past year and 3 weeks after leaving there (“home”) where we shared our last Same birthday, she passed in her sleep…finally peace for her at 84. Always hard. Now as a soon retired Fed and former jarhead, my new asses and I look forward to a new home in PI, ..her home and my future home…Our home and our new baby. Cycle of life. I look forward to meeting you some day, as well as many others on the… Read more »

JamesC
JamesC
8 years ago
Reply to  Jade

And I realize that was 2010 for you.

peterjoy
peterjoy
11 years ago

u know why u dont need to come home mate itis that u have your little bit off the old us of a in your heart mate and no matter where u are from itis the same for us here in australia u always be australian as u cannot take a australian out off a australia mate no matter we u live
god bless from peter martin tassie…..

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  peterjoy

Ha ha…. so you are carrying a piece of Australia wherever you go, Peter? That’s great!

Boss
Boss
11 years ago
Reply to  peterjoy

LOL Pete me mate I know wot yer mean, taking me missus with me to Oz an she’s a bit afraid of going to the west but I says to her…. don’t worry luv, I can take the girl out of the barangay but I’ll never take the barangay outta the girl. She loves hearing that now.

peterjoy
peterjoy
11 years ago
Reply to  Boss

lol and there is the one for a bar girl to that gos like this u can take the girl out off the bar but u canot take the bar out off the girl……… all the best there bosss god blesss

Boss
Boss
11 years ago
Reply to  peterjoy

too rite Pete, too rite. lol.

Gary
Gary
11 years ago

Wow, that picture was before the iconic Mindanao Bob haircut (lol).

I agree. When I returned to the US I definitely had a different viewpoint which few of my friends could relate. That was after only two years away.

America does not always achieve the “melting pot”, but it is an ideal towards which most nations do not strive.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Gary

That picture was BMB – Before MindanaoBob – ha ha…. yeah, my hair was a little different back in those days. That photo was taken near GenSan, Gary, in Tinoto at the beach on my son’s birthday. Problem is, I can’t remember which son was having a birthday that day! I think it was Jared’s 1st Birthday, and that is him in the photo. I don’t know for sure though… oh, getting older is a hard thing to deal with! 😉 I think a lot of countries – probably most – don’t even try or want to be a melting… Read more »

Gary
Gary
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

BMB

Agreed, but even without immigration, a number of nations have very deep ethnic / cultural divisions – a little melting might not be a bad thing 🙂

We had lunch this weekend in Tinoto. Nice view from the patio at South Point Divers.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Gary

Hi Gary – Tinoto is a nice area. Back in the days when I used to go out there, there was no South Point Divers, although Don Partridge had a place out there on the cliff, where I believe South Point is today.

I have mixed feelings on the melting pot thing. Ethnic/Cultural divisions are certainly not a good thing… but when the melting pot gets going, you lose that cultural and ethnic identity. It’s a win-lose situation in my mind.

Gary
Gary
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Yup, that’s where South Point’s at.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Gary

I hope that Don is doing well. It’s been a long time since I saw him or heard from him.

Dave Starr
11 years ago

A lot to think about here. Even though I am only in my fourth year living in the Philippines, I know it’s an absolute fact that you can’t go home again … at least not in the sense that it will ever feel the same. I even went back to the US for a couple weeks in February 2010. Was it my home country? Oh, you bet, and there were a lot of things I liked. But the broad spectrum of Americans are so “tunnel-visioned” and unconscious of the rest of the world that I didn’t “feel” at home there.… Read more »

Jade
Jade
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Starr

Dave Starr,
WELL SAID!
I wish I could put my similar feelings into words as well as you did!
Thank you, Jade

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Starr

Hi Dave – I think you summed it up pretty well. In fact, I will go one step further…. I don’t mean to offend any of my American brethren, but I will say that many American attitudes are arrogance based on ignorance. Many Americans have little or no idea of what is outside their own borders, yet they think they (we) are the best. How can you think you are the best, when you have no idea what else is out there?

