Travel helps me escape lines. I can be who I am — without having to conform — to the lines that people draw around me. I can be the story I want to write. I can live the picture that I photograph. I can find acceptance in random acts of kindness. I can draw parallels between diverse cultures. And I can observe how similar we all are despite our need to be different.

I wanted to write this post about and for my parents. I wanted to write how their travels and expat life shaped who I’m today. I wanted to write about the alienation I’ve felt for not being able to connect with my roots. And how the lack of belonging has actually liberated me.

My parents didn’t draw lines around me. They believed that I could achieve whatever I wanted — if I put my heart and soul to it. They never told me the world thinks differently. And I appreciate their relentless faith in me. Because, had I known how different I am, I’d never have the confidence to dream. I’ve always been in the minority because of my language, religion, gender, and more recently: race. Being the odd one in the room — also makes me a minority in my thinking.

Expat life is harder than most people think it is. It looks good in pictures and does wonders if you’re a travel blogger. I can vouch for that. However, there’s so much beneath those pictures and behind the stories that go unwritten. We’ll soon complete four years in Seoul. Every year has come with its own challenge. We’ve had bitter cold waves, tensions in the peninsula, severe air pollution, and recently: the COVD-19 outbreak. Expat life has a far-reaching impact on your ability to be resilient and tests your breaking point.

Expat life also comes with a sense of loss. Memories turn out to be nostalgia inducing joy rides. The oldest memories are the ones I created in my childhood. However, those places don’t exist in reality. Time is relative, and as an expat you tend to dwell in the past, whilst the rest have moved ahead.

Assimilation into a foreign environment is dictated by the ability to fit in. Those who come from cultures that are diverse (or convoluted) find it hard to assimilate. How do you add to the local diversity — if you give up all that made who you are? The tussle between alien and local has been an eternal one. I understand the need to preserve a culture, especially, in cases where an attempt has been made to destroy it. However, true growth of a culture lies in its ability to evolve and adapt.

Fear. It spreads faster than a contagion. It can unite people. Or can expose the cracks of division. It fuels suspicion and doubt. You can see it in the eyes. Everyone finds their own ways to quell fear. You could wear a mask. Or stay cooped at home. Or could cook a hearty meal. Or ramble on a blog.

Ultimately, nature will triumph. If she takes away; she will give back. She’s a harbinger of hope after all. We’ve just got to be patient. And this time will pass.

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Writer-Photographer Duo. Now in Seoul.

17 replies on “Living between Blurred Lines

  1. One part of this that I can say for sure is true is that non-ex-pats can never know what the life of an ex-pat is really like. From the outside, it does seem fun! Of course, even we understand that it comes with its discomforts and difficulties, but those seem to be the price for an exciting short-term change of environment. What we can’t see are the day-to-day challenges, and I always enjoy your honest assessment of what this kind of life is like.

    1. It’s hard initially, then a lot of fun, and then you never know when things go spiralling down. πŸ™‚ I know this experience has shaped my thinking and writing. I appreciate the growth. However, the emotional turmoil and the inherent uncertainty that comes with such a life can be draining. Thank you for being a part of this journey. I’ve always found comfort in your words. xo

  2. I love this post, Cheryl, as I can identify with your struggles as an expat. It never is quite as exotic as it may appear on the outside, and although I have no regrets, I have longed for something more stable than the gifts of expat life.

    Your first paragraph is such an eloquent and beautiful description of some of the gifts of travel. I wish the people who are overly nationalistic and full of hatred would travel, as you point out so aptly – we are in the end more alike than different.

    1. You get me, Jolandi! Expat life can be enriching, but also emotionally draining. The uncertainty makes me crave for stability. Probably, I’m getting older and don’t feel half as adventurous. 😦
      I love being a traveller. Our travels have taught me more than I could learn from any book! I would recommend travel to anyone — even if it’s your mum’s backyard. πŸ™‚

  3. What a beautifully written and poignant post this is Cheryl. Being different means being individual and having a unique voice and to me that’s a good thing. Travel has made you wise and so very eloquent my friend yet I also understand your struggles. Take care and be happy. xx 😊

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