Monday, June 20, 2011

What is an Expat like you doing in a place like this?

One of the best things about growing older is that people tend to stop questioning your life choices. Maybe this is because they don’t see you as having much of a life left. The expiration date has passed, and they figure that you are here to stay.

But old expat habits die hard. When do we say enough is enough?

Ruth wrote (in a comment to my blog) : “I never felt 100% at home in London, either. I lived for a year in France, and though I was completely fluent and had learnt French from the age of 5, I never felt even remotely at home there. Then I made aliya, and I also felt in some mysterious way that I had come home here. But now after 30 years I am restless again and want to move somewhere else. I have learnt how to be Israeli and now it's no longer enough for me. It's like the Wandering Jew thing. I want to learn another culture, be the outsider trying to fit in all over again. Can't explain it but I do think that becoming a citizen of the world, especially since the advent of the Internet, has become more important to me than any religious or national identity thing could.

I have learnt how to be Israeli and now it’s no longer enough for me. I can identify with that. But do I want to be the outsider trying to fit in all over again? How many times can we reinvent ourselves, and all that surrounds us?

Purple Cow wrote: “So where do you feel that you belong? Where is your Ithaca? Or does it just keep shifting on you every time you happen to find it? I, too, relate to you... born a minority Greek in Istanbul, moved to Australia and now an "Australian" in Athens, but always a hybrid.

The ground has stopped shifting. Does this mean that I have finally given up trying to find where I  belong? How many expats share our experience? Perhaps our reflections are just some sort of romantic notion of a modern nomadic culture that we have made up in our head.  How many of you out there were restlessly driven to voluntarily leave country and culture behind with no idea where you’d end up simply because you had to be some sort of outsider trying to fit in, or find a part of yourself which was greater than all one country had to offer? Or did you simply become an expat out of work opportunity or convenience, never quite knowing that there may be no way back? Does it matter how we started in order to explain where we are now? And where we may be tomorrow?

So, what is an Expat like you doing in a place like this? Do you dare tell us the inside story?


  1. David, I can identify with this post. I was born in Israel but my parents came to the US when I was 14 months old and didn't go back to Israel again until I was 16 years old. So I pretty much spent all of my childhood growing up in the States. When we made an "aliyah" (although it wasn't really an aliyah, since my parents were essentially coming back home), I was more curious than anything else (and my twin sister was simply dead set against coming to Israel but, of course, at 16, you have no choice).

    I spent 9 years in Israel (until age 25) and even through high school and bagrut, army service, and undergraduate studies at BGU, I always felt like an outsider. I realize now that this was largely due to my attitude (I commend my classmates in 11th grade for trying to be friendly and inviting and acknowledge that I isolated myself from them, so that was my fault). Needless to say, I couldn't wait to finish my BA and get back to the States.

    Well, I did get back to the States in 1995 and stayed until October of last year. Though I did a lot during those 15 years in the States (got work experience, got an MA, lived in 3 states, developed a teaching career), I never really felt "at home" in the States either - probably because much of my family is here in Israel.

    I returned in October and I now see Israel very differently at 40 than I did at 16. I still see the flaws that were here 15 years ago but much has changed (MUCH, much, much!) for the better and I no longer feel like an outsider. I don't feel 100% Israeli and probably never really will, but I accept that I am a duel citizen and still feel that US is my home too. I will most likely go back to the States at some point in the future, but probably in the far future.

    Sorry for the long response :-).


  2. Rotem, I find what you wrote fascinating, especially since you went back and forth a number of times and are still not clearly finished doing so. In doing so, you appear to have a much better concept of what each world has to offer and your own response. I wonder at times whether I made a mistake letting myself become too rooted here, when there is still so much conflict in my mind.

    You write that, in returning after 15 years, you find much in Israel has changed for the better and that you don't feel as much as an outsider. Do you feel that this is because Israel has changed, or something has changed in you, and the way you respond to life here?

  3. David,
    There is this Roman proverb "Ubi bene, ibi patria" but I don't agree with this idea that the good living makes one feel at home.

    Considering my own situation, I think you feel at home with a sens of belonging at the place where you spent your youth. And that is especially true if important events took place during that time. I am a Berliner and lived there during the war and the years after. Having reached adulthood, I went to Belgium to learn French and stayed there 20 years. Then I went to France in 1983 and have been there ever since and I am married to a girl from here. But I'll always be German, not French though I feel at home here.