I am sitting in an audience waiting to hear a Professor from the University speak about issues around the history of Ukraine and the involvement of Russia. All good, pretty interesting topic, but wait . . . everybody in the audience is either old or really old! What the heck – what’s gone wrong here? I don’t do ‘old’ very well. Where are all the young people? Where are all the middle aged people? Where are all the non-old people?
I am an ex-expat who has retired and moved back to New Zealand. I came to the expat adventure later in life. My daughter got her first job overseas when she was 21, I started when I was 57. When I made the choice to live an international life, I expected to be surrounded by people from different countries, with beliefs and values that draw from those places. What I didn’t expect was to have a professional and social circle that was made of people of different ages, people with different generational perspectives, and the very interesting diversity of beliefs and values that draw from that.
Take me back . . . maybe back to an expat community in China, Korea, Saudi Arabia or wherever, where age was just another number. How long have you been here? How old are you? How many countries have you lived in? What made you decide to move overseas? How long do you plan to stay? Age is not a divider, it’s just another attribute in the diversity soup of expat life.
When I lived as an expat, every room, no matter what the reason for being in it, had a mix of young, middle aged and old. A place where I had the opportunity to mix with all ages all the time, where age never seemed to matter, to get in the way, to divide. We laughed, we cried, we stressed about home, we stressed about work (occasionally), we nutted out problems, we socialized, we shopped, we travelled . . . together. Whatever came our way we did it together regardless of our varied ages. We learnt from each other with perspectives of where we were in place and in time.
I miss the diversity of being surrounded by people of all ages but I also really miss young people. I miss their film, book, music, and recipe recommendations. I miss hearing the crazy stories about what their naughty children got up to on the weekend. I miss the perspective on the world that is hard to get if you are not mixing with young people all the time. It was fun, it was interesting, it created amazing learning and much personal growth. Now I feel a bit like my worldview is limited because I lack young people’s influence in my life.
In the grand scheme of things, what I miss is the total meaning of diversity . . . nationality, religion, race, age, language . . . As expats, we make the choice to throw ourselves into a social mix where we can’t just use the obvious to divide and create groups, we create connections in ways we never would in our home country. And that is what made my experience so amazing.
Margaret Dick is an ex-expat from NZ and has worked as an Educational Psychologist for 20 years, 7 of which were as an expat working in international schools in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. She has an MEd. along with a PGDipEdPsych.