The phrase ‘expat bubble’ is generally used negatively. But in some countries, expats gravitate towards an expat bubble for a reason. Some may not even have a choice.
In literature, and in life, we often mock expats who are perceived to be living in an expat bubble. Rather than embrace another way of life and discover the local culture, they’re ensconced in a community of fellow expats, who all prefer each other’s company and socialise only in expat friendly places. They don’t have local friends, nor do they bother to learn the language. At their worst, these imagined expats could be accused of snobbery, if not cultural superiority.
But in reality, expat bubbles are practical and inevitable. In UAE, where expats outnumber locals nearly nine to one, an expat doesn’t have much choice. In some cases, expats will just find it hard to befriend locals and learn the language, for example, Saudi Arabia and Japan. In some countries, where security is a major concern, expats have no option as they will live in a compound filled entirely with expats. Economic disparity can be another factor in why a ‘bubble’ forms.
For expat partners, moving abroad is often billed as an adventure. But first and foremost, you have chosen to relocate to support your partner’s career. You shouldn’t feel guilty about parachuting straight into a bubble. It not only gives you a soft landing but ‘the bubble’ can also be a continuous resource, giving you all the support, comfort and guidance you need. Hanging out and talking with fellow expats who live as a guest in the same place as you is a unique, shared experience. After all, friends and family cannot relate to this life of yours, and locals, no matter how well you can communicate with each other, cannot either.
Within a ‘bubble’, you will also possibly be discovering about multiple cultures. Nowadays, wherever you go, your fellow expats are likely to be a culturally diverse bunch of individuals. Furthermore, expat bubbles can enrich cities by introducing myriad foods, drinks, products and services, employing locals along the way. Certain businesses, whether owned by locals or expats, could only form and flourish in, and because of, expat bubbles. So even if you are guilty of being ‘stuck in the bubble’, rest assured, you’re also contributing to the socio-economic development of your host country!