As I sit here on a bench at Aidan’s baseball practice, I can’t help but think how one is the loneliest number. The bench seats four of us, all mothers of players. I sit in the middle. Around me, everyone chats, but I can’t participate. Because they are speaking in Dutch. I just stare straight ahead at the practice and try to pretend it doesn’t bother me. But the reality is… it does.
I’m not angry. How could I be? I’m in their country. This is their language. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel isolated, sad and frustrated. Sure, it would be a kindness for them to speak in English when I’m around, but I also don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. The solution, of course, would be to learn Dutch. But that’s easier said than done and it certainly doesn’t happen over night.
But as I sit here, it reminds me of the downside of expat life. Every now and again, I get to a point in our lives abroad where I just feel comfortable and at home in my new environment. We have sports, activities and routines. And things just feel normal. Then in moments like these, I’m brought back to reality that this life … this amazing life… is anything but normal. And while expat life has it’s glamorous side (as in my 3 trips coming up next month), it also has it’s downside. And isolation is often one of them.
Sadly I’m used to it though. It doesn’t make it easier and these are the moments that I crave home and living in my own language. This feeling of isolation isn’t just here in the Netherlands. I felt it in Spain too. And I speak Spanish. But not the level of fluency of native speakers by any means – and there were plenty of events through school, my gym or life in general when a conversation would go on around me in Spanish and I would just nod my head and pretend like I had a clue while thinking “why do I do this day in and day out?”.
I still wonder that sometimes. Do the upsides really make up for the downside of the feeling of isolation? 90% of the time they do – especially when I look at my (very) worldly kids. And this year has been a year of change for me – not all of which have been covered in the blog as of yet (but I’m getting there, just very very far behind in my posts) and recently I’ve realized a few things about myself and my identity as an expat, a mom, a wife and a business woman. One of those things is letting these little moments that irk me daily go and just continue to move forward.
No, they aren’t super little things. Feeling isolated and ignored when in a small group doesn’t feel good. But I need to realize it’s not about me. If they have an interest in connecting, they know I speak English (and Spanish which doesn’t really help me here). It’s a different culture and the connections are not made the same way we do in the US or in Spain. And in talking more with Josh, this is finally coming to light for me.
So I’m taking a page from the Josh Marcus book of life and have decided that this can continue the depress me or I can make the decision to not give a shit and to move onward and upward. From now on, I’m letting go of my feelings of isolation (ok, as best I can) and living for the now. If they don’t want to talk or connect with me, so be it. I’ve got plenty of friends here that do want to talk to me! Sometimes, being an expat is about survival and to me, surviving is letting go of what you cannot control and focusing on the big picture. And on the positives of expat life… like those trips coming up!
Knuffels en kussen,