On expat bubbles

As you move from country to country, it does get hard to keep up your interests over long stretches. 

There’s good general advice about this out there: Learn as much of the language as possible, get out and explore, join groups and set social goals.  This advice needs to be reviewed every few months to make certain you’re heeding it. It all sounds simple, but I am always surprised how easy it is to fall into a rut. 

And that rut generally lands you right in the expat bubble, the place where everyone knows your name, speaks your language, talks about locals as if they are the foreigners and keeps their strong ties back to the homeland. 

The expat bubble is the biggest complaint about living overseas, many times from people who don’t leave the country. It is a classic quandary, expats are generally adventurous and seek out new things, but some remain separate from local culture. 

Studies show that expats are happier when immersed, at least a bit, in local culture. You integrate more deeply, they like to say.  

But why do people fall back on the expat bubble? In the short term, it’s easy. Living overseas can be difficult and somedays diving deep can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s quick to hang out with whom you know, what you know, where diving into another culture can take time and patience. And it’s a long-term investment: chances are after you ship out you will meet up with your bubble friends long before you’ll meet up with your local friends. 

This doesn’t make striving to live in an expat bubble a good thing. The reason we’re supposed to be living overseas is to meet people and understand cultures. Of course, that’s not true for everyone — especially here in the UAE — where the high salaries act like cultural magnets. But it still should be a goal. Staying in the expat bubble, to some, sometimes just seems like the path of least resistance.