I am 53 years old. In my 53 years, I have lived 18 years as an expat.
My first stint as an expat was when I was a child, so I didn’t really have the analytical skills that I have now, and not nearly as observant of the actions of other people or their attitudes. The past nearly 15 years, though, I have lived as an Expat. I am an American, but have lived in the Philippines for nearly 16 years.
During my time living in the Philippines, one thing I can say is that I have learned a lot. Additionally:
- My attitudes have changed drastically.
- My opinions have changed.
- In observing my fellow Americans, and also expats from other western countries, I have been quite disturbed at many times.
Change of attitudes.
There was a day when I really felt that America did almost no wrong, nothing but good.
I still believe that Americans and westerners from other countries tend to do what they think is right, but they are not always correct in what they think is right. I have seen so many incidents where westerners were either visiting the Philippines or relatively new in having moved here to live. It is at this stage of being an expat that people think that their country does everything the proper way. If they see that things are done differently in the Philippines (or another country, I only use the Philippines as an example because this is where I live), they automatically think that the way the Filipinos do it is incorrect, because it is not done they same way they are accustomed to seeing.
Why should America be correct on everything? Why should Britain be correct? France? Italy? Frankly, have you ever stopped to consider that the way the Philippines does some things may be the best way, and the way it was done “back home” was inferior? Frankly, it is quite possible that would be the case.
The truth is that no one way of doing anything is 100% correct. Each group of people around the world has worked out the way that is best for them, and there is nothing at all wrong with that! As I observe other foreigners belittling their hosts here in the Philippines, I can almost always think back on some of my actions in my early days of living here. I was the same. America was always right. I see it differently now, though. Perhaps America is right, but that does not mean that the Philippines or any other country is wrong. They are just different, and their method of doing something may be the best for them!
Change of opinions.
Yes, my opinions on many things has also changed greatly over the years. Much to my surprise, things that were very important to me some 20 years ago are just not all that important any more. Some of these opinion changes I can attribute to aging and gaining more experience, but many of these changes I can clearly see are because I have left the country of my birth and gained a fresh perspective on the world. When I first felt this type of change happening, it was a bit alarming to me. Now, though, I find it refreshing. It is a process of growth, personal development, and general change. Change is a good thing, it keeps us thinking. It keeps us on our toes. It means that we are alive and kicking!
I like it!
Disturbed by what I see.
When I see my fellow Americans, or foreigners from other western countries, acting badly or doing things that kind of amaze me… I feel differently now than I did some 8 to 10 years ago. Back then, it often angered me. Now, I will just look and shake my head, and be thankful that I have moved on and gone beyond that place.
Seeing this sort of thing no longer surprises me. In fact, it is expected now. I can pretty much predict attitudes that will be shown by newly relocated Americans in the Philippines. I know the pattern well, because I went through it myself. Additionally, I have seen literally thousands of others follow the same footsteps that I followed in my first few years of living here.
I feel certain that this sort of behavior and attitude is the same among expats living in nearly any other country in the world. I have other expat friends online, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. that I talk to and tell me similar stories to what I have seen here.
There have been some Americans, and others, who have moved here, and I have talked with before, during, and after their move. I have tried to help them expect some of the things that might anger them or depress them. I thought that by laying out such a warning, it would help them avoid being the “ugly American”, but in the end, I have come to accept that we all must travel down that path. Many people get on that negativity path, and they end up moving back home. Others just remain miserable. Still others, although probably the minority, consider it an opportunity for personal growth and development. Those people, and I put myself into this category, become better people, more accepting, more observant, and generally just better. If you can do that, it is the best way you can go, because it will lead to a better and happier life for you!
How do I know? Been there. Done that. I’ve even got the t-shirt!