Inside the expat bubble

A couple of months ago I was talking to a group of friends, who had just come back from holidays in Egypt. I wanted to know all about it. So I kept on asking them: What have you seen?, how are the pyramids?, how do locals live?. Of course, I didn’t expect them to tell me some stories to level up with National Geographic’s documentaries, but I was a little disappointed when all I heard was: “It was awesome man!, We partied all day long”.

This conversation came back to me not long ago as I was reading the news about the riots happening in Egypt. I suddenly remembered one of my friends saying: “I wish I could be living in Egypt. What kind of problems can people have with such an amazing weather?”. At that time we were just nodding at that sentence.  Lately it turned out that it wasn’t such a paradise after all. Why haven’t they noticed any problems going on in the country?

What is the expat bubble?

While browsing through the newspaper yesterday, an article caught my attention. It was a short article about the “expat bubble”. I have never heard that term before so I immediately read the whole thing. An author was sharing his point of view about people who are abroad but they do not experience being abroad. In his opinion unless one has been abroad for more than three months, we are all likely to remain in the ‘expat bubble’.

Let’s say at the beginning that the ‘expat bubble’ is not a real place. My friends were inside of the expat bubble their whole time in Egypt. Their Egypt was truly a paradise full of luxurious hotels, delicious food, amazing trips to see magnificent places, great parties, nice people and nothing to worry about. I am sure it is an amazing place, but is this all? They didn’t see the real place at all. That it is not the real Egypt. They lived in guarded areas, separated from the rest of the country which has been immersed in poverty and suffering all along.

Am I part of the expat bubble?

Today, I had a Skype chat with that friend who said the comment about living in Egypt. I brought up the topic and she said: “You know what, now that I think about it, while we were going to the pyramides, we saw a lot of people on the streets, probably jobless or even homeless. But we were having a blast, so we stayed oblivious to that”.

Right now I wonder if am I also living in a expat bubble while in Madrid. I have been here for a while, doing Erasmus and working in an international environment. It is definitely a great period of time in my life but have I really experienced Spain? I almost don’t hang out with spanish people, spend a lot of time talking in polish and english and I am still obsessed about american series. I don’t know if taking tons of pictures in Sol or Plaza Mayor is enough to say I’m out of the “expat bubble”.

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My family has been living in the UK as expats for over 20 years now and having heard the stories they told me, its clear that it took them a very long time to adjust.
My family couldn’t speak a word fo English as an example and had to adapt very quickly which made things very difficult for them.
In addition to the currency differences from where they used to live, they found their environment rather alien.I agree with Anne’s comment about the time it takes to adjust as its soemthing my family remembers as well. It took them approximately half a year to adjust to their surroundings and to get used to the currency.
Luckily for them, they were both very young to worry about converting their currency which is something that most expats seem to have a problem with due to hefty transfer fees.

I was told however by an expat friend of mine that they used a private currency broker due to the above circumstance and they saved a lot of money in the process. they’re not living comfortable in their new location:

Simon Lynch says:

@ Anne – thanks for the input. Only thing I can add is that some of the bad behaviours you highlight are probably people who live in a bubble whether they are at ‘home’ or ‘abroad’ – no easy cure for that one ;(

Anne Egros says:

Reading your article was inspiring me to share my experience.

I have been living in an expat bubble for 20 years: moving every 3 years on average. While I adapt usually very easily, make local friends, learn the language, eat the food, participate in cultural traditions etc, I must admit that I usually ignore all the negative things related to the places I am living in. It is somehow a survival mode, it takes 6 months to fit in a new place, making friends and setup new habits. Then when I finally have settled both my family and business it is time to leave. Another type of bubble is being assisted by the companies that send you abroad through relocation companies. While at first sight you think it is a good thing you deserve for leaving your “home”, on a long run, when you stop to be a corporate expat you have great difficulties to deal with the local bureaucracy, finding an affordable house by yourself, looking for local schools etc. Of course I don’t talk about the dramatic events I have been through as an expat without the support of my family. NYC, 9/11 or 2004 Tsunami.

I have been living for almost 10 years in Japan and I don’t understand people making bad jokes or harsh comments about what is currently happening with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat in Japan. I have also experienced same cynical comments about what happened in NYC on 9/11. People like that are worst than expats living in a bubble, they live in a bubble of ignorance and stupidity, insensitive about what happens outside the comfort of their own believes, biases and prejudices.