Nostalgia for expat life only grows with the passing of time

Adapting to a life in a new culture inevitably makes a huge impact on expat partners. Even a short assignment can lead to a lifetime of memories (and storytelling).

Profound impact

Recently Oliver Howard, my colleague at Global Connection, remarked that his mum’s experiences as an expat partner in 1960s’ Colombia only occupy “about 2.5% of her lifespan” but “they take up a disproportionate amount of her headspace”. He added that her nostalgia for a two-year stay in South America shows how the experience of living in other cultures – however easy or hard you find it – will stay with you for life.

Rosier and rosier

As Oliver put it: “When you’re in your 20s, 30, 40s, and living in the moment as an expat partner, you might not realise the profound effects all of these cumulative experiences are having on you. But when you get older, the memories will likely come flooding back, very possibly getting rosier as time goes by!”

Changing plans

Indeed, now almost 80, his mum frequently reminisces about her time in Colombia over 50 years ago. They were different times, of course, though many of her experiences will chime with expat partners today, starting with a change of plan at the 11th hour. “We’d thought we were moving to Costa Rica, but at the last minute that was changed to Colombia!” she says. “I can’t pretend we knew much about either of them.”

Special feelings

Her memories also underscore what people can get out of an assignment: “It wasn’t easy. At times it was difficult and scary. But I’m so glad I did it. It broadened my outlook, made me more tolerant. It was great to learn another language. I still speak it now. It made me feel lucky to have seen another country and culture. But secretly, if I’m honest, it also made me feel a bit special.”

Empowering memories

“In the following decades my husband and I came to realise how much our time abroad meant to us, and how much we still reminisced about all the adventures we’d had. Sadly he died a few years ago, so now the stories are far less shareable. But they’re wonderful, empowering memories and will stay with me for as long as I live. I’m nearly 80 now and my world is shrinking. But my mind still reaches out to our time abroad – more now than ever.”


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