*Favourite* How to be an Expat Brat

This is by far one of my favourite TCK articles. Mostly because I can relate to 90% of what he has written. Makes me miss my life back in China. Click here to visit the actual site.

How To Be An Expat Brat

JUN. 18, 2011

By Matthew Lin

Complain frequently and look burdened. Hello, growing up in a foreign country is HARD. Especially China. Like – why are there oxen blocking traffic up and down the freeway and why can’t I watch porn or read cooking blogs? Do you know how long it took me to learn how to yell at my driver/ maid/ cook/ tennis coach/ everything in a foreign language? Difficult. The life of an offshore offspring is no walk in the park.

Go to an international high school. Becomes besties with children of diplomats, hotshot journalists and oil execs. Bet on which one of your friends will get deported first. At least two will: One will have actual visa problems and the other will commit a felony but have diplomatic immunity and end up going to rehab in Brazil or something. Fly to Singapore for swim meets, The Hague for Model UN and Thailand to tan during Christmas break. Laugh at your friends who transferred to boarding schools back in the US.

When your best friend’s family moves to Africa, wait no, England, wait no, Australia — have a breakdown. When your parents ask you what’s wrong, shout: “WHY DOES EVERYONE LEAVE ME.” Remember that you only just moved to this country a year ago and move on with your life.

Act out and do really rebellious things. Your bad behavior is so much more edgy because you’re in a foreign country. Go out and get wasted off two shots of Bai Jiu and a bottle of Tsingtao. Proceed to have a cultural identity crisis. “But where is my real home? No, really. I’m so drunk right now tell me where it is.” Pass out in the cab ride home and wake up in the Australian Embassy covered in coal. Leave quietly and don’t ask questions. Succumb to smoking because the city air around you is basically like smoke anyways. Watch your tween life devolve into The Last Emperor meets Thirteen meets anything NGC or MTV.

Eventually graduate from high school and backpack to Tibet to “find yourself.” Mostly just end up finding yak milk and altitude sickness. JK, Tibet is fucking awesome! Take pictures of everything and everyone: Mountains, monks, monasteries, hot monks, your cultured international high school friends, the sky at night. The stars are so much brighter in Lhasa because you’re up so high, you know? Never forget these sights and sounds.

Go to college in the US, but first, run into like, five hundred people you know at the Red Carpet Club or First Class Lounge. Make a scene about it and say things like “it’s such a small world!” and “I love flying! I love airports!”

Show up for International Students Orientation but get barred from entering because you have a US passport. Still demand a free T-shirt. Call your parents and old friends from International School of Whatever to whine about how “no one gets you” and “blah blah culture shock blah.”

Join your college’s Chinese Students Association but leave after two meetings because no one can actually speak English and you can’t actually speak Chinese. Settle for going out to eat Chinese food with your roommate from Wisconsin instead. Whip your splintered chopsticks back and forth in self-righteous disgust at the sight of such inauthentic dishes like General Tso/Tao/Gau’s Chicken and Pu Pu Platter. “Honestly, how can you eat this starchy over-sauced Cultural Hegemony?” Continue complaining even though you secretly like the taste of it because it reminds you just a little bit of what you call home.

Hole yourself up in the East Asian Collections wing of the library and pout. Remember the time that high school was cancelled because of SARS and it was just So. Much. Drama. The girl who sat next to you in IB History asked if she could get her sanitary-mask in paisley. You said “probably.” Cry profusely from being overwhelmed by such profound memories. Profoundexpat memories.

Enter post-freshman year summer. Miss every internship application deadline in your respective homeland because you are “so over this country right now.” Work your privileged expat connections to get an unpaid desk job back in China instead. Intern at a fashion magazine/PR firm/Fortune 500 for free because you can. At the office, run into four of your friends from the International School of Some Place who also got their jobs the exact same way you did. Collectively laugh and feel no shame.

Party every night after work, occasionally photocopy something like a napkin the next day in the office and spend an inordinate amount of time taking lunch and coffee breaks with the other interns. Duck tape office supplies to the walls of your cubicle and laugh like a madwoman. Translate something every now and then. Know that this behavior is OK because everyone in the office already thinks you’re all completely useless/illiterate but extremely fashionable anyways.

Fly back to college and feel homesick. Fly back to China for winter break and feel ambivalent. Go clubbing at places named “Bling” a lot. Fly back to college and don’t know what you feel anymore. Master the art of getting over jetlag in a day. Graduate from college and fly home one last time before your parents decide to pack up and haul everything back to the US — back to reality. Realize that most of your friends from International School of Where Ever have done the same and left for their respective motherlands.

Watch the Chinese vegetable stands, street markets and Hu Tongs of your city erupt into robotic Western eateries and shopping malls with boring stores like Tiffany and Co. and Burberry. Watch random super-highways overcome the scenic cornfields that you once drank in and had bonfires with friends in. Try to remember the country, the roads and the sounds you once fell in love with. Suddenly feel like you are a Stranger in a Strange Land. Feel lonely, loathsome and out of place. Breathe deeply, get over yourself and appreciate how lucky you have been for the first time in a long time.