David S
David S
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Bob, as I am still living in the U.S. I have the opportunity to speak to “Americans” daily. Few, if any, exhibit the arrogance or ignorance you accuse us of having. Who are the typical Americans I’m referring to? They are second generation immigrants from India, former Vietnamese imported after the end of the war, decendants of Latin American “undocumented” immigrants and many more. So called “white” people are not the majority, they are a minority. Myself, I’ve had the opportunity to live in and/or visit more countries than I can count. Working for a multinational company, I have the… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  David S

Hi David – Firstly, it seems like I touched a nerve in you, and if I said something wrong, I apologize to you for that. Regarding your last paragraph – I never said anything about the Philippines, and it’s qualities. I am talking about being an expat. It really has nothing to do with the Philippines. I also never said that “most” Americans are ignorant, I said that many are. And, believe me, I have not talked to only a “small sample” of Americans. I lived in the USA for 36 years of my life after all! Please not, also,… Read more »

dans
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Hi bob,

if “Necessity is the mother of all invention” then “ignorance is the mother of all stupidity”.

as William Gaddis once said… “Stupidity is the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.”

just a thought.

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  dans

Hi dans – Personally, I disagree. I do not think that stupidity and ignorance are related, or at least not closely related. I mean, I am very ignorant about the mating habits of the housefly, but frankly I don’t care. If I was stupid that would mean that I am unable to become informed on the subject, but the only reason I am ignorant on it is because I choose not to learn about it! 😉

dans
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

hi bob, Necessity and Invention are not related as well but they do fit nicely in a sentence and somehow it stands true. for me, ignorance is not about being uninformed about certain things, ignorance is a lack of knowledge or lack of desire to improve the efficiency, effectiveness or usefulness of one’s action, ignorance can happen when those who can benefit from knowledge are unwilling or unable to find knowledge and assimilate to it. If a person choose to cultivate his ignorance and when it grows, it will lead to stupidity, thus, William Gaddis quote somehow fit together. imagine… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  dans

Hi dans – Well.. I must say that I agree that if a person allows himself to be ignorant in too many areas, he will at least appear to be stupid, and may actually be stupid. All stupid people are ignorant, but not all ignorant people are stupid! 😉

dans
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

hi bob – I think stupidity is the by product of too much ignorance.

Michels5098
Michels5098
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Starr

Dave, I am currently residing in J-ville Fl and I fully understand what you mean by ignorance here in America. I was talking to some of my co-workers and was telling them of my plans to move to the Philippines in 3yrs when I retire. Boy if you could see the puzzlement on their faces. They asked me why would I leave the Greatest Country on Earth for a third world country? That statement their is the reason they would not understand. I always ask them how many of you been to another country most say never, some say on… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Michels5098

Hi Michels – your last paragraph hits the nail squarely on the head!

Brent Johnson
Brent Johnson
11 years ago
Reply to  Michels5098

Michels, while I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written, in regards to Americans and their blinders, isn’t that likely the case for anyone, regardless of country of birth. I’d venture the vast majority of people anywhere in the world can’t see beyond their own country until they’ve traveled elsewhere.

John Miele
John Miele
11 years ago

Bob: Total coincidence, but we tend to think alike. I actually wrote the article after reading a blog post somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where now) that was ranting about how Filipinos ought to be grateful that expats want to live here. My cousin has lived in Japan over 40 years. Anyone who thinks that Filipino culture is rigid or racist has never seen anything until they have lived in Japan. He is very much the “foreigner” when he returns periodically to the States (His accent has also changed after speaking Japanese for so many years.) A German colleague of… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

Hi John – I can certainly understand your feelings and those of your colleagues that you mention. The feelings are much the same as mine. All we can do is accept it and move forward.

Katrina
Katrina
10 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

There is a term, “third culture kid” which defines the “phenomenon” of home not being like “home”.

MindanaoBob
10 years ago
Reply to  Katrina

I really believe in that, Katrina.

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