There are different kinds of expat relationships, in many ways. Actually, in all ways. But let’s look at nationalities, languages and a few other aspects here, in connection with close relationships of these kinds:
1. An expat can be with an expat of the same nationality.
2. An expat can be with a person carrying the nationality which matches the country they live in.
3. Two expats with different nationalities can be in a country neither of them carries a passport of.
Model no. 1: Well, if there are two foreigners, they at least have each other, during the long process of adapting, of getting to know the country and making friends. They would probably not learn about the culture and mentality as fast as they would in an “expat-local relationship”. Also, depending on the people involved and the circumstances, they might mainly seek friends of their own nationality or culture, which is not helpful. An advantage: If and when they decide to move away, they would probably not have to take difficult decisions about their next country or residence.
Model no. 2: Being in a relationship as an expat, with a person whose nationality matches the country they both live in, can have big advantages for the expat. That is because the local partner can help with authorities, opening accounts, with the immigration and all. He or she can also serve as a guide into the country, culture and circles of nice people. On the other hand, the expat in this relationship might feel more disconnected than the local partner. But, in that case, the local would not do a good job at all, and might therefore not be worth it.
Model no. 3: Two people of different nationalities in a third country would have a lot to explore, especially if their relationship is new. That would be each other’s cultures, customs and mentalities, as well as those of the new country they live in. Also, they would most likely use quite a few languages. Depending on their nationalities, it could be the local language, their two languages, plus English, the world language. If they have kids, the little ones will have a huge advantage. But that would apply to model no. 2 as well, at least in part.
Whenever at least one expat is part of a close relationship which evolves into a family, things can get complicated. E.g. if that relationship does not survive, the kids usually stay with the mother. In this case, the father might then go back to his home country, and any custody battle could turn out to be worse than it would have, had none of the people involved been expats. There are extreme cases, in which one parent takes the children to his or her home country without the spouse’s permission, which might lead to international police operations and sometimes even jail. Or, even more extreme, we could be talking about Betty Mahmoody (“Not Without My Daughter”).
There are quite a few single expat parents, in Sofia and other regions of Bulgaria, who are stuck in this country, because they do not want to be too far from their kids, and because their ex would never give up on custody or on having the kids around.
Of course there are many more positive cases too. Those in which people stay together, in harmonic relationships. They might have difficult discussions or decisions to take when it comes to the question which of their countries of origin they should live in, especially if the career possibilities depend on different countries. Then, one of the parents or partners will have to try to find the right occupation in the country they agreed on living in.
A lot of the above has to do with situations and discussions many of us expats have been, or still are, involved in, including the author of this post, or with cases we probably all know about.
All in all, expat or not, the best remedy is to have a good and lasting relationship and to see cultural differences in a positive way.
(Photo: Kai Kuusik-Greenbaum)