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“Unresolved Grief”

This is the topic of a whole chapter in the book “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds”

About a year ago, I realized that I was feeling a bit blue. I couldn’t put my finger on the cause, though. I had everything I could ever want. It wasn’t until my boyfriend and I had a conversation about my childhood hopping from country to country that I realized that I was still feeling the grief of all of those good-byes that I had said to each set of best friends. Over and over and over again. That, and saying good-bye to my family after every Christmas, every summer break, and not seeing them for months on end. Each good-bye was like a rock, weighing down on me. It was starting to take its toll on me.

That’s when I turned to the book and realized that it is not uncommon for TCKs to feel this way.  While these feelings are muted on a day-to-day basis, they are always in the background and can surface unexpectedly. I know that’s not necessarily the most comforting thought, but it’s something we TCKs all live with each day and is just a part of us.

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Expats Behaving Badly

I bet we TCKs all know (or have heard of) of someone who was expelled from school/deported/transferred because of misconduct.

Why is it commonplace for the children of expats to behave poorly?

1. Little-to-no consequences (diplomatic immunity).
Diplomatic immunity is granted to diplomatic families. It is through this immunity that these families are not susceptible to lawsuits or prosecution in the country in which they reside. It is easy to see now, why these rebellious diplomatic teenagers would take full advantage of this. They’re essentially above the law. This ties into my next point:

2. Disregard for local laws and regulations
Expat kids in foreign countries can sometimes grow up to think that because they are privileged, that they are somehow privileged when it comes to the law. I’m not sure where this mentality comes from, but I’m sure it is common around the world.

3. Taking advantage of the power of money
Expats aren’t poor (compared to some of the locals). Depending on where they live, expat kids have very fortunate lives (drivers, maids, guards, private schools, clubs). In some of the poorer countries, all vendors want is your money – they don’t care how old you are (especially if you look like you’re a foreigner). That’s why (in my experience in Shanghai), kids as young as 10 and 11 were able to buy alcohol and cigarettes in bars and restaurants without so much as a flinch on the vendors’ parts. That wouldn’t fly in the ‘West’.

Can you blame the parents in this case??

I’m inclined to say yes.

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My rock: my family

Throughout my globally nomadic life, only one thing has remained constant: my family.

My mom, dad, brother and sister were there to see me through each new culture, food, environment and experience. I was there to see them. If there is anything that will bond a family together, it’s moving to a foreign country where the only familiarity is each other.

Together, you develop certain tastes and preferences. You marvel at all that is new. You make each new culture your own. Together, you have your own culture that is completely unique. No one else can understand.

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Brushing Elbows with Fortune 500 CEOs…

I learned how to be a proper hostess at a young age, as many girls do. My parents would coach me. “Go ask _____ if he would like a drink”, “Bring this to _______”, “Help clear the plates”. The one difference is that the guests that I was helping to host were top executives from a number of Fortune 500 companies.

As a ‘Business Brat’ (or ‘Corporate Kid’ as I prefer), I’ve always been in the company of a number of corporate executives – whether they were our neighbors, dad’s colleagues or were golfing buddies. It’s not uncommon for me to recognize some of their names in newspapers and say “He came to our house for dinner!”, “Dad talks about him all the time”, or “Mom had lunch with his wife yesterday”.

Looking back – I should have taken that opportunity to network! But no… I was a mere high schooler then… and the only thing I was probably thinking about was spending time with my friends.

My point is…. even though I (like many other ‘Corporate Kids’) had these rare (and to others, prized) opportunities, I was just like any other kid. The only difference being that I grew up under very different circumstances in a very different place.

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It’s been a while!

A lot has happened in these few short months since I last posted.

I graduated (yay!)

Got a full-time, permanent job (yay!) — in Canada

I’ve spent these past few months adjusting to my new working life – similar to the way I’d adjust to living in a new country, only easier. The only qualm I have is that I’m tired so early in the evening!

Now that my life has stabilized a bit I hope to post more often… stay tuned!

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My Dilemma

Being a near-graduate (graduating this June!) , I don’t yet have a full-time job. That doesn’t stop me from dreaming though.

I have always been open to the idea of being relocated overseas for my job.

I am fully aware of the lifestyle that I will be choosing. However there is one difference: my family won’t be there with me. This is something that troubles me deeply. I have never lived in a foreign country without them, so what makes me think that my experience will be the same? I’ve only ever gone to school in foreign countries – never worked ‘there’ on a full-time basis. Things will be different.

The fact that it will almost definitely be different than ‘growing up’ there is what makes me hesitate. I won’t be thrown into a school where all of the kids have the same kinds of experiences. I won’t be living with my family. Won’t I be lonely?

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