How Being An Expat Can Help You Write

I’m going to preface this by admitting that, whilst I’ve been living the expat life, I haven’t been writing all that much. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts as well but I think it’s important to mention it again in this post in particular. This post is all about how being an expat can help you write, but it’s also important to admit that, sometimes, living as an expat means you have lots of responsibilities that eat into the time where you might usually be writing. Some of these are responsibilities I enjoy, ones I wouldn’t change, but they do unfortunately give me less time to write than I’m used to. I was aware of this possibility beforehand, it was no shock to me that living as an expat would give me less time to write, but it is still difficult some days when I know writing is my best outlet and I’m not able to use it as regularly as I have in the past.

That being said, even if I’m not writing the way I usually would, there’s a lot going on right now that I know is helping me as a writer. As I wrote in a post a couple of months ago, experiences in general can help you become a better, more well-rounded writer in a lot of ways. Writing is all about experiences, and the more you have, the better you will write. If you move to a foreign country, particularly one that is so different from your home country, the amount of experiences you gain will be inordinate.

But there are other ways it can help you write too. As I’m out here in a country oh-so-very different from the UK, I’m learning another language. Now, I have actually studied English Language before, which I believe is a surefire way to help you grasp a language better because it helps you learn about the technical elements of grammar and what makes a language function, and it teaches you terms like infinitive forms of verbs and superlative adjectives. When you don’t study a language in that regard, you don’t know a lot of those things. If you’re speaking your native tongue, there perhaps isn’t all that much need to understand it, you simply just have to use it. Does that mean knowing these things is absolutely necessary for writing? Perhaps not, but I do think it can certainly be helpful.

When you learn a different language, oftentimes you do learn those terms, you learn about grammar structure, the root of words, how to form complex sentences after building from a simpler base. I do believe this comes mainly from learning a language as an adult, not learning from usage through youth but taking an active effort instead. And as you take this active effort, I believe it helps you grasp your own language better. You learn the differences between sentence structures, grammatical points, how different languages have different roots, and this can lead to epiphanies and a better understanding of whichever language you choose to write in. Wrangling a language is basically how you write, and the better grip you have on the language, the better you will write.

On top of how learning another language can help, just being in a different country surrounded by a different culture helps you be a better writer too. That’s where those different life experiences come in. To witness how different cultures function, to immerse yourself in how other people exist and live, that’s so beneficial for writing better stories. Whether you’re writing about your own culture, another culture, or perhaps even a fantastical culture that takes notes from the real world, seeing first-hand how people other than yourself exist, that’s going to improve your writing.

If you’re writing about your own culture, seeing another culture helps you distinguish what makes your culture unique. In highlighting how each culture is distinct, you can write about your own in a distinct way, confident about what makes your culture what it is. Then, if you’re writing about another culture, surely you need to experience that culture to write about it. Research online is obviously fantastic, but living in that culture is the absolute best way to make sure you’re conveying that culture correctly and in a way that does that culture justice. Then, if you’re writing about something fantastical, all fantastical cultures pull from real-life cultures, so experiencing different cultures and deciding what you want to take is crucial. Writing is all about those experiences, it really, really is. To surround yourself with these worldly things, to feel yourself changed by different cultures and their peoples, you have to experience the world to write about it, and being an expat gives you this incredible wealth of knowledge to pull from that will improve your abilities as a writer.

What’s also a very helpful aspect of this expat life is the fact I’m making foreign friends. Admittedly, it isn’t all that easy making friends when you move to a foreign country, it’s only because I’ve been taking classes that I’ve been able to make friends. Even moving cities in your own country, it can be difficult finding new people, and there are ways to make it easier, joining classes, taking up new hobbies, going to places where people congregate. You can do that too in foreign countries, but these things that are daunting in your home country can be even more frightening in a foreign country. Knowing the language can certainly make that a whole lot easier, but there are plenty of forums and groups out there for expats if you want to make expat friends. Making friends from the country itself, well that’s a whole other ball game that I’m sure every expat struggles with at one point or another.

