One of the most significant things I found about being an expat was the sense of detachment that it brought me. I was away from my home country for over 8 years and missed an entire term of a new prime minister. Meanwhile in Japan the revolving government door swung non-stop, SEVEN Prime Ministers in SEVEN years! Whew, I get tired just thinking about the bureaucracy needed to handle that.
But the point is, I could not vote and so I was not really engaged in Japanese politics. I could view it as an interesting cultural phenomenon, kind of like watching Kabuki. But I was also not engaged in Canadian politics. While I still could vote, it was a hassle, as you had to go through some kind of antiquated snail-mail balloting at the Embassy.
I could also look at my home country’s problems from a detached perspective. Normally, I am fascinated by municipal politics. Garbage, public transportation, zoning and school boards are municipal responsibilities in Canada. But when you live over 6000 miles from your home, the latest garbage or transit strike does not really directly affect you.
Now I am living in America. I cannot vote (yet). But I still have that sense of detachment and talk to my friends with an (almost smug) outsider’s perspective. It is a downfall of the expat life, or at least it is for me. I’d be interested to hear from my other expat friends.
Because at some point whether you are “home” or not, you can make a difference wherever you are. Whether you are there for a year or forever, your actions can make an impact. If I use the excuse that I don’t engage in local politics because I cannot vote, I only need to look at the low level of voter turnout in any country to see that voting is not the only way to be engaged about local issues.
The upside of being an expat is that you get to live in other societies and see how they do things at a local level. Like staying in someone’s home and seeing how they live on a daily basis. The mission statement of my daughter’s school in Japan was “Developing Compassionate, Inquisitive Learners Prepared for Global Responsibility.”
This is awesome as long as Global Responsibility comes with Local Action.
Hopefully, we can all bring some of these insights to our next home, wherever that may be.