Lexpat: An expat who (desperately) tries to live like a local.
I actually just made up this word. At least I think I did after searching google and the urban dictionary and not finding it.
For me, this has been one of the biggest challenges of living in Cuenca, Ecuador for two months. I’m an expat desperately trying to live like a local.
And it doesn’t work very well.
Part of the confusion is that I’m not quite an expat because this isn’t my permanent new home city, but when people ask me if I’m “on vacation” here, I have to say no. I don’t consider two months away from my home country a vacation, especially when I am staying in one city for the vast majority of the time, rented an apartment and continue to work. My household goods are in storage in the US and I don’t quite have a firm address there at the moment. Home is here, for the moment.
Yet, I’m not a local either, despite trying to live like one. I’m being tutored in Spanish, arranging a volunteer experience and taking the buses and walking (vs. taxis) nearly every day, shopping at the markets and engaging Ecuadorians in conversation whenever possible.
I’m working in English most of the time. My husband is here with me and we speak English to each other. I have made non-Ecuadorian friends who speak English and I do love socializing with them. I’ve successfully avoided, as much as possible, the expat population here that chooses to live in an “American expat bubble”.
While I have a purist attitude about how one should immerse when abroad, I have been reminded that in those moments when my husband and I retreat to our comfort zones (the occasional expat style café, the visit to Supermaxi market, the easy English conversations) it gives us strength to venture back out into the unknown.
However, I also see how my learning is slowed down by spending a lot of time with my fabulous husband because he is only at a basic level of Spanish. (Having said that, he is very excited about learning and doing a great job of it!) I find myself supporting his learning at times instead of expanding my own. Perhaps that is an excuse. I’m not 100% sure because I am in such a reflective space right now – living what I write about for a living.
But I do want to operate as the “l” in “lexpat”. I want to know the people where I live, to understand their values, customs, history, politics, families and humor.
The reality, of course, is that two short months doesn’t quite allow for anything close to this.
How much can one really learn in two short months?
What I’m learning is that while I have advanced my linguistic skills by 100 or so more words and have begun to revive my ability to use the past tense correctly at times, I have miles to go. In that regard, I’m an expat.
Yet, I’ve adjusted to many daily living aspects, such as navigating the bus system, feeling more comfortable using the phone, and engaging in some meaningful conversations with Ecuadorian friends. That is when I gift myself the “l” in lexpat, at least at times.
But, really, how much can one learn in a short period of time?
One answer is a lot and nothing. Another answer is that you can learn a lot about how much you really don’t know by beginning to understand the vast delta that exists in your attempt to be a lexpat.
You can scratch the surface and desire more.
When you reflect (prior to returning home and while at home), you can make plans to return to immerse for a longer period of time and to build upon what you know and make a list of those countless unanswered questions. You can make conscious decisions to research and engage in your home community in a different way, study via language exchanges, volunteer in your community, read about the country, watch films and documentaries, remain in touch with friends via skype, write, reflect, educate others and make plans to return.
Yet while I’m here, I’ll continue my quest for “lexpatriation”. I’ll continue to reflect. I’ll continue to process these moments that often feel as “clear as mud”… but they are part of the journey.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the goal of being a lexpat. I’d be particularly interested in how this post has challenged you to reflect on the value of students going abroad for short term education abroad.