As I have been in classes, I have been able to make friends, and as we’re all foreigners in this foreign country, that’s another way to hoard experiences through word-of-mouth. When you’re writer, that’s one of the useful things about friendships. I mean this in the kindest way possible, of course, but your friends are now story-tellers you take from, people you base characters off, this well of possibility and differing knowledge. When you’re a writer, you pick and steal from the world around you to make your stories, and that comes from your friendships too. Positively, though. It’s unlikely I’ll ever use a friend’s name to gift to a character in a story because that can be dangerous and potentially awkward, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take from their personalities and life stories. Those are the dangers of being friends with a writer, I’m afraid.

Another major part of being an expat is facing hundreds, if not thousands, of hurdles. Flying during a pandemic, immigration officers who were born to scare the life out of people, navigating shops and conversations in a country where the people don’t necessarily use your native tongue and you only know a fraction of the language to get by, housing, money dropping so frequently, you can’t be sure you’ll have any when you return home, food your stomach doesn’t always agree with, the struggles of missing home comforts, navigating different, cultural rules, national holidays you weren’t aware of beforehand, there’s a lot that goes into being an expat that isn’t easy.

These things pile up which can end up being incredibly stressful. But this can teach you resilience, and boy do you need resilience to be a writer. There are so many hurdles that pop up when you’re writing, ones that you might be able to navigate easily, others that take multiple attempts. When you’ve been living abroad for any length of time, hurdles will continuously pop up, and sometimes they hit you hard and knock you back a substantial distance, but you can’t let them knock you back forever. To keep living as an expat, you have to keep navigating these hurdles, and that will set you up for the rest of your life. It teaches you resilience and perseverance, which are great for navigating life in general, and particularly excellent for tackling the hurdles that arise when you’re a writer.

So, yes, being an expat has certainly helped me become a better writer. I’ve been reflecting on my time as an expat as it slowly draws to a close, and I won’t lie that there are a lot of difficulties about moving to a new country, whether that be temporarily or permanently. Alongside this being one of the most amazing, life-changing and life-affirming experiences I might ever have, there have certainly been downsides too. To live and to experience the world is to notice its duplicity, and when you embark on a whirlwind of a journey that is moving abroad, you get gifted the highs and the lows over and over again. To experience highs and lows in constant succession is also similar to the experience of writing, that cannot be stated loudly enough. I have loved my time as an expat and I have also been severely looking forward to when the time comes for me to go home. I have friends out here who want to cry at the thought of leaving and returning home, and I have others who are keen to get back to home comforts. We all have such different experiences even when we go through the same events, that’s the beauty of the human experience, and living abroad shows you a lot of human experiences, both ones you go through yourself and ones you see other people go through too.

I love being an expat and there are things that I have gone through that have changed me as a person, hopefully entirely for the better. You experience real growth when you embark on something like moving to another country and becoming an expat. I am so looking forward to taking all these things that have helped me grow and putting them to use in my writing. When I do eventually leave this temporary home, it will be a bittersweet joy because it will feel entirely like closing an exciting chapter of my life. But when you close one chapter, you turn the page and another opens, and that’s going to be really exciting.

Robyn x

2 thoughts on “How Being An Expat Can Help You Write

  1. “Living as an expat means you have lots of responsibilities that eat into the time where you might usually be writing.” I can definitely relate to this. I moved from the US to Portugal nine weeks ago, and my writing has taken a back seat to getting settled. At the same time, my new expat life is fodder for many works in progress.
    Great post.

    Like

    1. Firstly, congratulations on the move, I hope Portugal is treating you well! I do know the perils of becoming an expat all too well and my writing took a back seat more often than I could prioritise it, but it is so important to get settled and take care of those responsibilities. It can definitely be frustrating when you are keen to write, but knowing you are acquiring all this fodder for future projects certainly helps ease that frustration.

      Thank you so much, and good luck with being an expat! I hope your writing can come to the foreground again soon x

      Like

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